Heavy is the soul of a Jew
Heavy is the soul of a Jew. Hard it is to stay in line. 613 Commandments rival Sisyphos’ labor. Screams the guilt through the annual cleansing ritual, guilt often devoid of basis, as it is the ancestors’ footsteps, that laid the path toward Solomon’s Temple. Maddening was the Moses’ crusade, which saved his people. Burdensome is the history, which began it all. Christ, Mohammed… all followed the words of the Almighty, even if adjusted for its time. The spiritual survived through entrepreneurial, in Egypt, in Germany… just to pay for the temporary reprieve and run. For some – a parted sea, for others – gas chambers. Even the Ashkenazi experience offered a new word, ‘pogrom’ to the Merriam-Webster’s. Taras Bulba was glorified and Trotsky assassinated. Onerous are the black suits and hats in smoldering heat of a big city. Confusing a father’s option to end own kind in the name of something greater. Rich is the culture. Rich in history and pain. Washed in blood and tears, guided through holy words, tested over and over. A Jew is the ultimate survivor. Lacking access and recognition through ages, robbed of safety and peace, empowered by the struggle, it is a story as old as the world known to man, even if known only through the words of Jews themselves.
Then a safer land appeared, as the British American colonies began to welcome people from all over the world with few expectations, other than to help build the new country. Regardless of absence of the rights of other immigrants, Spanish and Portuguese Jews flocked to perceived safety. It wasn’t till the 19th Century, when Germany’s Antisemitic laws began to drive Jews away, that German-born Jews set out to view the US as their preferred habitat. As Eastern Europe began going through economic hardships toward the end of the 19th and rise of the 20th Century, Ashkenazi Jews began to migrate to USA to escape European Antisemitism, WWI, and pre-Soviet Russia. The US/Jewish love affair was an almost instant occurrence here. Half a million Jews fought in WWII, intermarriages, and a strive toward economic success made it seem as if Judaism no longer united Jews, but overall well-being was the glue holding the Jewish place in the US. It was easy to understand, as in Europe Jews were largely isolated and segregated, stuck in their own communities, and easily accessible by Antisemitic waves ranging from pogroms to Holocaust.
Another major factor of the ease of Jewish integration in this country was the history of slavery. Slaves’ descendants were easy to identify. The color of their skin was impossible not to notice. Even the Southern Border’s cheap labor, originating from Mexico, was generally easy to visually spot. Jews, especially European Jews, looked predominantly white. It went much further than the color of the skin thou. The Jewish educational method and effort was on full display through Old Testament or Tanakh. 24 books worth of rules have been teaching Jews for thousands of years by now. Rules comprised of medical, scientific and economic reasoning gave Jews the advantage unseen in the absolute majority of world’s cultures at the time. Respect for the elders encouraged the concept of a family and economic progress. Circumcision, or bris, prevented infections in the foreskin at the time and offered other medical benefits . Kosher laws provided a dietary guide long before all other cultures. 613 Mitzvahs alone began the study of Jewish rules, teaching generations the very concept of learning, when most cultures were still developing by pillaging lands, be it Vikings or Roman legions. Even as recently as the 20th Century, Jewish scholars excelled, where most nations simply survived, such as famously portrayed in the US movie Yentl.
Then a turning point in the modern history of Jews occurred, and as always, it comprised of tragedy. Blamed for Germany’s economic troubles, country still reeling from paying the WWI’s reparations, Jews became the main object of Hitler’s fixation, and Holocaust changed the Jewish role forever. 6 million Ashkenazi Jews were exterminated in a genocide to which there has never been an equal. With about 60% of the world’s Jews living in Europe at the time, totaling about 9.5 million people, the mass extermination represented an almost 40% global loss and an over 60% loss of European Jews. As the Ottoman Empire was replaced by British occupation of the land of Israel after WWI, lasting to 1948, battered by WWII Britain was happy to give up the occupied lands and go back to its homeland to lick the war’s wounds. Being one of the 3 victors of the greatest war known to man, Britain’s last grand gesture in the region was to give up the occupied land to the newly formed United Nations. The UN split that land between the Jews and Arabs, both fighting against the occupation just prior. The Jews rejoiced to have its historic land back and the Arabs revolted. Initially with the US and USSR support, the plan seemed solid, but as a multitude of Arabic nations attacked the partitioned land of the Jews, it brought war, famine and misfortune to even the Arabic occupiers of that land, causing for the US to withdraw its support for the plan. Approximately 3/4th of Arabs living in that land, out of just over 1 million, were displaced. Blame has been assigned to either Jews or Arabs, depending on who you ask, but there is little contention on either side that it was a result of military actions taken by the Arabic nations against the newly formed State of Israel.
