When the bulk of European Jewry gradually lost its distinctive Mid-Eastern look , culture – especially language, religion and dress – became the only things that set these Jews apart from their gentile neighbors. While Europe was effective in erasing the “Jewish look” over a thousand years, America was effective in erasing Jewish culture within a century (with obvious exceptions of course). Nonetheless many American Jews still wish to remain “Jewish” even as they retain only faint vestiges of their ancestral culture. While an Irish-American might be content to dust off his Irishness once a year to celebrate St. Patrick’s day, and an Italian-American might reminisce about his grandmother’s cooking, a Jew often feels the need for his Jewishness to take a more active role in his life. He might feel empty otherwise.
An occasional anti-Jewish slur, by a passing drunk, is enough to fill this role. As a matter of fact, so desperate have some Jews become, to find anti-semitism, that they will even cling to outbursts by drunk celebrities directed at nobody in particular.
Pathetic as such bottom-feeding may sound, from an objective point of view, occasional displays of anti-semitism do serve to remind Jews that they are Jews and therefore strengthen our ethnic cohesion. In this sense they are productive. Many “lost Jewish souls” found their way back to Judaism because of anti-semitism.
It is not a pleasant experience to be the target of ethnic slurs or intimidation. I can say this having experienced it myself. Yet we can look at it as a bitter pill to swallow for those Jews who are lost to their people and on the verge of total assimilation.
When I argue for the continuity of my own people, I am not advocating for a complete return to traditional Judaism – and in this I walk a fine line. One that is full of questions and contradictions. Can the Jewish People exist long term without its religion? Should it? What right do Jews have to the Promised Land if they do not believe in either He who promised it or the book that documents it? Alas, I do not have all the answers – but future posts may explore them further.