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Israeli or Jewish

April 21, 2018

A few decades ago, when I was a young member of the Bnei Akiva youth movement (a Zionist movement for religious youth), we had an activity that related to our national identity. We were asked whether we feel more "Israeli" or "Jewish"?


I don't remember what the result of our small survey was, but I am almost certain that we thought of ourselves as more Israeli than Jewish. It was our first identity. This was undoubtedly my answer in those days when I kept Shabbat, ate kosher and believed in all my heart that the Creator chose us, the Jews, of all nations to be his "chosen people." From the height of my age and perspective of thirty years I can understand how a group of religious girls choose to define themselves as Israeli rather than Jewish. The State of Israel is still a young country, but thirty years ago it was even younger. Holocaust survivors, who were Jews before they became Israelis, still lived among us (there are still Holocaust survivors but they are very few and very old). "Jewish" in the cultural sense and not the religious (because it was clear to all of us that our religion is the Jewish) was perceived in our eyes as still weak, exile and miserable. As opposed to a strong, rooted and courageous Israeli. It is easier to identify with the strong and successful model.


If you ask me today, when I don't observe kashrut, when I publicly desecrate Shabbat and I have no slightest doubt that no celestial creature has given us the Torah and determined that we are the Chosen People, today I feel more Jewish than Israeli. And I don't feel that I can be "Jewish" anywhere else in the world. My identity is related to where I was born and where I live. My identity has a history and culture of more than two thousand years. And I think it is of the utmost importance that our children recognize it. And here is the point of this post. You can't be mistaken about me - I'm not a believer, I'm not a traditionalist because I do not believe that God commanded me to live my life according to certain codes. But it is important to me that my son will know the Jewish history and culture which is the basis for being Israeli and therefore I am first of all Jewish and only then Israeli. I was educated in religious educational institutions, and I had unqualified criticism of what I learned, but the fact is that I have knowledge that unfortunately many of my secular acquaintances don't have.


Why do I actually write this post? These days there is a public uproar in Israel. The Israeli Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, who is a religious Jew, decided to introduce the contents of Jewish heritage into the curriculum even in non-religious schools. In some non-religious institutions there is a yelling at the matter, I think it's a shame. As a former religion, who now lives in a non-religious society, I see how non-religious Jews do not really recognize Judaism, which is basically the basis for our being Israeli.


This week we celebrated 70 to Israel's Independent. An interesting anecdote is that, in 1948, on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a dilemma over whether to call the new state the State of Israel, or the State of Judea. On behalf of unity, the State of Israel was decided upon.


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