Friday, July 22, 2005

The Situation we got us Facing

It is true that many of America’s Jews are searching for their religious and spiritual -identities, and as a result, they are floating somewhere in between enlightenment and confusion. However, in their search, Orthodox Judaism, which is the religion of our foremothers and foremothers seems to be the last option, if it is an option at all. Why is that American Jews are seemingly so quick to discard their Judaism? The way I see it, there are three answers. My dad suggested the first one to me. He has often told me about the rabbi whom he ran into at a young age, and when he asked him a question about something, the rabbi’s reaction was angry and severe. In this light, even though it is just an example, this attitude is unhelpful.

But not everyone has had experiences like that, in fact, I’d speculate that more young Jews have had far more positive experiences with rabbi’s than negative. So what’s our excuse? This brings us to the next possibility, that we have been forcibly assimilated by the governments of the countries in which we lived during the few hundred years before immigrating to America. The third possibility might not sit well with us, and that possibility is that we have assimilated on our own accord, that we have lacked the conviction, heart, and strength of soul that has been a part and parcel of what it means to be Jewish since Abraham left his home. True, much pressure was put on our ancestors to assimilate and convert, specifically in Europe and parts of the Muslim world, but our generation has never felt anything remotely similar to what our families did, yet we shy away from our religion as if it were a curse! From the first Jews to assimilate, their children and their children’s children also assimilated, and as a result, the last several generations of American Jewry have been born into assimilation, like plants in the only soil they’ve ever known.

Some of us, and I am speaking for myself as well for my first twenty two years of life, feel as if Judaism isn’t really a part of what we are and doesn’t belong to us. When that is the case, associating with Judaism is akin to walking with your eyes shut; we feel lost in our Judaism. Staying with the metaphor, if a person walking with his eyes shut can open them whenever he wants, then what keeps us from doing so?In the past, before I began my journey into Orthodox Judaism, I would observe Christians and Muslims and I saw that, for the most part, and taking into account variations in religious conviction, that they were more serious about identifying with their religion as a lifestyle and system of beliefs and not just as a culture. I was bothered by this and looked inwards to my community of Jews, wondering why we weren’t doing the same. In my mind, Judaism was true and strong and solid, and if anybody had a grip on the truth, it was we. Not to mention, our religion has affected the whole world and spawned the birth of two new religions, together which make up more than 50% of the world’s population! "Our" notion of G-d is responsible for informing more than half the world about spirituality, ethics, and truth, while a few hundred years of persecution has managed to knock us down and push us away from what is rightfully ours; our religion and our relationship with G-d. It makes very little sense.

The countries in which we have lived, both Christian and Muslim, have perpetually seen to it that we were weak and they were strong, hopefully that we would eventually submit to their religion (which came from ours!), and if we didn’t, then at least they would punish us for it. Little did they realize that a person in his right mind does not go over to the religion that has made his life a living hell; who hugs his abuser? Specifically in Christianity’s case, the love spoken about was a sham, while Islam did little to hide its abject resentment of Judaism and Jews. Nevertheless, the human will is a powerful, powerful thing – it is nothing short of being a "piece" of G-d, and if G-d can’t be discouraged, how is it that we can? The answer is that we can’t.

How do you muster the ability to respect yourself when you know that there are others who despise you? How do you see past the lies and hate that some have towards you, scratch through the surface, and reveal the truth of what it means to be a Jew in the world? And if you can’t answer that, then answer this; how long will you believe other peoples’ version of you, even the people that supposedly love you, before you tell them what you are? When we lose the ability to know what we are, it is a sign that we have cooperated with those who put their hands against us in robbing our identity. Identity is the most precious gift, a precious as life. Can it be said that life is not a gift without identity, because when life is given, identity is given with it? The relationship between life and identity is that between the sun and light; all light comes from the sun.

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