To Be a Jew

As all Jews were, I was jolted into consciousness of my Jewishness with the killing of 11 - largely older Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh.   This brought a variety of feelings to my consciousness.

I thought distantly of the Holocaust, but it felt and feels distant to me.   It seems to be the driving force for many, but I do not fear another similar disaster.   There are too many non-Jews who care and won't be fooled again.   The hatreds of today are real and scary, but I don't see people in the U.S. or elsewhere as being similar to the Germans of the 1920's and 1930's.

My father was born in Berlin and left for Cincinnati in 1927 - before the major rise of Hitler.  When we went to Europe in 1962-3 - for a year - he would not go to Germany.   It was similar, but stronger, than his refusal to go to Spain and Portugal because of their fascist governments.   I wonder still if his attitudes would have changed if he'd live beyond 1964, when he died.

I am conscious every day of being Jewish, though it's not my primary identity.   I was wounded as a child, by the dominance of the Christian world of West Lafayette, Indiana, USA where I lived.   Christmastime - was the tough time of the year for me.   Christmas decorations and celebrations told me that I didn't belong.   I was an emotionally isolated boy.   Christmas seemed to dominate my world making me feel particularly isolated and lonely.

These memories make me think of a time in the 1990's when I got on the "Christmas Committee" in my office to try to see if I could help make it inclusive of non-Christians.   I later quit the committee in frustration.   The leader of the group was insistent - that its focus be totally token to Jews and other non-Christians- with something like 8 Christmas Carols and 1 Chanukah song.  There was no understanding of how the tokenism was exclusionary.   Christmas-  needed to be CHRISTMAS - inviolate to limits or change.

For me being Jewish means being politically aware and not afraid to speak my mind.   I remember circa 1988 - when I wrote to the Jewish Consulate in San Francisco speaking of my concerns with Israeli Government policies towards the Palestinians.  I was both amused and annoyed when they Told me that I had been taken in by too much Arab Propaganda!

It is sad to see my kinfolk - fellow Jews - having faced discrimination and oppression for centuries to turn into being bullies who seemingly don't care about the Palestinians.  The demonizing of another people is simply wrong.   The Palestinians did not cause or support the Holocaust.  Yes, one leader - did ally himself with Hitler.   Charles Lindbergh - and many others - were similar - but got far less attention for their Anti-Semitism and alliances with Hitler.

Peace - in Israel - will only come with justice!   Justice is not subjugating others - saying that their pain and hurt and loss - (if acknowledge at all) is less important than our loss from the Holocaust and our fears of another similar tragedy.

It is outrageous - that Jewish Establishment People  - try to label us Jews as Anti-Semitic!   I really - hate my relatives, who are largely in Israel.  I hate that my great-uncle got the first Israeli Nobel Prize.   Equally outrageous are the efforts to silence supporters of the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement who are trying to wake up the silence towards the oppression that is shown in many ways.   Israel does not equate with "Jewish".

Being Jewish to me is also various other things.   Sometimes it is just a sense that another person understands me and must be Jewish (occasionally I'm wrong in my presumptions).   It is the pleasure when attending a Jewish service (rare) - that old melodies - are re-awakened in my mind- fond memories.   It is the old jokes - Yiddish in them or not.    It is enjoying the Old Jewish comedians.

It is sadness at how others have been and felt excluded because of simply being Jews.   Even today - there are a few who continue to change their last names so others won't know.   I remember a lawsuit perhaps in the late 1970's, where a co-op building on Chicago's most exclusive block lost its right to exclude Jewish residents.   It is thinking of my old family friend SF - who in the 1950's became a doctor in part because he knew he could get a decent job through that profession.   Being a lawyer then meant that one had to work for a Jewish Law Firm.    It is hearing, as we did a few years ago, from our bartender/server - to be careful at a particular store, because they will "Jew You".

It is pathetic that we are still stereotyped as:  "the bankers",  "Hollywood" and much more.  It is pitiful that others, not seeing the powers that hurt or oppress them see us Jews as being the problem.

Being Jewish is a blessing.   The blessing is counter-balanced by the need to have a conscience and to confront things that are totally wrong.   Perhaps - more of us voting the right way could have prevented the current disaster - "our" President from being elected.   Being Jewish requires me to see and speak out against the Police Killings of Black people - usually young men.   Being Jewish requires me to see how Women are still silenced and ignored.   Being Jewish requires me to confront the oppression of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Other people.

Being Jewish - requires me to not blindly support tradition - such as supporting circumcisions. 

I am thankful that I am Jewish!   We are not however "the Chosen People" - unless that term somehow can be changed to not make us "better".   We struggle with both our superiority and inferiority complexes.



  1. George, I finally read this. I've had it open in my browser but I have to close my browser because my computer has to be rebooted to bring in new virus definitions for the anti-virus software. When we went to the New York World's Fair (1964-1965, I'm not sure which year we went) my Father would not take us to the German pavilion. & even now I don't know if I would buy a Volkswagen. Oddly enough, one of my clearest memories from that same World's Fair was standing in a long line to see Michelangelo's Pieta which was brought to NYC for the occasion. It confused me that it was so important to my parents that we see a sculpture of Jesus and Mary.

    But, I felt like I fit in fine in West Lafayette, and I joined my classmates at Christmas parties & caroling activities. I have a friend where I live now who is a Jehovah's Witness & she makes sure her children in public schools are excused from playing or singing Christmas songs.



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