In the mid 1970s when I was about 10 years old I asked my next door neighbor, a kid my age, what he and his family thought of the civil war in Lebanon.
“What do you mean?” he asked, not really understanding why I would ask him such a thing.
I was surprised. I thought for sure he would be concerned and worried.
“The Muslims and the Christians are fighting. What are you doing to help the Christians?”
He was still confused.
I thought that just as I had been concerned for Soviet Jewry, surely my Christian friend would be concerned for his brothers and sisters in Lebanon, but he felt as much connection to them and to that conflict as to any other human on the planet and to any other crisis. It had no special meaning to him that people were being killed by snipers just because they were Christians.
Had a Jew been persecuted, his fellow Jews around the world would have been up in arms and mobilized on multiple fronts.
That’s when I realized that Judaism is more than a religion. It is a nationality, a people, a tribe.
Jews are members of a single clan, a family with a bond which ties us to each other.
When I meet a fellow Jew, I immediately try to strengthen this connection through a game we call “Jewish Geography.” I never succeed when I play with non-Jews. I search for a connection through people we know in common. With Jews, I usually have a lot of mutual connections and when we find them, our bond grows stronger. We no longer have only a shared heritage, but we found a common family member.
At the end of a movie, I look for the Jewish names in the credits and take pride when I see them. I claim the authors of articles and books who I think are Jews as one of my own. Sports figures, politicians, the list goes on and on. Am I obsessed with this?
Apparently I am not alone. I can’t say that all Jews do this, but it seems to be a pretty popular pastime. We even abbreviate it by referring to MOTs (Members of the Tribe).
And, hey, we have a lot to be proud of. Jews seem to be everywhere. We are connected in the White House (I don’t just mean Rahm Israel Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago), but Michelle Obama is a first cousin once removed of Rabbi Capers Funnye, of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation on the South Side of Chicago. (As I said, I search for a connection). Jews started Google, Facebook and a host of other well-known icons of modern culture. Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song is a listing of famous Jews, half-Jews, quarter-Jews (apparently I’m not the only one searching for a connection) and is so popular that it has two sequels.
The Jewish connection is something that we seem to take pride in and which we celebrate.
The first time I was in New York’s Lower East Side on a Hebrew School trip with Temple Beth Shalom, I saw a man wearing ultra-Orthodox garb for the first time in my life. I wanted to shout to him across the street, “Hey, you! I’m Jewish too!”
Maybe this connection is a survival mechanism against a common enemy. However, given the anti-semetic notion that Jews run the world, it seems strange that we would broadcast our achievements. Beyond Sandler’s lyrics, there are plenty of mentions of Jewish achievements. We take pride that a people who makes up only about 0.2% of the world’s population have won about a quarter of the Nobel prizes since 1900. Likewise, that there is a disproportionate number of influential Jews in politics, media, business, finance and entertainment.
This part of the Jewish psyche has nothing to do with antisemitism, God or religious beliefs. This is a very different side of Judaism that instills in us that “We Are One.”
The ultimate in modern Jewish achievements is the State of Israel. It is survival against all odds. Correction, it is more than survival; it is a thriving success: The ingathering of the exiles, the survival a small state surrounded by hostile Arab armies, making the desert bloom and the high-tech start-up capital of the world outside of Silicon Valley.
When concentrating so many Jews in one place, great things are sure to happen, and chances are you are going to know a bunch of those responsible – or at least have a mutual acquaintance or two.
Living in Israel is coming home and when you go back to the old neighborhood, everyone seems familiar. The old neighborhood takes pride in their children wherever they are and the bond between the achievements of Diaspora Jewry is celebrated in Israel just as Israel’s victories are relished by world Jewry. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise, that Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, recently printed the headline “Jews make strong showing among 2011 Nobel Prize winners: Five of the seven Nobel Prize winners so far this year are Jewish; their Yiddeshe mamas must be so proud.”
And we are.