In 1889, Samuel Clemens attributed the longevity and pride of the Hebrew race to stubbornness and righteousness. During my lifetime, I have learned a different lesson about what it means to be a Hebrew. Up until recently, I have felt beguiled and cheated by the race that purports itself to be the children of G-d. I am offering this essay to all Jews, especially young Jews, who are disillusioned, ashamed or frustrated with a lack of purpose, meaning and relevance of being Jewish. Read this with honor! We were chosen by the Almighty G-d to represent Him and we are direct descendents of Abraham, Moses and King David.
I grew up in America, this land of religious freedom, ashamed of my birthright, my heritage and my Jewish identity, as did my parents. Why do the people who were chosen by G-d assimilate? Why do they hide behind altered surnames? Whom are they trying to appease by becoming conservative and reformed? Clearly, if the fault cannot be blamed entirely on Jewish persecution, and it cannot, then the Jew must accept responsibility for allowing these and similar abominations to occur.
My father denied his Jewish heritage because of the atrocities he witnessed as a child. His Orthodox parents were forced out of Austria after it was no longer fashionable nor legally required to tolerate Jews. They migrated to the Russian frontier and found refuge in Gomel, one of many Jewish shtetls. Russian gentiles, intolerant of Jews and armed by Czarist soldiers, periodically formed organized raids on Jewish settlements. Those pogroms were instigated by the Christian church and sanctioned by the Russian government. My father witnessed the malicious destruction of private property and the rape and slaughter of unarmed innocent Jews. At the age of seven he and his parents escaped from Russia and migrated to America. However, he spent the rest of his life tormented by the atrocities that occurred in his village.
In America my parents worked hard and long hours trying to support our family of four. We were the only Jewish family in a neighborhood that consisted entirely of central European refugees, many of whom were intolerant of Jews. My parents hid our Menorah in the closet so they wouldn't offend our gentile neighbors. We stood in our front yard and laughed with our neighbors who made jokes about "dirty Jews." My Hanukah bush was a Christmas tree complete with presents and a train running around it. The boy next door thought it was funny when he taught me how to draw a swastika. In grade school, some of my classmates often commented that they wished they could find a "dirty Jew" and "burn him in the ovens." By the age of thirteen I developed a syndrome referred to as "Jewish self-hate." Which manifested itself in delinquent behavior and subsequent placement in a local Jewish residential treatment center in 1963. I found out later in life that my father's unpredictable and violent behavior stemmed from the same affliction.
What do we have to be ashamed of? We gave the world monotheism and Christianity. Our contributions to medicine, science, music, art, entertainment and literature are numerous and legendary. We gave the world its first doctrine of morality. Time and time again we have demonstrated our worth and devotion to humanity. Regardless of our accomplishments, we are relentlessly persecuted because we are Jews. Even though we represent less than one percent of the global population, we have given the world Moses, the Prophets, Jesus, Freud, Herzl, and Einstein, just to name a few. What other race has achieved such a distinguished list? The rooms in my mind are filled with the history of anti-Semitism. Mr. Clemens showered us with accolades. To him, we put up a marvelous fight throughout the ages and we did it with our hands tied behind our backs. He had no way of knowing that in World War I, Jews were awarded medals disproportionate to their numbers when compared to the German soldiers they fought gallantly along side with for the "Fatherland." I wonder what Mr. Clemens, who may have had unresolved issues of his own regarding Jews, would have thought of Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald as repayment for their devotion. What might he have thought about the millions of women and children who were tortured and gassed to death or worse, by a sub-human species who unleashed their unholy savagery on six million defenseless Jews.
Little has changed since Mr. Clemens created Huck Finn to speak on the plight of the black man. And even less has changed since Mr. Clemens spoke on behalf of the Jew. If we continue to assimilate we will have done for the gentile what they have been unable to do to us for 5300 years. I do not intend to become a member of an endangered and forgotten species nor a footnote in a history book. Our race has two, and only two, options. We can continue to utilize the totally ineffective and self-debasing methods of assimilation and appeasement. Or we can, and let me assure you we will, stand in defiance with an uncompromising commitment to "never again."
This essay developed from an ongoing dialogue between Mr. Bernard Arshenovitz and this author.