Right at the start I’ll confess to having a great affinity for Jews.
I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a large Jewish population. Many of my friends were Jewish. When I got married, my best man was a Jew.
Now I live in the Midwest, a region that the late comic genius, Robin Williams, described as “mondo goyim” (Gentile world). I miss the Jewish spirit I knew so well on the East Coast; that self-deprecating Jewish wit; that certain cadence of speech; that strong sense of Jewish community.
Ah yes, Jewish community.
There’s the heart of the matter.
My mother used to say that Jews were “clannish,” by which she meant they stick together.
Mom was no Jew-hater, I assure you. She, too, had Jewish friends. And she was a hairdresser who worked in Jewish-owned beauty shops. In fact, her most loyal customers were Jewish.
But as a shiksa (a non-Jewish woman), she observed the reality of a special connection that existed between the Jews she dealt with.
By the time I got to high school, I discerned that same reality among my Jewish friends. They all had a certain – what can I call it – awareness? A sense of being part of something.
It was more than just that they attended the same synagogues (there were two in our area), or had gone through Hebrew school together. It was deeper, more pervasive and unifying.
Don’t get me wrong, these kids were fully integrated into public high school life. In fact, they were usually the top students. (It’s a cliché that Jews are smart, but clichés become clichés when they express something that’s generally true.)
Out of school, though, their lives were ordered by a cycle of highly specific religious rituals, family traditions, and social functions. And they talked among themselves with a shared understanding. Occasionally, they even used a few Yiddish expressions (probably learned from their grandparents).
My Jewish friends never made me feel like an outsider, nothing of that sort. Indeed, they and their families welcomed me generously into their homes.
But they knew things. Things I didn’t know.
Maybe it’s like how Black people regard their common experiences, a group consciousness that conveys the attitude: “You can’t understand, because you’re White.”
To me, what went on between the Jewish kids had a strange allure.
Perhaps I’d have felt differently about all this if I’d grown up more involved in the Church. I came to Christ as an adult. The minimally-committed Protestantism of my family didn’t provide much in the way of religious identity. I felt no particular sense of community.
I admired what my Jewish friends had. Over the years I’ve recognized it also includes adult Jews who’ve touched my life.
The Jewish community is real and palpable. In some ways, it’s more developed and self-sustaining than ever. Are you aware that there’s a thriving Jewish pop music scene? Have you ever heard of Avraham Rosenblum, whose 1970s Diaspora Yeshiva Band pioneered Jewish rock-’n-roll?
What about groups like The Chevra, or Miami Boys Choir?
Or Yaakov Shwekey? Or Shulem Lemmer?
These are performers of international renown, whose music is never heard on mainstream radio stations. That’s largely because most of it is in Hebrew or Yiddish, though you don’t have to understand either language to feel the emotional impact and spiritual power of these songs. I’m a fan. (There are lots of other great singers in Jewish entertainment, as well.)
With all of this Jewish influence upon me, I view the conflict in the Middle East with great sadness. Worse, I view the current surge of anti-Semitism around the world with revulsion.
The assault on Gaza has brought a predictable outpouring of complaints against Israel. But make no mistake, it’s also opened up a well of prejudice and hatred against Jews – Jews, in general, not just Israelis, not just Zionists – which I would have thought was pretty firmly capped, at least in this country.
Yes, there was the Pittsburg synagogue shooting, as well as occasional street assaults and property defacements in Jewish neighborhoods. And we’ve heard about outbursts of anti-Jewish sentiment in the leftish academic world, which is the epicenter of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement intended to penalize Israel for its alleged ‘aggression’ and ‘apartheid.’ Anti-Zionist feelings tend to shade over into a more generalized hostility toward Jews and Jewishness.”
Likewise, Jew-hatred can rear its ugly head in conservative circles. It’s often implicit in criticism of “neo-cons” (a sometime euphemism for “Jewish intellectuals”). And it’s especially blatant on right-wing social media, such as the free-speech-defending Gab social network platform.
But the Israeli response to Hamas’ barbaric slaughter of Jewish men, women and children has triggered a wave of protests reflecting an agenda that clearly exceeds concern for the plight of “innocent Palestinian civilians.”
Now, I don’t wish to diminish Palestinian suffering. Gaza’s people, like those of the West Bank, have long had their lives made difficult by Israeli security measures, which, of course, are prompted by the occasional terrorist suicide bombing). God knows, Palestinians are suffering now under the onslaught of Israel Defense Forces – not to mention those being shot by Hamas for trying to flee combat zones.
But many from Gaza work in Israel, at least they did until the border was sealed. The water and electricity on which daily life depends have been provided for years by Israel. In contrast, the primary investment Hamas appears to have made in civic infrastructure is building their vast network of tunnels to launch attacks on Israel.
