What Jewish Means
Shlomo Sand was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria in 1946. His mother was Jewish but his father was not (which made him a Jew since the religion goes from mother to child). His family eventually migrated to what was then known as Palestine and Sand, as a young man, questioned his Jewish identity even as a secular Jew. Now he shares with us from his own thoughts and essays his personal feelings at the problems of a modern Jewish identity.
Sand discusses the negative effects of “the Israeli exploitation of the “chosen people” myth and its ‘holocaust industry.’” He criticizes the fact that, in the current context, what “Jewish” means is, above all, not being Arab and gives us his thoughts about the possibility of a secular, non-exclusive Israeli identity, beyond the legends of Zionism. He grew up among Jews and tried to understand the social integrity of Israel as a state. Israel, “a Jewish state” is also made up of non-Jewish religions, but those who follow these religions do not enjoy the benefits of being Israeli citizens.
Sand also writes about the over exploitation of history for the good of religion. The number of deaths during the Holocaust, he writes, is not limited to Jews (six million) but that were also as many as five million other deaths of people of other religions. History does not always mention this and the benefits (German reparations), Sand claims, are collected only by Jews. As a result of this and other issues, Sand demands to be “stripped of the (his) Jewish identity”.
This just might be the weirdest book I have ever read. Sand seems to think that regarding Israel there was some kind of conspiracy theory. He claims that Israeli historians have suppressed the Khazar theory that says that the Ashkenazi community came from ancestors who were medieval Slavic converts and that the theory maintains there is no history of Zionism but rather an anti-history. Therefore there is no such thing as the Jewish people. However he cites no evidence for this.
He goes even further by rejecting his Jewish religion because it is a “genocidal Yahwestic tradition.” He cannot identify with secular Jews, since they have no common culture — no shared language, customs or literature. He says that the great modern Jewish writers such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth did not look at and/or explore Jewish themes in their writings and instead wrote of and with an “Eastern European sensibility.” Jewish humor therefore becomes “Yiddish-Slavic humor since it was never shared and Jews “… do not experience today joys or pains shared by other secular Jews the world over.” Therefore he announces that he wishes to resign from the Jewish religion and no longer think of himself as a Jew.
He has no awareness that Judaism can be looked at and defined by “the tensions between universalism and tribalism” and that there is not and never was a Jewish culture. and schlemiels.
There is really nothing original here—all we get is a union of memoir, unfounded history and ideas about Jewish identity that he has taken from others. He seems to be trying to prove that being Jewish is an onus and a terrible thing. He appears to hate other Jews (those aside from himself) and he regards himself very highly.
Sand does ask an important question here by saying that there is a closeness between an essentialist Jewish identity and how Israel treats its non-Jews. No doubt there are those who claim Israel is a haven for Muslims and everything is great in Gaza. However, those who seek intellectual honesty have to admit that there is a contradiction “between Western ideals and an ethno-religious government that humiliates and brutalizes people under its jurisdiction”. American Jews must decide why they support a situation in Israel that they would never allow happen here.