Forward a few decades, and little changed. Israel went through decades of terrorist acts from Palestinian residents. Strategically occupied parts of the territories, designated by the UN as ‘Palestinian’ or ‘for Arabs’ remained a topic of great contention, but it wasn’t about the land, but about categorical hatred for Jews, that primarily drove them. When Churchill gave parts of Palestine to Jordan in 1920s, it didn’t make Jordan a target of Palestinian terror acts. Yet, when Israel defended itself from invasion and won that war and parts of the land, it produced the contentious, hostile, and at times belligerent, relationship between the two countries we still see today. The Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, described by The Arab Summit in 1974 as the ‘sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’. PLO also began to represent Palestine in the UN. What was PLO’s primary goal? It wasn’t building Palestinian’s infrastructure, education sector or a healthcare network. Led by Fatah’s founding member Yasser Arafat, it was primarily focused on nationalistic tendencies and served as the platform for much of Palestinian terrorist acts for decades, despite hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of subsidies given to them to build Palestine. Bill Clinton managed to get Arafat/Palestine and Israel to agree on some measure of peace, even getting Palestine to recognize the State of Israel in 1993 in the Oslo Accord. Yet, Clinton was eventually replaced by G.W. Bush, 9/11 occurred, and the US military actions in the Middle East had the ‘War on Terror’ replace the Israel/Palestine conflict as the main theme in the Middle East. Mahmoud Abbas was instrumental in the Oslo Accord and later replaced Arafat as Palestine’s leader. His initial actions led many to believe that he also wants peace and to build Palestine as a strong and sovereign nation, but after being opposed by Hamas for years, he just gave up and gave in to the same hate-filled tendencies as the terrorist organization opposing his efforts. He hardly can be blamed. Palestinian people elected Hamas representatives to represent the country’s interests and oppose peace talks with Israel. As of late, Abas sounds no different, than any other Israel-hating politician.
Perhaps the greatest radical change since the Oslo Accord transpired when the US elected Donald Trump as President. Unwilling to hide his intentions, Trump possibly became like no President this country has ever known. Even his White House bio, unlike all previous Presidents, is filled with campaign slogans, not just facts. His daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism, when she married Jared Kushner. His real estate and other business dealings in NY, home to about a third of all US Jews, had him deeply involved with Jewish figures, although they included people like the criminally convicted pedophile Epstein. Trump’s ‘love affair’ with Israel came on full display when he decided to run for President. His attacks on Barack Obama began years before, with the ‘birthism’ movement, when he claimed that Obama was not an American citizen. Same way he deeply opposed to Obama’s signature accomplishment, ‘The Iran Deal’ or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. With Israel’s opposition to the US entering into any agreements with Israel’s nemesis Iran, Trump instantly saw his goals and interests align with those of Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu. As Netanyahu struggled to regain his grip on power in Israel, he furiously opposed Obama’s efforts to bring stability to the Middle East, viewing them as damaging to Israel, country which remained Middle Eastern countries’ main source of resentment. Placed deep in the Middle East, Israel is indeed unlike any other country in its proximity. LGBT parades, women’s rights, freedom of religious practices, and many more displays of Israeli freedoms are rarely found elsewhere in the region. Even small victories, as letting women drive on their own, are celebrated as major breakthroughs in countries like Saudi Arabia as recently as last year, while Israel had a female Prime Minister in Golda Meir as long ago as 1969. Israel also became a center of science, literature, healthcare, and overall innovation, with 12 Nobel Prize laureates, and more discoveries made, than the absolute majority of countries.
