By: Yuval Nemirovsky
Almost all my life, the question of who am I, was an idea that occupied most of my thoughts. Growing up in a Jewish and Zionist community in South America produced on me a deep connection to my Jewish Identity. The sole fact that my parents decided to give me an Israeli name put a “mark” on my identity that guided me and wanted me to “maximize” a feeling of belonging. The pick of this journey was when I moved to Israel. But hasn’t finished there.
During my shlichut , the self questioning and learning continued. Especially during the last conflict in Israel when I could see the pain and confusion in young people and adults that live a life full of different frameworks and colors away from Israel, but Judaism is always there, sometimes bothering their harmonic life.
On the other hand, I understand the complexity of the western world and the globalization of almost everything, including identity. During the last war against Hammas, many Israelis and Jews were forced to take a decision. Do they identify themselves with Israel and Judaism or they prefer to “erase” that part from their identity. There are some other Jews (in my opinion completely mistaken) who decided a third option: to identify themselves just with the Jewish faith putting aside the “peoplehood”.
We live in a post-modern world, where people have a very complex identity. Some feel attached to their citizenship, some others more attached to their gender; some describe themselves considering their hobbies, taste for music, sports or movies. Others describe themselves by their political ideas, by the origin of their ancestors, and of course many describe themselves by their faith.
There are many theories and explanations about what is a Jewish identity and even more texts of what should be the components of a Jewish identity. I see no other explanation than PEOPLEHOOD. We are a people (AM Israel) with a faith (Judaism). Our DNA of identity was, is, and will be to maintain our definition as AM ISRAEL (The people of Israel).
To be this kind of people, we needed a series of conditions. One of them is to be a society. In Jewish history we learn about our tribes, our kingdoms and our laws. As most of the AMIM (nations) in history we were exposed to wars and stronger civilizations that tried to conquer us. We were expelled and sent to the exile. In the exile something absolutely amazing happened. Our Judaism suffered a transformation, a “surviving mode” evolution that many other nations failed to create and that is why they’ve disappeared.
History and time changed how we see ourselves so we can keep deep inside our hearts and minds, our true identity as a nation. Our faith became crucial to keep alive this feeling.
Finally Zionism came trying to set this identity free.
An excellent scholar Gadi Taub, describes the intention of Zionism to liberate the Jewish identity rather than the pure creation of a state. Nevertheless he explains that without a homeland, it is impossible to liberate the Jewish identity:
“Zionism would need Zion: a national conception of Jewish identity would not make sense outside the ancient homeland any more than a English identity would outside England, or a German identity would without Germany. Still, Zion was a means, not an end. The end was liberating Jews. Herzl thought that Jews would neither be safe nor truly free within the existing European political order, and so concluded that in order to free them as individuals they must be freed as a collective. If Jews cannot become free and equal citizens of other republics, they would need their own independent state, in which they would become active democratic citizens.”
More Over, after the creation of the state, the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion explained the following:
it is “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.”
We can understand that Zionism begins with individual liberty, continues to the realization that such individual liberty is conditional upon collective self-determination.
My views about Israel are not always aligned to the main Hasbara (advocacy) line. This is mainly because my understanding of Zionism is the liberation of our identity and not our political view about the state of Israel. We can be left or right activists but understanding our identity as Jews makes us Zionists.
I could be very critical about the political decisions of the state, but at the same time I know we are blessed and lucky to have the chance to have a state that we can build and direct as the vehicle of our liberation.
What I’m trying to write with these words, is that this feeling we have sometimes that we are forced (because external circumstances push us) to identify ourselves as Jews, happens because of the nature of our identity.
What I’m trying to do is to answer our questions about Jewish Identity. We need to understand that we (Jews) can live anywhere in the world, as Italians, Greeks, Americans, Germans live in different countries. But the true liberation of our identity is only as nation in one place.
That is why we wanted or not, even if we try to hide it, Jews will be considered a nation identified with a state. We need to understand it in other to embrace it and make it ours.
If we don’t take responsibility of our identity as nation and to our state, then we will cheating on Judaism, that Judaism that succeed to survive 2,000 years of exile, and is surviving postmodernism, where almost everything becomes subjective leaving behind and apart an important meaning to life.
In order to connect to our Judaism we should do it by connecting to our faith and to our nationhood at the same time.
May our identity bring peace and meaning to our life, may we be proud of our identity.