Emphasis on being separate
There are many Jewish organizations today that are involved in efforts to strengthen the Jewish identity of individual Jews throughout the world. Some tackle the problem from a religious perspective, some try from a nationalistic or Zionist perspective, while others from a cultural perspective. Yet as the definition of what constitutes Jewish identity is open to multiple interpretations, not surprisingly the methods employed by all the organizations are as varied as the Jewish people themselves.
Although respectful of the time and money being invested, are these organizations really capable of making a serious dent in the problem? Moreover, do they even utilize what is arguably the most effective element for strengthening Jewish identity? To understand this key element one needs only to look at Jewish history.
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During our long and difficult time in exile, the one point more than any other that kept us Jewish was the belief in being chosen for a mission and the promise by God that eventually we would be returned to our land in order to fulfill this mission. This was the motivating factor that kept us going, even in the darkest of times.
The concept of being a chosen nation, an idea that entails a certain degree of being distinct and separate, is a very difficult pill for many Jews to swallow as it flies in the face of Western, humanistic, liberal thinking. Moreover, since it’s politically correct to espouse the view that everyone is the same and therefore there should be no divisions or barriers amongst peoples, such notions as being chosen and distinct are easily vilified and called "racist" or "fascist."
Bring goodness to humanityReturning to the organizations, as many of them are amongst the most ardent supporters of liberal causes that advocate brotherhood and the universality of all men, how can they be expected, for example, to convince a lost Jewish kid of the importance of his remaining distinctly Jewish and not marrying his wonderful non-Jewish neighbor? In other words, how can they promote placing barriers between people when this contradicts everything they espouse?
The same difficult question can be asked regarding support for Israel, itself a key ingredient of Jewish identity. How can an organization that identifies with a liberal, Western concept of equality convince a Jew, either in the Diaspora or in Israel, of the importance of supporting a country that affords a special status to Jews only? Assuming that unequal rights between people in the same country are antithetical to everything the organization holds dear, isn't there a contradiction here?
Being Jewish and maintaining a strong Jewish identity involves a certain degree of being separate and distinct. Hence, by focusing on the concept of our chosen status for a unique mission, regardless of how difficult this may sound to Western ears, is by far the best vitamin for strengthening one’s Jewish identity.
On the other hand, the humanistic, worldly approach of no borders and no differences directly leads to more confused Jews, which in turn leads to further assimilation. Moreover, even cultural attachments such as Grandma's kugel or historical events such as the Holocaust and the Six-Day War, which helped maintain a strong Jewish identity in former generations, have almost no significance for young Jews today.
Finally, regarding the uneasiness with the concept of being chosen and the claims of it being “racist” or “fascist,” such assertions are nonsense since the Jewish concept of chosenness has nothing to do with hatred for other nations but rather with the idea of roles. This is similar, by way of analogy, to a symphony orchestra. Everyone has their specific instrument and their unique role and when everyone fulfills his role a beautiful Mozart is produced.
Even the original covenant with Abraham, the event that signified the birth of our chosen status, clearly stipulates that we will be given the Land of Israel and that the nations of the world will be blessed through us. Thus, the ultimate point of Jewish chosenness is to bring goodness to humanity and not increased hatred.
In summary, as a proper understanding of the chosen concept, together with the necessary emphasis on being distinct and separate is vital for maintaining and strengthening Jewish identity, as well as the key for enabling us to maintain the Land of Israel, it behooves Jewish organizations that engage in strengthening Jewish identity to promote these points.
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