Trump has long been a money-driven individual. He ran his campaign as a savvy businessman, and agendas, such as human rights and equality, have never interested him much. His businesses have been accused of racism, hiring illegal immigrants, scamming people, and sexism, just to name a few. His idea of merit-based immigration echoes his statements that hiring illegal immigrants is ok, as ‘if you’re a good worker, papers don’t matter’. Yet, his nationalistic views are closer to neo-nazi’s David Duke, than Andrew Carnegie. US immigration changed this country a great deal over the last century, hence Trump is getting a lot of pushback to his nationalistic tendencies, but the opposition is generally labeled as ‘fake news’ and Trump prefers to present ‘alternative facts’ to people. US has long been accused of prioritizing its economic interests above human rights, be it refusing Jewish immigrants come to the US safely priot to WWII and sending them back to encounter certain death in 1939; or simply disputing Holocaust as a historic occurrence in a public school in Florida, as recently as 2019. Hostility toward US Jewish population has become more widespread than in decades, under Donald Trump. As Bill Maher noted recently: ‘Jews in Israel are mostly white, the Palestinians are browner, so they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong. As if the occupation came right out of the blue, that this completely peaceful people found themselves occupied. Forget about the intifadas and the suicide bombings and the rockets and how many wars.’ Hence the racially-stained US citizens often view support for Israel and Jews as racism in the US. As much as there is no parallel there, as Israel didn’t enslave African people to build the country in the early stage, most US Palestinian supporters derive their views from the racial concept. With tremendous opposition to Trump’s nationalistic views, his opposition likewise develops hostility to one of his main objects of affection – Israel and Jews. In the meantime, Trump’s support for ‘white nationalists’ caused for that movement to come out of the shadows and flourish. Domestic terrorism is on the rise, with manifestations, such as the recent El Paso Walmart shooting, and Charlotsville’s murder. While some claim that Trump‘s support for the movement has positive undertones for eliminating it, 22 murdered shoppers in Texas would beg to differ.
As the country pushes back to Trump’s words and actions and embraces diversity, a new opposition emerged as The Squad. It all began with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Bernie Sanders’ support. It was all innocent enough and entirely domestic, until Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib joined her. Minnesota and Michigan affairs, states, which elected them, don’t interest the two young Muslim women, as much as foreign affairs. Specifically, they tend to focus on Israel, as the focus of their efforts. Despite being from Africa, Omar doesn’t seem interested in the war in her home country of Somalia nearly as much as in the Israel/Palestine affairs. Tlaib, who was actually born in the US, also seems to be preoccupied with Palestinian affairs far more, than domestic ones. Yet, why so much focus on newly elected and inexperienced Congresswomen? Of course, it was Donald J Trump, who decided to advise Israel to block access to these women, based on their support for BDS. A political mayhem ensued, Bibi followed his benefactor’s directions, and Tliab propelled to stardom as a voice of injustice. Never mind that she was finally granted access to see her grandmother and refused to accept it, despite initially stating family reunion as her goal. The question isn’t about her efforts, but rather about the US President’s attempt to politicize the already uneasy Israeli situation further. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and despite opposition, got away with it without much political scarring. Many Jews rejoiced and proclaimed Trump as a real friend of Israel. Wayne Allyn Root even went as far as to state that Trump ‘is the greatest president for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world. Not just in America, Trump is the best president for Israel in the history of the world. And the Jewish people love him like he is the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.’ Surely, such a claim caused more controversy, even among Christians, but Trump liked it so much, that he confirmed his Messianic status by embracing the statement. While Muslim and Christian people tried to come to terms with such blasphemic statements, Trump added more fuel to the fire, and attacked the US Jewish population. He claimed that any Jew supporting Democrats and going against him is guilty of ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.’ Who cares that more US Jews voted for Hillary, and against Trump, or that about ¾ of American Jews have primarily supported Democrats for decades? He even added: ’only weak people would say anything other than that’. The backlash to this Antisemitic statement was an expected reaction, and it came primarily from American, not Israeli Jews. Concepts of ‘dual loyalty’, ‘weakness’, and ‘misinformation’ have haunted Jews for well over a thousand years and served as premise for Antisemitism. Under the ‘dual loyalty’ claim, Jews have been kicked out of their land as long ago as almost 3 thousand years, in what became known as ‘Jewish diaspora’. ‘Weak Jews’ served as an excuse to treat Jews as lower class citizens from Michelangelo in Middle Ages to Hitler in Nazi Germany. ‘Misinformed’ Jews was often the excuse Christian communities attacked Jews for not believing in Jesus Christ. It seems that after such statements, Trump should become unanimously rejected by Jews all over, yet it certainly isn’t the case. The answer is rather simple, despite the magnitude of the issue. American Jews and Israeli Jews differ drastically.