The agitation we’re seeing on the streets of Europe and America really has very little to do with concern for Palestinian pain. Quite the contrary, it’s in support of a 7-decade jihad, during which so-called “Palestinian refugees” have been used as pawns to discredit and disadvantage the Jewish state.
Israel has a land area only about the size of Lake Michigan. Yet its presence in what’s considered the ummat al-Islām, the supra-national community constituting the Islamic domain, is intolerable to many Muslims.
Of course, it isn’t only Muslims demonstrating against the IDF action. Pretty much the entire Left has turned out: a broad spectrum of socialists; Antifa-types; the Black Lives Matter crowd; environmentalists; the “intersectional” crew, you name it.
Participation by some of these groups raises intriguing questions. How, for instance, do you explain Queers for Palestine?
A sad joke going around tells how the Israelis have made it safe for LGBTQ folks to support the Palestinian cause. There are no longer any tall buildings in Gaza for Hamas to throw them off.
Truth is, Palestinians could have had their own nation in 1948, except that pretty much the entire Muslim world aligned against the newly-established State of Israel.
Is that changing? Islamic animosity toward Jews is deeply ingrained, its roots in the Koran itself. Hate is drilled into each generation, small children imbibing it like mothers’ milk. Celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank over Hamas’ gruesome murders of Jews demonstrate the high position this theologically-based rage holds in Muslim thought. Thus, it’s unlikely ever to be completely overcome.
Still, the Abraham Accords peace agreements signed in 2020 suggest that some Muslims are weary of jihad. They want a productive relationship with the Israelis, who have shown how a flourishing Middle Eastern nation can be created, even without large oil deposits.
But for Hamas supporters protesting Israel’s action, this is about more than Gaza. A lot of the hubbub comes down to Jew-hatred, pure and simple.
The great Black conservative scholar Thomas Sowell has viewed anti-Semitism as part of a global pattern of hostility against what he’s termed “middle-man groups.” These are ethnically-identified minority communities that achieve success in professions that facilitate trade and industry – which is a description Jews have fit historically.
The “clannishness” of Jews (to use my mother’s word) has contributed substantially to their success. From the days of the Roman Empire, international ties have made diaspora Jewish families indispensable as merchants and financiers, often being restricted to such professions.
(Sowell notes that the Chinese have played similar roles in foreign territories where they’ve settled, especially Indonesia, the Philippines, and other South Asia lands.)
Middle-man groups tend to be viewed with suspicion, if not active hatred, by the majority populations they serve. This is the all-too-human phenomenon of envy, exacerbated by the separateness made visible in cultural and religious differences.
Envy is mankind’s pervasive and ongoing sin. Envy is powerful. It’s apparently a sufficient motivator to have sustained anti-Jew hatred for a couple of millennia – and that’s without even getting into Hitler and the Nazis.
Of course, Jews today aren’t only merchants and financiers. They are scientists, doctors, lawyers, inventors, engineers, artists, writers, educators, entrepreneurs, and on and on. They’ve made incalculable contributions to the quality of life and wellbeing of the human family.
On the other hand, sometimes they’re politically nutty. Jews have often had their hands in troublesome ideological movements. (One need hardly mention the blind and self-destructive adherence to Liberalism which many Jews maintain.)
At any rate, they remain distinct. Usually identified easily. Very much a community of their own.
The Gaza situation has revealed many dark feelings about Jews, which would normally be suppressed in deference to the expectations of modern polite society with its pretentious veneer of inclusiveness.
The release of those emotions has clearly advanced the leftist program. In spite of the incongruities (Queers for Palestine, etc.), the sight of all those disparate groups marching side by side builds progressive alliances. Expect more agitation. Much more.
There are lessons in this that followers of Christ must take to heart.
Yes, we have points of religious dispute with Jews, and those differences are big. The biggest, of course, is Jesus.
Christians read the Old Testament (what Jews call merely “the Bible’) and see signs that prefigure Christ. Jews, on the other hand, insist there’s nothing at all in the Bible to suggest something like the Incarnation.
Okay. That disagreement is what it is, and it’s not going away.
Differences aside, Christians and Jews share a common religious and moral heritage. Both groups are called upon to bear witness to God in a world of challenge, hostility and godlessness.
Christians must keep in mind this one indisputable fact: Jesus was a Jew. He was born a Jew. He lived his life as a Jew. He died a Jew. While he offered a new teaching and a new way to live in faith, he never renounced his Judaism.
You can believe that Christianity offers answers other religions do not. You can be convinced that following Jesus is the way to salvation for everyone. You can feel compelled to share the Gospel and the love of Christ in response to the Great Commission.
But you cannot be a Christian and hate Our Lord’s own people.
That’s the bottom line in this time of surging anti-Semitism.
Stand by our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Pray for the Jewish community – and for the peace of Jerusalem.