Judaism: I am a Jew
"My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish." Those are the words uttered by American journalist Daniel Pearl in the moment before he was murdered by jihadis in 2002. Those same words were recalled last week by Judea Pearl as he lit a flame in his son's honor in Jerusalem.
As I read Daniel Pearl's words, I thought back to a story I'd heard a few days earlier from 95-year-old Edna Weiss.
In the living room of her high-rise apartment in Westwood, Weiss told me something that happened 85 years ago in the multiethnic Angeleno Heights neighborhood where she grew up in the 1930s.
She remembered every detail of the story, from the sugar sack that held the baseball bats to the faces of two Dutch children who tricked her into going up a hill.
"We never went to a synagogue or did anything religious," Weiss told me when I asked about her Jewish connection. "But we spoke a lot of Yiddish. My mother was from the Warsaw Ghetto, and she always told me that if anyone ever called me a dirty Jew, I should stand up straight and say, 'I'm a Jew and I'm proud of it.' "
That advice would come into play one summer when she was about 10. It was an ordinary hot day, and Weiss was on the street looking for her friends to play their regular game of baseball. Before she could find any of them, she was invited by two other kids to "come play baseball with us."
Weiss, who was carrying baseball bats and balls in a sugar sack her grocer dad had given her, said "Sure, why not?"
When they got over the hill, out of view from her street, the two children took the baseball bats out of the bag and began hitting Weiss.
They hit her all over her body, yelling, "You dirty Jew."
Weiss tried to protect her head as she rolled on the ground. The blows kept coming, and the cries of "dirty Jew" pierced her ears.
Sobbing and in terrible pain, she managed to escape and started running back toward her house to see her mother. Then, as if a force overtook her, she stopped, turned around, and, still sobbing, looked at the two kids and said: "I'm a Jew and I'm proud of it."
The story froze for me with that one image: A 10-year-old Jewish girl sobbing and in pain saying: "I'm a Jew and I'm proud of it."
At that point, the mood in the living room got uncomfortable. The memory was still so fresh to Weiss that she was about to start sobbing again, and she didn't want to do that in front of me.
She quickly recovered her composure and said: "The truth is, I was very lucky. They hit me everywhere except for my head. Had they hit me in the head, I probably wouldn't be here now."
As my friend Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote recently on Aish.com, "What has always marked anti-Semitism throughout the ages was its fundamental resistance to reason."
What good reason was there to hate sweet souls like Daniel Pearl and Edna Weiss?
"We are hated not because we are bad," Blech writes, "but because we persist in reminding the world of what it means to be good.
"The Talmud perceived this idea in the very name of the mountain on which the Torah was given. Sinai in Hebrew is similar to the word sinah - hatred. It was the Jews' acceptance of a higher law of morality and ethics that was responsible for the world's enmity.
"Anti-Semitism stands in opposition to the very idea of civilization. It detests Jews because it acknowledges that Jews are the conscience of humanity and the lawgivers of ethical and moral behavior."
The truth is, no matter how we try to understand it, anti-Semitism is a complicated, irrational evil. Its defining characteristic seems to be that it will always find a reason to exist.
Perhaps the best response, then, to this irrational evil, is to follow the leads of Daniel Pearl and Edna Weiss and simply continue being good Jews.
Daniel Pearl embodied this simplicity when he said, "I am Jewish," just before being murdered.
Edna Weiss embodied it when she remembered to express her Jewish pride, even though she was sobbing and in deep physical pain.
We often talk about great Jewish values like tikkun olam, observing the commandments and living an ethical life.
Pearl and Weiss showed us another value that's essential to being a good Jew: not being afraid to say who you are.
Reprinted with the writer's permission from Jewish Journal.
Arutz Sheva also brings you excerpts from the response of Paul Schnee, head of the the L.A. branch of the Zionist Organization of America, to the analysis of the roots of anti-Semitism in this moving article:
...I'm not sure I agree with Rabbi Blech about the origins of anti-Semitism. To be sure, it is an ancient and an irrational prejudice, but is initially derived, I suspect, from two absolute rejections made by the Jewish people some six hundred years apart. The first rejection was when they were introduced to Jesus of Nazareth and they refused to recognize him as the Messiah. The second rejection was when they refused to believe that Mohammed was God's messenger.
If anyone thinks the Jews are ever going to be forgiven for these two rejections of men who became objects of veneration for billions of people then they are on a romp of fantasy. This is not something for which the Jewish people should seek forgiveness, however, since one was an eccentric preacher and the other a homicidal maniac and avid pedophile.
Add to this the misperception of the declaration that the Jews are God's "chosen people" to mean that all non-Jews are therefore inferior and less deserving of God's grace and you have created the ingredients for the hostility towards Jews known as anti-Semitism.
I haven't even started on the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, not challenged until 1964 by Pope John XXIII during the Second Vatican Council, that the Jews killed Christ. This one belief was responsible for the ...butchery of Jews for centuries particularly at Easter throughout Christendom. It is the reason the Cossacks were able to conduct pogroms with impunity ... It was an underlying and important element of the Church's theology that endured until modern times and is still alive and well in the hermetically sealed psyche of Mel Gibson.
It is tragic that in later times even the well known Church reformer, Martin Luther, was finally seduced by all the anti-Jewish propaganda of his time. Although in his earlier ministry Luther sympathetically acknowledged the shameful way the Church had treated the Jews and urged kind treatment of them, in later life he was to write the complete opposite.
Here in part is what Luther wrote in 1543 A.D. It could be argued that Adolf Hitler seemed to use it as a general guide for implementing the earlier phase of his "final solution" against the Jews:
"What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we cannot tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy. . . . .We must prayerfully and reverentially practice a merciful severity. . . . . Let me give you my honest advice:
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them... Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. Fifth, I advise that safe conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them, and put aside for safe keeping."
A7 adds: It didn't work. They are still Jews and proud of it.