- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On September 6, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakening, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. I offer here an abbreviated version of the D’var Torah I offered last Shabbat.
This Shabbat Awakening is about loyalty. If anyone wonders why a topic would present itself these days, well…welcome back from vacation. Over these past weeks, we have moved into a new level of being Jewish in America, or said differently, being an American Jew. To some, either is a cause to question our loyalty to this country.
Let’s focus on this kind of identifying quality.
They may sound the same but they are actually different.
It all depends on the noun and the modifier.
Many years ago, in my youth group days, we would engage in a program about Jewish identity called 4 corners. Each corner would have a descriptive word to which we would go as an answer to a question. Imagine this space with 4 corners with a sign attached.
We would ask questions like:
Go to the one that most defines you today?
Go to the one that you think will define you 5 years from now?
Which one do you most feel during the High Holy Days?
How about during Christmas time?
What lies at the heart of how we answer these questions?
Identity, for sure, and foundational to identity is loyalty.
We feel loyal to that which we identify with.
The opposite is true as well: We don’t identify with that which we don’t feel loyalty.
Let’s pause for a quick word association to loyalty: Faithfulness, devotion, allegiance, trustworthy, fidelity.
There is nuance for sure. The problem arises then when loyalty is questioned or worse attacked or even worse used as a weapon.
When the President of this country questioned why Jews would vote for Democrats—as he expressed consternation about supporting members of Congress, naming Omar and Tliab, who oppose and accuse Israel of nefarious behavior—he asserted that those who do support people like them show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
He knew exactly what he was saying with this anti-Semitic trope.
To challenge Jewish loyalty is a dangerous situation for Jews to be in. Citizenship for Jews has taken great effort after centuries of the impossibility of ever belonging.
Citizenship means pledging allegiance to this country. But does it have to mean giving up a Jewish identity? The idea of the melting pot as an American ideal is unfair and manipulative. Its intention was to create a unified, assimilated, and cohesive America that looked and acted like one particular kind of American. Yet there are so many kinds of Americans and, in our case, Jews. We needed ways to distinguish the particular manifestations of Jewish expression and therefore needed modifiers around the word Judaism and Jews.
If there is such an idea as Jewish American, then that means there can be African American, Latinx American and also religious descriptions Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and secular American. It is what characterizes the way we express who and what we are.
Likewise, to be an American Jew allows the fact that there are many nationalities and descriptions of Jews: British Jews, Canadian Jews, African Jews, and also High Holiday Jews, lox and bagel Jews, secular or religious Jews.
So, are we Jewish Americans or American Jews? The answer is that we should be able to be either, and even neither, and not to have our loyalty questioned. What is un-American, actually, is to question loyalty as a way to create dissent and suspicion.
The terms Jewish, American, Israel, citizen, faithfulness, devotion, allegiance, trustworthy, and fidelity all go together.
We know what is right and just, and we will stand strong.
We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat. At 5:00 p.m., there is a Shabbat Mispachah Dinner and then join together for services. Live stream HERE. Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion.
What do you think of the loyalty question? Connect with me HERE.