We live in a world of descriptions. We describe everything around us, everything within us using words that are often arbitrary and misunderstood. It’s a challenge to understand what someone else means; to struggle to interpret their meaning, not the meaning you would place on their words.
Who are you? Who am I?
Deep philosophical questions that are, most likely, triggered by the time in which we find ourselves. Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur is a time of reflection. We Jews think a lot – about ourselves and the world around us, our families, what could be, what was, what will be. So, with all this thinking, I got to the issue of nouns and adjectives.
I lived for over 30 years in America and during all that time, I was different from most of my friends and nearly all of my relatives. Their adjective was my noun; their noun was an adjective I resented. They were/are Jewish Americans. I was an American Jew.
According to recent polls, 70% of them voted for Hillary Clinton and more than 70% have intermarried and assimilated. In there a connection? For most American Jews, the Torah is something they know about, but rarely see or hear or read. Too many are the “Once-a-Year-Jews” who remember their identity a few times a year and Israel is, quite frankly, a pain in the neck to them. We embarrass them. Worse, we expect them to focus on this little sliver of land as if…as if…as if it were the most precious of gifts, as if it were our future and the promise made by God to the people He chose.
OMG, does that sound extreme to those who cherish the Adjective! Not a one of those Adjectives would have fought for America; only a few have ever been to Israel. They cannot understand me, my life, my priorities and in this time of reflection, I have to admit that I can’t understand them.
The Noun should be everything, the Adjective something we carry with us from land to land and change it as the years and centuries go by. Noun. I am a Jew. What never changes is the Noun. When I moved to Israel, I seem to have accomplished the impossible; I added another Noun. I am an Israeli.
Or perhaps it is not really impossible. After all, don’t we all have so many other Nouns? I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. These seem to universal. Why are my two special Nouns so much harder to understand? Why is being a Jew so different? Why does the title “Israeli” cause such confusion, such assumptions being made?
At a time when I seek clarity, I find myself most confused not by who I am but by a sense of amazement that so many seem to have problems understanding that being Israeli and being a Jew are the foundations of so many of our lives. It isn’t about going on vacation; it doesn’t matter who the president of the United States is. And to balance that, it doesn’t matter who the Prime Minister of Israel is either.
It isn’t about what we do for a living, where we live, who we voted for, or where the nearest beach is. Those who accept the Nouns of our past as those of our future carry this burden knowing it is our greatest gift. We are the people of Israel, living in a land like no other.
I don’t know who they are, these Adjectives, because they live their lives against all the logic we have carried with us for 2,000 years. Too many of them have lost the collective memory that has helped the Jewish people survive.
How could my country be an embarrassment to them? How could the precious service that my sons and daughters have offered to this land make them uncomfortable? They think they are doing us a favor by “trying” to explain our lives here to others in American, when really we have nothing that we need explained. At best, we are doing what other nations are doing to those who oppose them – and really, we don’t even come close to what most nations do on a regular basis (Russia, China, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Sudan…and yes, England, France, Germany and the United States).
We are the people of Israel, a people like no other. But that is lost to the people of the Adjectives.
I look at them; I look at their children and I mourn for them. I mourn for the history denied to them, the heritage they will forsake simply because they never got a chance to know the depth, the glory, the wonder of what was thrown away before they ever had an opportunity to experience it.
As the years go by, hope slips away – not hope for Israel. I have never been more hopeful. Israel is incredibly strong, incredibly stable. The world around us is shaking. Syria is collapsing; Lebanon and Jordan and teetering. Saudi Arabia is preoccupied; Egypt is caught in its own mess.
Europe is reeling from terror attack after terror attack wondering only which city will be next. We used to live like that and the world didn’t listen when we told them what starts here goes out to the world. Now it has. And America…I think the biggest problem for Jews in America isn’t so much terrorism as it is grammar.
That may sound absurd but consider for a moment the reality of life for Jews in the United States. So many of you live in very nice homes, in very nice communities. You’ve got your cars and your jobs and your vacation. Your children go to nice colleges and meet nice people and eventually marry…so what if they aren’t Jewish, right?
Your lives are full and you’re happy but like the Noun now forgotten you don’t know what it’s like to see the trees blossom around Tu b’Shevat, you don’t bless each drop of rain for the gift it is. You don’t see the golden stones of Jerusalem, the shimmering beaches of the Mediterranean reflecting the last golden rays as the sun sets.
Have you never stood beside the graves of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov, Sarah, Rivkah and Leah? What would you give to pray beside the grave of Rachel and tell her she doesn’t have to cry for her sons any longer, that they are finally home?
As an Israeli, I can’t comprehend how you can live without watching the fields of Israel begin to blossom, or the seasons change the desert from gold to green and back to gold. How could your hearts not yearn for the light and the smell of Israel? The sudden flash floods, the lights of Haifa at night. The beauty of the Golan, the waterfalls and mountains. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
And the parts of our faith – you’ve been to many britot (circumcisions) but have you ever been to a Pidyon HaBen or stayed up all night on Shavuot to learn? Have you ever sang and danced around a Lag B’Omer bonfire, or sat on the ground near the Kotel and cried over the destruction of the Holy Temple? Most of you have never heard the Torah finished…and started again…or seen the joy on the faces of dozens of children as they gather under the tallit for the children’s bracha on Simchat Torah. How could you serve ham on Passover…or is it Chinese food? Why would you eat crabs and oysters and octopus??? Octopus?
Have you ever visited the site where the Israelites crossed into our land, leaving Moshe Rabbeinu (did you know that Moshe Rabbeinu refers to Moses) behind? I live 20 minutes from there; 20 minutes from the Western Wall. In an hour I can be by the beaches in Tel Aviv, 3 hours down the Arava Road to get to Eilat. Such beauty here…so foreign to you.
No, you don’t have the same concerns as our grandfathers did in Europe but you have other concerns. They were spiritually strong but at risk physically and they knew, back then, who they were. It was easier for them because they lived in a world, as I do, where they were instantly recognized. They were Jews…in Poland, in Germany, in France, in Greece, in Italy, in Hungary…they were Jews, they were Nouns.
And now, generations and decades later, who I am is right there in the Nouns. I am a Jew. I am an Israeli.
What is destroying American Jewry is grammar…you’ve lost your Nouns and worse, you’ve come to worship your Adjectives.