Jew-haters see evil as a Jewish phenomenon. This is why, although they have their “good” or “token” Jews, they can still hate the Jews as a whole. Their “good Jew” is an exception. The Jew-hater’s loathing of Jewishness and Judaism manifests itself in hatred for the Jews as a collective. Thus, the haters hold the vast majority of Jews responsible for perceived “Jewish” crimes.
In the Jewish world, one of the responses to this has been the attempt to diminish Jewish collective responsibility. As I described in my second book Reclaiming Our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride, this was a factor in the “Jewish-American Cold War,” an ideological struggle fought in the 1940s and ’50s over the future of American Jews.
On one side were Jews who did not want to be defined as Jewish because they did not want to be perceived as responsible for other Jews. They wanted to be seen as Americans first. From a psychological perspective, this response made sense, but it also belied a certain truth: Jews are responsible for one another.
This is not to say that the crimes of one Jew are the responsibility of all Jews. It is to say that Jews everywhere are connected to one another, and the experience of one Jew in one part of the world should matter to Jews everywhere.
The attempt to distance ourselves from this collective responsibility is tragically understandable as an attempt to overcome overt Jew-hatred. But it is also an attempt to diminish the specificity of the Jewish experience, to remake us into something universal. If we aren’t defined by our Jewishness, it holds, then we are just like everyone else.
Certainly, Jews are part of the human race like anyone else, but we are also a specific group of people with unique connections. We must remember this, and not allow Jew-hatred and the trauma it inflicts upon us to cause us to warp ourselves. Warping ourselves is something we have already tried to do, and it didn’t work.
The Western Jewish world underwent extreme changes in the 19th century following the Enlightenment. We began to define ourselves via non-Jewish expectations of Jewish identity. We shed our nationhood and remade Judaism to bring it more in line with Christianity. All of these attempts failed, and they betrayed thousands of years of Jewish civilization. They were not natural cultural evolution. They were a specific attempt to change Jewishness and Judaism so that Jews might finally be accepted. We were not.
Pride, however, does work. Jews must be proud of ourselves. We must take pride in our civilization and understand the connection that exists between Jews all over the world.
When an Orthodox Jew is beaten on the streets of Brooklyn or an Israeli Jew is murdered in Tel Aviv, it is my problem in London. We are Jews. We are one. In the past, it has been easy for Jews to feel safe and secure because their immediate circumstances were not threatened. But what about the global Jewish experience? What about the global Jewish community?
In my work promoting Jewish pride, I have been told that many Jews in America believe we should just keep quiet about Jew-hated. This should be patently absurd to anyone who has been watching the recent evolution of the Jewish-American experience. I also find it fairly callous. Even if American Jews were safe and secure—and they are not—there are other Jews all over the world whose safety is threatened every day.
The outpouring of grief over the heinous murders of Lucy, Rina and Maia Dee reminded me of the Jewish saying, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh—“All of Israel are responsible for one another.” The Dee family’s request to share a photo of an Israeli flag on social media was taken up by Jews all over the world, regardless of their political affiliations. They stood together to pay tribute to the victims of those evil murders and show their support for the Jewish people.
This sent a clear message: We are diverse, but we are one. We are a collective and we are responsible for one another. To live up to this, we must reject non-Jewish attempts to shame us for our specificity and connection. We must not allow them to frame our Jewishness as something we should reject.
We have a responsibility to one another, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are lucky to be part of such a connected people, and this is not something we should forget.
Ben M. Freeman is the author of “Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People” and “Reclaiming our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride.”
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