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Have you noticed the odd way “Jewish Heritage” is often used in contemporary parlance in the Diaspora?

While “heritage” is usually defined as some aspect of culture, widely defined, that is passed down from one's ancestors, it seems that the term is most often used when the cultural ties are weak, almost non-existent, even where that heritage is so weak that its use seems to be part of an attempt to remember what has been lost.

The Cambridge English Dictionary says that heritage constitutes “featuresbelonging to the culture of a particularsociety, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historicalimportance.”

So, Judaism involves both a religion and a culture. Yet those who emphasize the culture are less likely to continue the heritage than those whose culture is based on religious observance. The definition used by Cambridge above emphasizes that the culture must “still have historical importance.” One would think that to constitute historical importance, any set of facts, must be important facts, not trivial, such as what the weather was on a certain day. Historically significant aspects of heritage, I would argue, must be relevant and important throughout history and not just a passing fancy.

But “Jewish heritage” seems to be used to describe the ancestral ties of those who otherwise have little if no connection to Jewish religion or cultural values. The assertion of heritage, it seems, creates something of an anachronism, which, according to Wikipedia, is “a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of people, events, objects, language terms and customs from different time periods.

Do Jews in the Diaspora have such an inferiority complex based on our centuries of persecution that we are left celebrating our “heritage” instead of our current relevance as the covenantal people? Will Jews in Israel accept that Israel should be a state like any other (with, for example, Muslims in the government) rather than the nation-state of the covenantal Jewish people?

In the Diaspora, when a person is said to be of Jewish “heritage” that person and his or her progeny are unlikely to be still practicing or observing the religious dictates of that cultural heritage.

And so, it is often stressed that Prime Minister Zelenskyy of Ukraine has “Jewish heritage” even though he has never practiced Judaism, his wife is Christian and his children have been baptized. This is often mentioned in the context of Zelenskyy’s ties to Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups. It is also often mentioned that some of his close relatives perished in the Shoah. If a family connection to the Shoah is what constitutes a Jewish heritage, does it mean that our heritage is just one of constant persecution - which might mean our heritage is no different than other persecuted peoples like Armenians or Roma?

According to Israel’s Law of Return, an individual must have at least one Jewish grandparent, be married to a Jew or have converted in an established Jewish community to be eligible to make aliyah. This is less strict than the standard to be defined as a Jew by halakha (Jewish religious law). Halakha says that the individual must have been born to a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox rabbi recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

And so, when Israel admits into the country as citizens those who are not halakhically Jewish such as some of the Russian and Ukrainian immigrants who have just one Jewish grandparent (and not a maternal grandmother), then even Israel will have citizens with Jewish heritage only. Those who have a Christian mother and Christian grandmothers on both sides, but who have a Jewish paternal grandfather, will likely have a moderate Jewish heritage. The distinction between these immigrants and those who immigrate to the Diaspora, is that the children of such immigrants in Israel will be educated in a Jewish education system and then serve in the IDF.

Should we compare a Jewish heritage with an Israeli one for Russian and Ukrainian immigrants with one Jewish grandparent? This type of Jewish heritage will make it difficult to be married in Israel, and so those with only Israel heritage but no halakhic recognition, will be part of a two-class system.

The intermarriage rate for Jewish entertainers, sports heroes and professors in the Diaspora is very high. As a child I took an interest in which baseball players were Jewish, but as an adult I am saddened that most are intermarried and have only a “Jewish heritage.” Likewise, I was saddened that famed film director Steven Spielberg, who directed Schindler’s List and won the 2021 Genesis Prize for contributions to Jewish culture, is married to a non-Jew and has a Christmas tree in his house. I was even more saddened when Spielberg and hardcore anti-Israel ideologue Tony Kushner made the profoundly anti-Israel movie Munich.

The mission of the $1 million Genesis Prize is said to be “to foster Jewish identity, inspire Jewish pride and strengthen the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. The Prize celebrates Jewish talent and achievement, honoring individuals for their accomplishments and commitment to Jewish values, inspiring Jews to connect to their heritage and to Israel.”

I am interested not only in Jewish heritage but in architectural heritage, which, in my case, became a business of preservation and renovation of heritage buildings, such as old warehouses, churches, firehalls etc. into affordable rental housing for modest income working people. Often we would decline a project because the costs of restoration were in excess of the cost of demolition and building new. For my company, then, heritage preservation was something great to do, but not if the costs were too high.

And so, too many people find the preservation of Jewish heritage is fine, but they find the costs of such preservation to their thinking are too high when it comes to other goals - such as doing business on Shabbat or Yom Tovim, eating at non-Kosher restaurants or leaving the neighborhood where they can walk to synagogue to live in a fancy suburban location. Those who live in the Diaspora of course find many reasons to adopt the many aspects of assimilating to mainstream culture.

Can the anti-Israel types like those in JStreet and Jewish Voice for Peace claim a Jewish heritage or are they rejecting the unity of our people and thus the heritage that had us all say at the end of the Passover Seder and and at the end of the Ne'ila service on Yom Kippur, “Next year in Jerusalem”? Also can ’progressive” Jews that embrace leftist intersectionality including anti-Zionism claim a connection to Eastern European Bundists, who, it might be argued, placed social justice and ties to the working class movements around them ahead of the need to depart Europe for the Jewish homeland?

Will Spielberg’s grandchildren emphasize his Genesis Prize for so-called Jewish values and achievement or his aid of the Palestinian “cause” through the disinformation of Munich? Will heritage be a strong enough value that when they go to anti-Israel universities, they can stand up for our Jews in Israel? Or will Jewish heritage just be a term applied to those whose Jewish values were left behind?

Accordingly when we assert that some one or other has Jewish heritage, it probably means that they have demolished their Jewish heritage and cannot even pass on successfully a renovated Judaism like a renovated heritage building?. Maybe it will turn out that Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage will have “historical significance”, but I would not bet on it.

Howard Rotbergis the author of four books on ideologies and values. See: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Howard-Rotberg/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AHoward+Rotberg