American Jew or Jewish American?

Friday, 12 August, 2022 - 3:03 pm

We just wrapped up an amazing session of Camp Gan Israel! It is truly enriching to watch the boys and girls have so much fun celebrating their Jewishness. From davening to ceramics; from Wahooz to swimming; from Jewish songs to face painting; from vegetable gardens to Challah baking; from sports to kosher lunches – the Jewish pride was oozing out from all sides.

These children displayed that being a modern, proud American and being a proud Jew go hand in hand.


So, which is more important – being Jewish or being American?

Truth be told there is no contradiction between the two whatsoever, and I am proud to be both. And, I am even more proud of our younger generation – a generation untainted by the traumas of yesteryear and proud to wear their Jewishness openly.

I sometimes respond to this question by asking, “What is more important to you – being American or being human?”

Ultimately, we cherish our American identity because we love our country.  But we cherish our human identity because we are human.  If we cease being American, we have lost something dear and critical to who we are.  But if we were to cease being human, we would simply cease to exist.

A deeper insight from this week’s parsha might help us understand this.

In the Torah portion of Va’etchanan Moshe pleads with G-d to allow him entry into the holy land of Israel.  One argument Moshe made was that Joseph's bones are granted entry into the Land. If so, Moshe argued, certainly, I – who labored to bring Jospeh’s bones out from Egypt – shall enter!

Hashem’s response contrasted Moshe’s Jewish pride with Joseph’s Jewish pride.

As the Midrash puts it: “He who admitted to his land, is buried in his land; and he who did not admit to his land, shall not be buried in his land. Joseph admitted to his land when his mistress said (Bereishit/Genesis 39:14), "See, they have brought us a Hebrew man..." and he did not deny it; on the contrary, he said (ibid., 40:15), "I was abducted from the land of the Hebrews." Therefore, he shall be buried in his land. You, however, did not admit to your land, when the daughters of Yitro (Jethro) said (Shemot/Exodus 2:19), "An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds," and you heard this and were silent. Therefore, "You shall not cross this Jordan."

Yes, Moshe was an Egyptian – after all that’s where he was born and bred.  But that identity was only something appended to his essence.  A Jew’s essence is something inseparable from his/her being.  Just as I cannot forfeit my humanity, I cannot forfeit my Jewishness.

As the saying goes, once a Jew, always a Jew.

Let’s celebrate our Jewishness. Proudly.

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