Forward to My Essay
What Makes a Jew ‘Jewish’? is the title of one of my Chabad references in Chabad’s Supernal Jews. It’s a far cry from ‘What makes a human Jewish?’ Well, human I am. What makes this human Jewish? Both my parents were Jewish and were well aware. My father was German, and I was born in Germany in 1932. We were lucky. My mother’s German-born parents were already living in Newark, New Jersey. We got out of Nazi Germany in 1937 and out of Holland to the U.S. in September 1940. (I still have visual memories of an air raid shelter, lifeboat drills, and a gas mask too large for my small head.) We were liberal Reform Jews, celebrated the High Holidays in Temple and at home, skipped Friday prayers, ate everything, and stretched Chanukah into Christmas when the calendar didn’t cooperate.
I can’t think of any other Jew in the private, secular high school I attended (which started every morning with an assembly that included a Christian hymn, an unanticipated benefit that introduced me to formal multiculturalism, so to speak). In my freshman year at college I joined a Jewish fraternity. We painted the walls and desegregated the frat house. It was my first extended experience (outside my family) with Jews my age. I learned the rest of my life from many of my fraternity brothers: Be a better human and ‘Jew’ will take better care of itself. Whether or not you’re religious. I’m not.
The notion that being Jewish precedes (or replaces) being human is a horrendously bad ideology, as my earliest childhood realities remind me. What rekindles these memories so late in my life? The arrival of a Chabad emissary in the neighborhood some eight or so years ago. I’ve met the young man several times in a one-to-one. He is truly, sincerely, a nice guy. The Chabad sect? If I had come across the name, I had never taken note. Now I do. Never having had an education in the history of Judaism, I had to overcome my incredulity that some rabbis conscientiously articulate a Jewish theory of Jewish race.
‘What makes a Jew “Jewish”?’ Is it a Jewish question? A Nazi question? Or both? ‘Both’ is the right answer. Although Chabad and Nazi ideologies offer entirely opposite answers to the same question, they agree there is legitimacy and importance to the question as such. Its underlying assumption is ‘Jews are a unique race’. Remove the assumption and the ‘What makes’ question is the opener of a joke. Chabad and Nazi ideologies only share the assumption, not the contents of or causal explanation for their basic premise, not the two movements’ conflicting reasons for promoting and imposing its version of the truth of a Jewish race. In both cases, the life consequences of the question are not confined to the classroom. The international Chabad sect wields measurable political influence and power here and in Israel. It actively engages its influence and power to make Jewish racism the leading ethic for Jewish sovereignty in Israel-without-borders.
Chabad’s Sectarian Jewish Religious Racism
I am a Jew. I have connections. No, not the stereotypical I-can-get-it-for-you-wholesale connections. Being a Jew I am born connected. I am connected to every living Jew all over the world. I am connected to every Jew who has lived and to every Jew still to be born. Jews are a block and the block is timeless. Put differently, a Jew is not an ‘I’, a self-referential egoist. We are not a bunch of individuals who decided to come together and form a family, a community, a people, a people-hood, a nation, an Israel. How come is that? God did not create Jews as individual beings. He built that timeless ‘interjew’ connection into every Jew right from ‘In the beginning’. Non-Jews need not knock. (more…)