DEFINING MOMENTS: Jews and Jewish Israelis

November 19th, 2014

Jonathan Stewart has been under fire for his expressions of ambiguous feelings about Jewish issues. As a Jewish American, I can sympathize with the issues expressed but not the manner of expression. Jewish life, when not viewed in a timeless sense, does lead to confusion about identity given the very definite parameters used applied to members of our nation. Modern education tells us you “are” whoever you want to “be”, as part of a free society. I wouldn’t mind being a rocket scientist but that ain’t happening. Nor am I a Russian although some of my ancestors were born there. Apparently Russians didn’t think my ancestors were Russians either as their passports labelled them as Jews.

An interview quoted in the Times of Israel had Jon stating that the definition of a Jew is supposed to come from outsiders and not insiders. Sorry Mr. Stewart, but the definition is of import when Israel has to decide whom to rescue from a war torn area bent upon murdering its residents. Only Israel and the Jewish people can define whom to rescue. After the rescue is done, it still remains the responsibility of Israel to resolve inequities in education that might lead a Jew to discriminate against another Jew or even label them ‘Fascist’. That is the purpose of requiring a formal conversion when the memory of your origins fades after generations of imposed ignorance about our people lead some of us to regard the issue as ambiguous.

I don’t question Jon’s strength of identification with the Jewish people but the growing strength of anti-Semitism here and abroad requires some further points to be made. Here is the letter I sent to him:

Dear Mr. Stewart,

I am writing to you in order to find out whether or not I am a fascist. This is an important question as I prepare to make Aliyah this month. Israel is home to persons of three major religions, all of whom have relatively stringent definitions of their membership, so the question isn’t limited to Jewish Israelis but also Moslems and Christian Israelis as well.

When you remove your tongue from your cheek when speaking of this issue seriously someday, please remember that only the process of conversion actually requires a candidate to formally observe Jewish rituals for the space of a single year. How else can a convert learn the ways of a nation without living that way in a formal sense? If you were naturalizing to acquire citizenship of a new country, you would be required to live as a member, learn the laws and avoid behaving in a manner that would adversely impact upon that group for at least a year before taking a test that allowed you to live and work there permanently. Having a parent or spouse sponsor your entry into a locale infers there would be a positive influence upon the individual seeking to become a citizen by association. However, the Jewish marriage contract has terms that are not equivalent to a state issued marriage license. Therefore, a claim that you are a Jew (child of Jewish parentage) or are the wife/husband of a Jewish person requires different proofs or a period of naturalization into Judaism. Of course, obtaining Israeli citizenship is not restricted to Jews but the Law of Return is a unique type of contract – one that is made with history, if you define history as A future in the making.

Is the Jewish definition of parentage fascist or merely different, inasmuch as anyone may live according to Jewish norms in any country? Why must any type of state marriage throughout the world be accepted by the State of Israel when some (e.g. gay) marriages are not even recognized between states under the same federal law of the United States? The transmission of a way of life is not identical between nations. Can you put the transmission of a Porsche under the hood of a Jag and still have it run as per their design? There are documents,solely Jewish in origin, that assure authorities you had that ‘beginning’ and are ready to build upon the foundation of the Jewish way of life.

Jews must learn to understand all levels of life, possessed of a both the longitudinal tradition and an immensely wide latitude in it’s expression. While no one will ask you if you believe in a deity, you ought to know the names of our anscestors and how to observe our traditions before you can recognize when others (Jew included), discriminate against any of us. Think of the conversion period as a form of ‘naturalization’ in a nation without borders. Religion knows no boundaries and Jewish life is marked by events without divisions in terms of eras. Israel, for Jews, is larger than any land mass.

The terms of Jewish contracts, like marriage or business arrangements, fall within the guidelines of the country where Jews reside. Still, those retain the expectation of an additional level or standard than exists where we dwell. You may recall the classic commercial for Hebrew National hot dogs, where they spoke of answering to a ‘higher authority’. While anyone could eat and enjoy those franks, only a person with an “insider’s” education would be able to manufacture them.

A Jew is hopefully educated not to regard any other Jew as either quaint, outdated, or as a fascist hoping to rule over a patch of sand. Americans even have communities that live the same way that Hasidim do and will only accept members like themselves. Oregonians in Ashland still dress and speak like many of us did in the early sixties, because time stopped for them at that period of US history. Jewish Hasids dress as seventeenth century Eastern Europeans because time stopped for them at that point when the terms of life under Eastern European governments no longer recognized Jews as worthy of life. To be honest, equal protection under those laws with non-Jews wasn’t really worth a great deal anyway.

Half the people recently surveyed stated that the Holocaust was a fiction. I would not want any of them to convert in order to marry my brother based upon surveys saying that Jewish husbands are less likely to be wife-beaters and more likely to be good providers.

Not without an intensive period of naturalization first.

Your fan,

Barbara Rubin

Categories: commentary

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