I'm typing with a heavy heart, with much hesitations, hand hovering over my keyboard, writing, deleting and re-writing. I sincerely hoped I wouldn't have to write this at all, but recent dialogues through email and through this blog made me realize I don't have much choice.
I started this blog being vague about my religious and national identity. A year ago, I made the necessary clarification about me being Jewish. I knew it was an important turning point - one that made my blog more personal, allowed me to open a wider range of topics, and started contact with precious people I wouldn't have a chance to meet otherwise. I was amazed to discover how many of my readers are actually Jewish; in the process of converting to Judaism; have a Jewish father, grandparent, or best friend; live in Israel, visited Israel, or plan to visit Israel; are studying Hebrew and/or Jewish traditions.
I also received many questions about Jewish beliefs and customs, which I had great pleasure responding to, especially since it often prompted me to learn something new myself (as I always state, my knowledge is very limited). People have emailed me about a wide variety of issues, from how to prove one's Jewish ancestry to how I tie my head scarves, and even though sometimes I felt my inbox would burst with emails, eventually I answered each one.
During the past year, I also received dozens of messages of a different kind - peaking during holiday season, which eventually prompted me to write this post, as uncomfortable as it may be. I'm talking, of course, about people who wrote to try and dissuade me from following the faith of my ancestors, despite my explicit request not to do that after the first few messages started to fly in. I know at least a few of you are reading this right now.
Numerous times, I also had to stop discussions here from sliding into theological debates. And please understand that by debate, I don't mean questions such as, "why do Jewish girls and women traditionally wear skirts?" - I'm talking about direct confrontation with my faith, which could easily get ugly if I gave it space on my blog. Notice that even now, I'm not debating; I'm not quoting from Scriptures, and I'm not defending my point of view - I refuse to be dragged into this publicly. A few times, I also had to stop discussion following a direction which would be offensive to other religious groups, such as for example Catholics.
I realized that up to this point, I have lived in a very sheltered environment. I spent nearly my entire life in Israel, in a Jewish community, among Jewish peers. New year always started in Autumn, and I had only a vague idea about another religious holiday taking place around Hanukkah. Until I started writing for LAF and started this blog soon after that, words such as "Evangelical" or "Bible Belt" didn't hold much meaning for me. The first time I made any personal contact with non-Jews was during university, when I had some Christian Arab friends. However, somehow we never reached the point of religious discussion.
But this time, of living in a country with a Jewish majority, is but a short point in our history. For many centuries, Jews had been persecuted, unjustly accused, despised, libeled, hanged, burned, tortured, banished and butchered for refusing to let go of their faith. The fact that I'm sitting here, identifying as a Jew, proves that many generations of my ancestors preferred to die rather than renounce their direct link to Mt. Sinai. Around five hundred years ago, my relatives preferred to leave all their belonging behind them in Spain, and journey into the unknown to Northern and Eastern Europe (where a large part of them would be subsequently tortured and murdered), rather than accept conversion - even a mock one - and comfortably retain physical security. Others, such as my husband's ancestors, sailed to the shores of North Africa. Jews fled to wherever they could still practice their faith without being murdered.
Have you ever wondered why? Stubbornness? Masochism? Tribal instinct?.. It would have been so much easier to just dissolve into the majority, assimilate, give up, like it had happened to countless smaller nations. Why is it that from Poland to Yemen, you could find exactly the same book of Torah in every synagogue, zealously preserved and protected from the smallest changes?
To all those who wrote to me offering to share the Truth, Light and Salvation - I would like you to know that I'm not offended; not angry; not hurt. Yes, at times I felt exasperated because of the unbelievable amount of similar messages from different people, but I know each and every one who wrote had my very best interests at heart. I know that each one of you felt sincere concern for my immortal soul, which according to your beliefs, will burn in Hell for all eternity if I don't accept what you are so willing to offer; I know that from your point of view, you aren't only doing me a favor - you are performing a sacred duty.
But from my point of view, you are asking me to commit spiritual suicide.
The Lord promised He would preserve the Jewish people, and this is indeed what happened, and what will continue to be until the End of Days. However, there were always individuals or groups who have cut themselves off by accepting whatever religion that was prevalent at the time. Right now we are celebrating Hanukkah, which isn't just the victory of the Jew over the Greek, but also of the committed Jew over the Hellenized one. Hanukkah is a victory of the few over the many, which is why it's so symbolic concerning the entire Jewish history. Yes, there will always be those who walk out. But some will remain. And some will die for their faith and the preservation of their people - not because they are too stubborn to do otherwise, but because certain things are worth dying for.
If you are one of those who told me, "But I'm not asking you to stop being a Jew - you can follow all your sacred traditions but still complete your faith", know that I understand - from your point of view, my faith is lacking something, and the completion you offer is the only way to restore it. You don't see the wickedness in rejecting the core of my belief while maintaining a Jewish appearance.
But from my point of view, accepting what you offer and insisting that I'm not breaking the chain because I would preserve some weak, merely physical, cultural resemblance of "living as a Jew" is meaningless.
Thankfully, right now I'm not facing the choice of renouncing my faith or dying. But many faithful Jews, among them sages, scholars and learners, had to make the choice throughout the centuries, and they chose to die. And after a year of learning, I'm convinced that not only they were heroes - from their point of spiritual purity, they had no choice. And they would do it again, and again, and again. Not to be strong, not to prove something, but simply because the horror of doing otherwise overcame the fear of death.
This year also made me aware that even here in Israel, we aren't as safe from spiritual attacks as I once thought. All of a sudden, I started noticing little things - certain literature handed out to unsuspecting people; certain messages in our newspapers. With increasing disgust - I'm sorry, but I can find no other word - I noticed that the main target groups are the weak; the lonely; the elderly; the teenagers; the under-educated in their own faith.
And we aren't taking this lying down. There is a counter movement of teaching Jews what it means to be Jewish, before they throw away their precious link to our people. Also, most foreign organizations here in Israel who try to get hold of the holy souls of precious Jews, are acting on a semi-legal to illegal basis, which gives us grounds for legitimate battle - we never forced our faith on anyone, and believe that in our country, we are entitled to the same privilege. Part of our monthly tithing goes to the cause of stopping the spiritual hunt of innocent Jews. For us, it's a matter of survival.
I will finish now. This post was very sombre for my blog, especially today when we are all supposed to be enjoying a pleasant holiday season. If I dampened anyone's mood, or hurt anyone's feelings, I apologize. I hope that very soon, we can go back to brighter and happier topics; wishing everyone a wonderful weekend.