First of all, The US mostly has Ashkenazi, or European Jews. Many of American Jews have never even been to Israel. According to reference panel studies in the journal Nature Communications, all of the Ashkenazi Jews originated from a group of about 330 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago. By that time the original State of Israel was already taken from Jewish people by various conquering nations. In other words, there isn’t even a DNA path back to Israel for most American Jews. While many disagree with that and other, similar studies, regardless, a huge part of what represents the US Jewish population today, originated from Eastern Europe, as they left USSR and friendly countries, full of Antisemitism and anti-entrepreneurial socialistic tendencies, oftentimes robbing Jews of their hard-earned money and craft. Once the current State of Israel was formed after WWII, some Ashkenazi Jews moved to Israel, but there’s always been more Jews moving to the US vs Israel, as USA became a true safe haven for Jews tired of various extermination efforts by natives of the land, where Jewish people temporarily settled. In other words, when it comes to the concept of loyalty, American Jews became loyal to the United States of America, first and foremost, occupying positions in politics, economics, healthcare, education, and most other sectors. Of course, after Holocaust all Jews were united in the psychological and logistical aftermath of the greatest genocide of the times. Few Jews oppose Israel’s creation, as they want to wait for the Jewish Messiah to come to establish ‘a true State of Israel’, but even the Anti-Defamation League views that group as ‘the farthest fringes of Judaism’. Creation of modern Israel has been proclaimed as a blessing and near-miracle, as Jews now have ‘their own’ country again, after spending thousands of years living in other nations’ lands and being exterminated. Still, even deeply religious American Jews generally view the United States as the home country, and not just a country of temporary residence. Traditions may motivate Jews to make at least one trip to Israel in their lifetime, with ‘Birthright Israel’ sponsoring a free trip for Jewish residents of other countries. Traditions and religious beliefs also motivate Jews to recognize the importance of Israel in history and Judaism. Yet, lifestyle of mandatory military service, even with some exceptions; terror acts, even if not as widespread, as they used to be; and lack of local resources all make Israel a very different place from the US.
Lastly, it would be important to note how many Jews, came out in support of Trump after his statements. Yes, they were largely Israeli Jews, but plenty of American Jews don’t mind Trump’s rhetoric. The argument is that all Jews are the same, and Israel is the Jewish home, with little else being a factor. It would be nearly unfathomable to hear other US minorities justify insensitive words. When Geraldo Rivera said that Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was to blame for his killing, as much as George Zimmerman, public became outraged, and didn’t care that Geraldo was a son of a Puerto Rican father and a member of the minorities himself. Perhaps due to the success of Jewish US citizens they no longer feel like a minority, but it didn’t make justification of Trump’s words any less shocking. While from the purely religious point Trump may be right, and if it came from an Orthodox Rabbi it would have sounded differently, but Trump certainly wasn’t trying to speak of the religious aspect. He made a purely political statement and referred to Jews, who don’t support him and the Republican Party. The reality is that most people, Jews and non-Jews, are equally concerned with ‘doing the right thing’ and following the Commandments to live a good life, as most of the Holly Words are now either laws in this country or behavioral standards. ‘Being Jewish’ in America generally means being free to practice Judaism, not fear retribution for being born and/or looking Jewish and hold to Jewish standards of building a strong family. Supporting Israel’s current government’s actions was never mentioned in Tanakh or related texts.
Tiresome and difficult it may be to make sense of what it is to be a good Jew today. But if Roman Empire, Babylon, Pharaohs and Nazi Germany failed to destroy the Jews and the Jewish faith and culture, it is important to remember that Donald Trump’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s political moves won’t do the job either. If anything, the resistance to politicizing what it means to be Jewish is only further proof that Jews shall live on.