Who am I?As a small boy I had to endure the pain of not knowing who I was.
My parents moved to a town in New Jersey that was populated mostly by Catholic polish immigrants who were brought over by the slave traders with help from the church to work in the rubber and textile mills. They were greatly influenced by the anti-Semitic Detroit Radio priest father Coughlin, who often referred to the president of the United States as President Roosenfeld. At Easter time, when the priests came around to bless the kielbassa and Ham and get their hand out, Polish kids threw rocks at me because I killed Jesus.
At school we had to start the day by taking turns reading from the bible. The teacher always gave me the same page to read from. "The ungodly are not so, They are like the chaff that the wind driveth away." I could feel her eyes burning in my back.
My father's family in the old country were non-practicing Russian Orthodox and my mother's family Orthodox Jews. Neither of my parents were religious, although my mother did keep a set of kosher dishes for family visits.
I have never been a member of any church or temple, and I was astounded years later when I was in Israel to listen to the debates over who is or is not a Jew. I remember when I asked my mother. "Mom, am I a Jew?" Her answer was always the same. "I am a Jew so therefor you are a Jew. That's all there is to it." "But if you don't come from Jewland and you call the rabies gonifs how can you be a Jew?" My mother never called herself a Jew. She said she was an American of Russian Yiddish descent. That didn't help me because then Yiddish was a derogatory word like the infamous N word.
It was all so confusing. If your family came from Ireland you were an Irish American. If they came from Italy you were an Italian American. My parents came from Russia so how come I was a Jewish American? I didn't mind being a Jewish American and I still don't.
Israeli Law of Return is not a law at all because it still defies definition. Russian is a second language in Israel and most of those who speak it are not religious Jews and many do not call themselves Jews at all.Wikipedia includes the following paragraph "the registering of "nationality" on Israeli Teudat Zehut ("identity card"). This is also controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, which has generally only registered as a "Jew" those who meet the traditional definition according to the (Orthodox) Chief Rabbinate. However, in a small number of cases the secular Supreme Court of Israel has forced the ministry to register as Jews individuals who did not meet that definition." WHAT?
Uri Avnery said, "Anyone who calls himself a Jew is a Jew." WHAT?
My wife insists that Jewish means religion and genetics has nothing to do with it. It is an important subject because those who blindly support Israeli aggression do so because they feel if there is no "Jewland" i.e. Israel and they do not belong to any religious group they are faced with the same dilemma I had.
That is forever asking the question, who am I? To them Jewish is not religious, not political, but simply a nationality.
I solved it long ago with the help of Avnery. When I brought him to America for a book tour, my mother was already too sick to talk to him, but he taught me to separate Zionism, religion, and the awful Israeli politics from my mother's beautiful Yiddish culture and I am free to oppose the madness of greater Israel.