Another glue?

I have a friend who is religious, not extrememly so, but he wears a kippah. We agree on most things, but whereas I am secular, he says that it was our religion, Judaism, that kept our people together throughout the centuries, that provided the “glue” that enabled us to survive. I can’t disagree with him, he is right, it was Judaism that was the glue that held us together, but I cannot accept or believe in it solely because of that. What I need is another glue, an alternative to Judaism. For me that is Jewish nationalism or Zionism.

In all human groups there are three aspects of identity, nationality, ethnic affiliation, and belief system or religion. This is as true for a Mexican American Christian as for a German Russian Jew and an Israeli Arab Christian. In fact, the word “Jew”: itself is ambiguous, as I have argued before, and stands for all three aspects, namely a person whose ancestors originate from Judea (from the tribe of Judah), whose ethnic affiliation is Jewish and whose religion is Judaism. In most cases the three categories can be separate, as in a French Algerian Muslim or can be two-fold as in an Indian Hindu, or all rolled in together as in a “Jew.”

In almost every human group there are extremists, who emphasize one aspect of the trinity of characteristics over another. Thus, an Islamist is one who emphasizes the religious aspects over the national or ethnic. An Islamist wants everyone to be governed by Islam (to submit) and to give rise to a supra-national Caliphate. To him the designation of Syrian Muslim or Algerian Muslim are superfluous, everyone will simply be a “Muslim.” There are some anomalies though, for example, one can be a Jewish agnostic or atheist, because being Jewish is a national and ethnic desgnation as well as a religious one, but one cannot be a Christian agnostic of atheist, since Christianity is purely a religion, you can either believe in it or not.

The question then for a Jew, who wants to remain Jewish but not be a believer in Judaism, is whether or not the “glue” of Zionism is strong enough to hold the Jewish people together in a time of secularism and assimilation. I hesitate to say “no” to this question, but I fear that it is true. The apotheosis of Zionism was the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel (some wanted to call it Judea). Once a true Zionist accepts that designation he/she then has no choice but to come and live in Israel and accept the nationality of Israeli. Otherwise it is now clear that in the Diaspora, the national designation of a Jew does not work, because it confuses people. In the West being Jewish is usually considered purely a religious connotation. If its a nationality how can you be British and Jewish at the same time, how can you be American and Jewish or German and Jewish? Actually the Germans had no confusion about this, you could not have both designations, they were mutually exclusive.

But, in a democracy the protection of minorities does allow this duality. However, many liberal-minded Jews in the West now seek simplification of their national identity by dropping the Jewish one, as exemplified in the recent Pew poll that found 20% of American Jews do not identify with Israel. They would be correct in saying, “I am not an Israeli!” but they also want to say “I am not Jewish!” They could be non-religious, non-Zionist and yet, still remain a Jew by birth and by ethnic identification. For me the transformation of becoming an Israeli citizen cements my Jewish national identity. But, for those living in the Diaspora, who are not Orthodox, a few generations may dilute their Jewish genes and their Jewish national identity.

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