Yesterday, at our Shabbat morning meal, we hosted three college-age boys who are visiting Israel for ten days on a Birthright trip. We live near one of the Jerusalem hotels that Birthright uses, so we are often asked to give these young students an Israeli family experience. I’m not sure the experience they encounter at the Fishman house with the fanatic IsraelNN blogger is what the organizers of the program have in mind, but they keep sending them over, so I guess no one has complained.
Like a anesthesiologist before an operation, I usually get them a little drunk at the beginning of the meal, so I can begin to work on transplanting their brains. It is always sad to see how growing up in America has lobotomized these innocent souls from a Jewish point of view. They don’t know Jewish history, they don’t know anything about Judaism, and usually they only know a few words of Hebrew, at best how to pronounce the letters without understanding what they read.
“Are they really Jewish?” my children ask in amazement, not understanding how a person can be Jewish and not even speak Hebrew.
“Yes, they are Jewish,” I answer, “But they grew up in America amongst the gentiles, and no one ever taught them anything about Judaism, so they think they are Americans like everyone else there.”
At least they think that way when they first show up at our door. But after three hours of my wife’s delicious cooking, my ranting and raving, and a knock-out combination of Kiddush wine, beer, Arak, and a devastatingly potent etrog liquor from the Golan Heights, they stagger out of our home back to their hotel with a new way of looking at the world.
The main course - a new brain
The sad truth is that even when we host young religious visitors from America, the situation isn’t much different. True, they know more about Jewish history and Judaism than their non-religious counterparts, but their heads are still screwed on backwards nonetheless. They too believe that they are American, which reveals just how little they truly understand about Judaism.
As we have stated many times, in many different ways, Judaism is more than eating gefilte fish and observing the Jewish holidays. True Judaism, the Judaism that Moses taught the Jewish People, is not merely a religion, but a NATIONALITY. The Torah is not just a list of precepts, but the CONSTITUTION of the JEWISH NATION. Judaism means building a Torah NATION in ERETZ YISRAEL. Yes, the citizens of that Nation eat gefilte fish and observe the Jewish holidays, but they also are also charged with serving in the army, settling the Land, establishing a Jewish judicial system, building the Temple, keeping the agricultural laws indigenous to the Holy Land, in order to show the world that not only are individuals supposed to be moral and G-d fearing, but that entire NATIONS are supposed to serve G-d as well.
By definition, a Jew cannot be an American, or a Frenchmen, or a Mexican. He can possess a piece of paper, or an identity card, saying that he holds American citizenship, but that is just some superficial, bureaucratic paperwork. In his essence, a Jew is a “Bnei Yisrael,” a “Son of Israel.” He cannot be anything else. Yes, he can dress like a Frenchman, and talk like a Frenchman, and act like a Frenchman, but he isn’t a Frenchmen. He is a “Bnei Yisrael.”
What is a Jew? A Jew is part of a HOLY NATION. He has his own Jewish homeland. He has his own Jewish constitution and laws, that include his own form of religious government, and Jewish monarchy. A Jew has a Divine Jewish destiny and calling that separates him from the other peoples of the world, just as the heart is separated from the other organs of the body, but serves as its power source and center.
A Jew may adopt, out of compulsion or habit, the dress and language of some other nation, but it is by nature a passing, temporary, costume during the exile, in the lands of his captivity, before he returns to his true self – as a “Son of Israel,” living a Torah life in the Land of Israel.
The problem is that we forget. We forget who we really are. After years and years in exile, we become so used to the foreign costumes and ways, we come to believe in the charade. Nobody informs us otherwise. Not our parents, not our teachers, not our rabbis.
Until they innocently wander into the Fishman house for a Sabbath meal and POW! Fishman lets them have it smack in the face! While the Birthright program has good intentions, their organizers and guides are afraid to tell the truth about being Jewish, lest parents get angry and the program gets canceled for turning kids on to being TOO Jewish and wanting to live in Israel.
What do I tell them? I tell them about the history of the world according to Moses. And about Shavuot. But you’ll have to wait for tomorrow to hear the story yourselves. Meanwhile, get a few bottles of beer ready and some whiskey, or whatever it takes you to get in the mood to hear about the one and only Magical Mystery Tour of the Jews.
Thanks for a great meal, Mr. Fishman!