What does it mean to be a Jew today? What do Jews bring to the world today?
FEATURING (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):
THEODORE BIKEL • SHMULEY BOTEACH • GERALDINE BROOKS • MEL BROOKS • MICHAEL BROYDE • ALAN DERSHOWITZ • STEPHEN J. DUBNER • DIANNE FEINSTEIN • RUTH BADER GINSBURG • REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN • DAN GLICKMAN •ARTHUR GREEN • BLU GREENBERG • JEROME GROOPMAN • ROYA HAKAKIAN • MICHAEL HAMMER • SUSANNAH HESCHEL • MADELEINE MAY KUNIN • TONY KUSHNER • LIZ LERMAN • DANIEL LIBESKIND • JOSEPH LIEBERMAN • YAVILAH MCCOY • RUTH MESSINGER • LEONARD NIMOY • SHERWIN NULAND • JUDEA PEARL • ITZHAK PERLMAN • JUDITH SHULEVITZ • GARY SHTEYNGART • ILAN STAVANS • ELIE WIESEL • LEON WIESELTIER • RUTH WISSE
I consider myself to be a Jew in the vertical and horizontal sense. Horizontal, because I feel myself to be kin, relative and family of every Jew who lives today, wherever he or she may be. Vertical, because I am son, grandson and descendant of all the Jews who came before me; I am also father, grandfather and ancestor of all those who will come after me. Am I special because I am a Jew? Too often, people misunderstand the notion of Jewish specialness. Being the “chosen people” meant chosen for a task, not for privilege. That task was to bring the Word to a world that needed to hear it—still needs to hear it. Call it the Word of God, call it an ethical orientation, call it the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. We are not better than our neighbors, not nobler; we just carry a knapsack that is heavier with memory, with pain. We peddle the lessons of history. As for survival in the face of mortal threats, we who have repeatedly stared into the jaws of death are better able to deal with the threats than those who face them for the first time. But when we tell the world about survival, we are talking about creative survival, not mere physical survival. Everybody who is threatened with extinction fights for physical survival. Yet to survive as a moral people is as important, maybe more important. Far too often people forget this.
Theodore Bikel is an actor and folk singer.
American Jews are phenomenally proud of the history and the modern contributions of our people. But the biggest mistake the Jews have ever made—and we have yet to correct it—is believing that Judaism is only for Jews. We are not a proselytizing faith, nor should we be, yet we have much to offer. Christianity and Islam focus on macro-cosmic issues: Where do I go when I’m going to die? What’s heaven like? How can I be saved? Judaism is focused on micro-cosmic issues: How do I learn not to gossip? How do I learn to be spiritually fulfilled? How do I get an intimate relationship with God? How do I create a viable family structure and avoid divorce? We have mastered certain tenets of life that the modern world fails at. We know how to create passionate marriages. We know so much about inspiring children. We have focused on these things as a people for three millennia. We ought to share what we have learned with the rest of the world.
Shmuley Boteach is a rabbi and the author of Kosher Sex.