I Am Jewish

  There were more than a few Jews among the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, just as there have been more than a few Jews among the leaders of many other movements that have sought to save mankind. They believed with all their souls that the way to redeem humanity and create a better world was to achieve absolute equality. All human beings are equal, and equality means no differences. All human beings should therefore be identical. Ethnicity, class, religion, and national characteristics belonged to an old and decaying world. The time or such distinctions had passed. The Jewish revolutionaries wanted to release the iron reins that held each person to his tribe, that tied each Jewish man and woman to unique heritage and culture, and to create a new man–Homo sovoeticus. While these were assimilated Jews, a very Jewish aspiration was the basis for their actions. They wanted to be a light to the gentiles. To have influence, to lead, to mend the world. The way to do that, as they understood it, was to leave their villages, the shtetls, to erase their particularist Jewish identity, to meld utterly into their surroundings in order to create the new man who would live in the better world they so longed for. I was one of the millions of new human beings in the Bolshevik experiment, which was successful far beyond its makers’ expectations. Section five in my identity papers informed me that I was a Jew, but I hadn’t a clue as to what that meant. I knew nothing of Jewish history, language, or customs, nor had I even heard of their existence. My father, who loved to tell stories, would sometimes tell us tales from the Bible. We heard about Joseph and his brothers, about Samson and Delilah, but they were stories just like all his other stories. No one told us that these were the history of our nation, no one thought to mention that these stories were connected to us in any way. Like all Soviet Jews of my generation, I grew up rootless, unconnected, without identity. With our Jewish identity lacking positive content, only anti-Semitism gave it any meaning at all. To be a Jew was to be hated and discriminated against, to have fewer options. To be a Jew was to have a perpetual problem. We were weak, and we sought ways to escape our fate. Excelling at science, art, or chess were all ways to run away from that mysterious, inexplicable Jewishness. It not only failed to give us strength, identity, and meaning, but was actually a burden and interfered with our lives. The strength arrived, unexpectedly, from a far-off land and war. The stellar Israeli victory in the Six Day War enabled us to stand tall. People suddenly treated Jews differently. Even the anti-Semitic joke changed. They were no longer about the cowardly, mendacious Jew. They were about the upstart, brave, and victorious Jew. It was through the war that I became aware of the Jewish state, and of the language and culture it embodied. I was suddenly exposed to the existence of the Jewish people, to the existence of tradition and culture. I was no longer a disconnected individual in an alienating world ho tile world. I was a person with an identity and roots. 1 felt that I had a history, a nation, and a country behind me. That I had, at the end of the earth, a homeland. That I belonged. That feeling was my companion through years of struggle for human rights, in the framework of the Zionist movement, and through long years in prison. Even in solitary confinement I believed that the Jewish people and the State of Israel would fight for me. I was not alone. I was arrested a few month after the Entebbe operation. The operation signified that Israel was prepared to go any distance to save its citizens, and it made a huge impression on me. During my years in prison, every aircraft in Siberia’s skies sounded to me like the rescue force coming to liberate me. True, I was not rescued by an airplane or a bold military mission, but I was certainly released from my prison by the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I truly was not alone. Identity and a sense of belonging give life strength and meaning. A person who has his Jewish identity is not enslaved. He is free even if they throw him in prison, even if they torture him. For me and for my colleagues in the Zionist movement, Jewish identity was a source of pride, and pride gave us the strength to fight. At first for our own self-respect, and afterward for our national honor, and in the end for the destruction of the evil Communist empire and for freedom throughout the world. The Jews who led the Bolshevik Revolution believed that rubbing out their Jewish identity was the way to redeem the world. In practice, they lent a hand to one of the cruelest regimes mankind has known. Instead of being a light to the gentiles, they brought a great darkness on the world. Slashing off their roots did not create a new, strong, and free man. Instead, it trampled on human dignity and turned the individual into a slave and chattel. We have learned that liberation in fact depend on strengthening identity, on returning to one’s roots. Only a person who is connected to his past, to his people, and to his roots can be free, and only a free person has the strength to act for the benefit of the rest of humanity. Daniel Pearl’s last words testify that he was a man who knew where he came from. He was not alienated from his identity. Only such a man could have been free and brave enough to take upon himself the important and dangerous mission during which he was murdered. The freedom that beat within him, the freedom that came from within his identity, is what gave him the strength to leave his land and his family and to do what he thought was right and important, for the sake of the rest of the world.  

Excerpted from I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, ed. by Judea and Ruth Pearl, c 2005, Published by Jewish Lights Publishing, PO Box 237, Woodstock, Vermont 05091, www.jewishlights.com Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of LongHill Partners, Inc.    

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