Never forget that you’re a Jew
By Justin Amler
I saw a movie tonight called Run Boy Run, a true story about an 8 year old Jewish boy Srulik Fridman, who escaped the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and had to keep on running and hiding, on his own, from place to place in order to survive for the next 3 years.
It was a very emotional movie, but there was one scene in particular that grabbed me, and struck close to the essence of Jewish identity. Both Srulik and his dad are hiding under a bridge, having just escaped the Warsaw Ghetto, while Nazi officers are hunting them. Srulik’s dad, knowing what is at stake and what is required to survive, tells Srulik to run… to run away as fast and as far as he can. So he tells him to hide his Judaism, adopt a Catholic name and pretend he’s a Pole in order to survive.
And he says, “… even if you have to forget everything…your name and even your mother and me…you must never forget…that you’re a Jew.”
These words hit me, because they are the essence of what Jewish identity is. For thousands of years Jews have lived among the peoples of the world, after having been exiled from their homeland in Israel. They’ve adopted to different ways of life and different customs in the countries they found themselves.
Today, Jews from different areas of the world have different types of food they like to cook, or different customs on Jewish holidays. During the Spanish Inquisition Jews were forced to convert to Christianity to survive and many tried to hide their identity. The Inquisition authorities would go to extreme efforts in order to hunt down these Jews, known by a few terms including Anusim, Marranos and crypto-Jews. In order to avoid detection, the Jews would memorize prayer books, hide lit Shabbat candles in cupboards and even celebrate Jewish holidays either a few days before or a few days after the actual date in order to fool authorities.
Like Srulik, their lives became ones of secrecy, hiding their identity in order to survive. But like many traditions, as the next generations adopt them, the core reason for doing so begins to fade and after a while their connection to their heritage also begins to fade, until they’re lighting candles in cupboards, but not really knowing why. It’s simply a family tradition. While many have drifted away never to return, there are also those who are finding a way to drift back.
This is why Israel is so important to Jews. It’s not whether you make it your physical homeland or just your spiritual one. But it is the unifying factor of what being Jewish is. For all our core traditions and our language and our laws and our customs originated from there. When we pray, we face Jerusalem and our prayer books constantly talk about the Land of Israel. And we end our Pesach seders with the phrase, next year in Jerusalem. This is a core issue of what being a Jew is about.
I mention this, because when I see Jews who rally against the State of Israel, and team up with groups that want to hurt Israel and even annihilate it, or even a ridiculous story I once read of a so-called Rabbi who started a congregation that was anti-Zionistic, I know that these Jews have forgotten the essence of what being a Jew is about. They try to make Israel a side, almost negligible issue in their Judaism, when it is really the central issue.
The term Zionism, as it is used today, is a modern political term, but the essence of it is as old as the history of the Jews themselves, beginning with our patriarch Abraham, the first Jew.
The war against Israel by our enemies is not just about attacking our future and our homeland, it’s about attacking our past and our history. The attacks against Israel are anti-Semitic in nature, because each denial of our history, led by groups like UNESCO, have little to do with the modern day state of Israel but everything to do with Jews and the Land of Israel.
When the State of Israel was proclaimed, it was not just about building a future for the Jews, it was also about honouring a long past.
Srulik’s father knew this, and as he said to his son all those years ago while hiding under a bridge, tears pouring down his face, cold and shivering and scared, gripped by fear and sadness and tragedy, “… even if you have to forget everything …you must never forget…that you’re a Jew.”
Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based columnist who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia and is currently working in the Information Technology industry. He is a regular contributor to international publications, including the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel. Justin is also a valued Israel Forever blogger, writing about his connection to the Jewish state. You can reach Justin on Twitter, Facebook & Google+.