There are Jews who claim that Philo- Semitism is just reverse antisemitism. They may have a point. There are many non-Jews so extreme in their support for Israel and exaltation of the Jewish people, that it is hard to predict what their reaction might be when they realize that the Jewish State and Jews are far more similar to other states and other human beings than they supposed. There are many who out of chagrin or disappointment with their object of admiration see their love for Jews curdle into hatred. Martin Luther is probably the most famous among them.
Nevertheless, even many people whose Philo-Semitism will not morph into antisemitism make me uncomfortable. The reason is that many if not most of them love and admire Jews for what they have rather than for who they are. Thus, they love Jews because Jews are the source of Jesus, because Jews won the most Nobel Prizes, enjoy the most successful careers, built the most successful state in the Middle East etc…
This love and admiration is better than anti-Semitism, but probably worse than indifference. Indeed, most people would rather be ignored by a potential romantic partner than to be loved for what they own instead of for who they really are.
The problem is that so few of us non-Jews really “get” what Jewishness and the Jewish identity are about. Tons of books have been written and will be written about the subject and to highlight how different and unique Jews are. At the same time, it cannot be emphasized enough that Jews are born no better or worse than anyone else.
Jews are unique thanks to their religion and their historical experience which are each very different from those of most other nations.
The Jewish religion is unique because:
1) It promotes and prizes erudition and critical thinking. It is true that most world religions have also bred erudite and creative thinkers. Nevertheless, most of the latter ended up being either clergymen or heretics. The idea that the bulk of believers should study religious texts and strive to find new answers to existing questions is unique to Judaism. Since for millennia religion dictated the attitudes and habits of most human beings, it is unremarkable that Jews are raised in an environment more conducive to scholarship and intellectual creativity.
2) It encourages logical rigor and truth-seeking rather than the pursuit of beautiful thoughts and feelings. Looking at the posts of different friends on social media, I see that Jews are far less prone to post feel good statements such as “Art will save the world”. Such a statement is poetically powerful, yet it doesn’t stand the slightest scrutiny: “What kind of art saves the world?”, “What does saving the world mean?”, “How is the statement actionable?” These kinds of questions may sound crass and unpoetic, but they really are crucial in making sure our words change the world rather than just making people feel better about the world the way it is.
3) It encourages action rather than rhetoric. Despite the rhetorical gifts of many Rabbis, the Jewish religion expects its followers to walk the talk. The entire Jewish religion is built on the performance of countless religious actions. This shapes the entire Jewish outlook on life which is based on changing the world rather than accepting it the way it is.
The Jewish historical experience is unique because:
1) It made the Jewish identity cosmopolitan millennia ahead of everyone else. Since Jews were scattered all over the globe, they learned very early to juggle the complexities of speaking different languages, living in different cultures and assimilating its virtues while remaining faithful to their particular religious and cultural identity. As I see second- and third-generation immigrant kids in Europe suffer from identity conflicts resulting from the pull of overlapping and often contradictory values, I can fully appreciate the mastery with which most Diaspora Jews cope with cosmopolitanism.
2) Being a minority helped Jews be insiders and outsiders at the same time. As insiders seeking acceptance and integration they strove to be better than the natives in everything they did. As outsiders they were able to see the shortcomings of their host societies and were better able to avoid them.
3) A history of discrimination and persecution makes most Jews viscerally aware of the danger lurking behind intolerance and incitement. Thus, for example, even though Jews have been disproportionately victimized by Muslim extremists, even Jews who criticize Islam will usually take care not to promote hatred and bigotry toward Muslims as individuals.
I personally believe these Jewish traits and characteristics deserve admiration and emulation far more than any fame or success Jews have attained. Whereas admiration for wealth and success can easily morph into resentment and envy, emulation of the traits and virtues that made this wealth and success possible will help make the world a better place for everyone.
Rafael Castro is a Noahide Italian-Colombian who graduated from Yale and Hebrew University. Rafael works as a high school teacher in Berlin and can be reached at email@example.com