This post was originally posted on March 10, 2002. (It’s the post that started my schism with my left-leaning blog circle of that time.)
About a week and a half ago, I found a brief mention of my first essay on Metafilter, along with a question in the comments that needs answering. The question:
“I’m confused. I thought that the implication of his ‘I am a Jew’ statement was that it was something he was forced to say by way of giving the murders justification for killing him, claiming he was a Mossad spy or something.”
And there was something else, something from Mike Golby’s website, posted in response to my earlier essay. Here are the pertinent paragraphs, since Blogger seems to have damaged Mike’s archives (the essay is from March 3; you need to scroll down to read it):
“However, neither article will do much to assuage Meryl’s concern at the hatred others show towards her because of her faith. I firmly believe that, while others can support her, only she can do something to assuage the real anger she experiences at the thought of others hating her simply because she is Jewish. If it’s of any value to the feisty Ms. Yourish, I’ve seen infinitely more people twisted, broken, or driven crazy by the hatred they carry within than I have people who’ve been crippled by any viciousness voiced.
Those who hate are victims of self-abuse. I’d ask Meryl to follow the path she and her Polish friend took in their childhood, that most sensible time of our lives. Wait until they stop behaving like idiots, because, most of the time, and if South Africa is anything to go by, they eventually do.
Perhaps not in our lifetimes, but eventually.”
I can’t really speak for the hatred in South Africa. I ‘m no expert on South African history. And it is usually an exercise in futility to get into a comparison of whose misery goes deeper, but it must be pointed out that Jews have been subject to anti-Semitism for thousands of years, in, as far as I can tell, every nation in the world in which they have lived. Our history and South Africa’s are vastly different; it’s not a workable comparison.
Anti-Semitism doesn’t seem to be showing any sign of going away, except in places like the United States–which is over and above more tolerant of every ethnicity and religion than any other country in the world. Many of my anti-Semitic experiences have been with students or immigrants–Iranian Muslim students or immigrants, in point of fact. The negative experiences of my friend’s father and my mother–both native-born Americans–are the only ones that changed. The Iranian students weren’t willing to so much as give me a chance to become friends with them. In fact, the only Iranian I ever became friends with was a student at my college who had come to America as a small child, and whose parents deeply opposed the Ayatollah’s revolution. Nader was, in any case, completely Americanized by the time he met me–a critical factor in our friendship, I believe.
So here’s the problem, Mike. You recommend to me that I don’t fall victim to hatred. That I simply wait until the people who hate me because I am Jewish simply stop behaving like idiots.
I agree with you about not falling into hatred. It is extremely difficult not to, though, when I see Jews being gunned down at a Bar Mitzvah celebration, or while they are eating lunch at a cafe, or simply trying to study in their religious school. My anger overflows, but it is ultimately reined in and turns to sadness for the dead. I won’t fall into hatred, because it’s not in me to hate for no reason. And because when I do fall into anger and despair, I have friends–good friends–who can remind me that hate is the wrong path to follow.
But to “wait for them to stop behaving like idiots”? They’re not behaving like idiots. They’re behaving like murderers.
My mother and my friend’s father were acting like idiots, but they weren’t trying to kill us. Arab terrorists will kill me because I am Jewish. Danny Pearl is dead because he was Jewish. More people will die because they are Jewish, and this will keep happening for a very, very long time. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for them to stop behaving like idiots. My life could be at stake.
Which brings me around to answering the question from Metafilter: The reason we use that phrase is because even knowing full well that Danny Pearl was forced to recite the words that became his last, they resonate in every Jewish person’s soul: Yes, I am a Jew. Whether it is said voluntarily, or whether it is forced out in some pretense of justification by the executioners, it has the same resonance. I am a Jew, and I may die because of that. How many Christians ever think they may be killed for being a Christian?
The mob that surrounded and murdered Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights was chanting “Kill the Jew!” In Nazi Germany, Jews who had completely assimilated were put to death alongside those who were deeply religious. If only one of your grandparents was Jewish, you went to the camps alongside someone whose Jewish lineage went back hundreds of years. It isn’t a question of faith. There is a distinction that gentiles make that cannot in actuality be made about Jews. If you take away my religion, I am still a Jew. Judaism is both religious and cultural. You cannot separate the two like you can, say, an Italian Catholic. Take away my sister-in-law’s Catholicism, and she is still an Italian-American. Take away my religious Judaism, and I am still a Jew. All of us know this, consciously or subconsciously. Because even if we want to no longer be Jewish, the world rarely lets us let go of our Jewishness. Hitler certainly didn’t. A lapsed Jew is still subject to the same hatred and bigotry that a religious Jew endures.
Therein lies the distinction that no other culture can claim. Therein lies our difference, our Otherness. Therein lies the reason for the continued attempts at our extinction. Therein lies my reason for taking the words forced upon Danny Pearl, and putting them out on a banner for all to see. Yes, I am a Jew. I was born a Jew, and I will die a Jew. I certainly hope I won’t die because I’m a Jew.