Jews constitute only 0.2% of world’s population of 7.4 billion people. And yet anti-Semitism and hatred of the Jews is widespread and continues for centuries despite our honest efforts and dedication to be good citizens of the countries in which we live.
So why to continue to be Jewish?
(The answer to this question is particularly important in light of the fact that some, especially young, Jews distance themselves from Judaism and Jewishness.)
While strongly believing in God, the following is an attempt to give some answers to this question by looking at the Jewish/Hebrew people mainly as an ethnicity (i.e., ethnically Jewish atheists are also Jewish) – as a nation with common history, common destiny and some commonality in our DNA.
Being Born Jewish
When one is born Jewish and realizes that his or her parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and countless generations before have been Jewish, one sees that he or she is the latest link in this ancient chain. It feels like a good reason to continue being Jewish.
One also realizes that such a question is never faced by people of any other nation and that we face it because of our tough history that was full of persecution.
It is one of many unfair things we Jews are facing and have faced for centuries. Being Jewish is our rejection of this unfairness – it is our statement that we have the same rights as any other people and pride in our Jewish heritage.
The typical Jewish home and family is a place and a social unit with a lot of love and care among its members. To be a part of such a family is an important element of human happiness.
From the time that we became a nation and through our long and often difficult history, the Jewish people developed moral norms which can be an example for all of humanity.
Nevertheless we Jews are not better (but definitely not worse) from any other peoples.
But one thing is not debatable: Jewish people are a gifted people with a lot of accomplishments (disproportionate to our numbers) in all areas of human endeavors – science, music, arts, medicine, literature, humanism, and so on.
It is a matter of pride to be a part of such a people.
Jewish people are one of the most ancient people on this planet. Despite persecution and often extermination, the Jewish people made great contributions to humanity and managed to develop and preserve our moral norms and the memory of who we are.
When a person is called to the Torah in the Synagogue, along with an announcement that he is a Cohen or a Levite, it indicates that generations of his ancestors, despite all odds, kept the memory of who they are through thousands of years all the way back to the time of Moses.
Isn’t it mind-blowing and worth continuing?
There is a common statement made by Jewish leaders that, despite all odds, we survived.
It seems ot right to say “we.” We means all of us. Those who were killed by the Romans, Babylonians, Inquisition, pogroms, and during our most terrible tragedy, the Holocaust, did not survive.
So, for example, when we talk about the Holocaust, the right thing to say is that two thirds of us survived.
What we succeeded to accomplish is to preserve the Jewish Nation and, through this, be victorious over our enemies. And so to continue being Jewish is to preserve the memory of those who did not survive – to preserve the Jewish Nation and not allow a victory to the Hitlers of this world.
After thousands of years of being scapegoats, spread around different countries of the world, and after living through many tragedies, the Jews were able to create a miracle and reestablish their country on its ancient land.
Israel was able to prevail militarily over much larger and stronger enemies. By the way, through the centuries Jews have proven themselves to be excellent soldiers for the countries they lived in. This is despite anti-Semitic lies about Jews. (One of the interesting books on this subject is Jews and the Military by Derek J. Penslar).
Israel, with the support of world Jewry, became one of the most advanced countries in the world. And this is despite the nonstop hostilities of its enemies. One who considers himself or herself a Jew can, among other reasons, feel pride thanks to Israel.
The Beauty of Jewish Traditions
The Torah and all of the Tanakh contain many stories, legends, views and instructions (reflecting the time they were written and the influence of Pagan societies among which Jews were living) that are not acceptable for modern day Jewish people.
But the great importance and value of our Holy Books is that they introduced the world to monotheism, one God for all people, and moral norms which became the basis of law in every democratic country including our great United States. Through our holy books we learn the beauty of Jewish faith, heritage and traditions.
To be Jewish is to continue to be a part of Jewish traditions. (A nice book about being Jewish by appreciating the beauty of Judaic traditions, heritage and faith is Why be Jewish by Edgar M. Bronfman.)
Looking back at what the Jewish people, despite all odds, were able to accomplish, and what Israel was able to accomplish during a relatively small historical period and despite many wars and a constant struggle for survival, one has all reasons to expect many great accomplishments by Jewish people and Israel in the future – accomplishments which will benefit the whole world in a future that our sages called the Messianic era.
Continuing to be Jewish means not to deprive our next generations from becoming participants of creating this future.
The above are only a few of many reasons to be Jewish. It would be nice if the readers of this article would add their thoughts and comments on the subject based on their own personal experiences and feelings. (For example, for me personally, the fact that my grandfather was killed by Germans during the Holocaust, and my own experience of a lot of anti-Semitism back in Russia and some even in the United States adds to the above reasons for being Jewish.)
Arkady Mamaysky is a mechanical engineer who emigrated directly to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1979. He has visited Israel once, and often twice, during every year since then.