When I was growing up, I didn’t know what it was to be Jewish. It turns out that I wanted to be Jewish, because all the people I looked up to were Jewish: Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Woody Allen. I know: what I was actually into was urbane intellectualism. But the point is that I had no idea that they were Jewish.
Many people—who I consider smart, but largely ignorant—point out that Judaism is a religion. Indeed this is so. I’m referring to to these people in an ethnic sense. This is the only way it matters. The Nazis didn’t hate the Jews because of their religious beliefs (although they certainly used this in their propaganda). Many non-religious half-Jews died in the Holocaust. Unless we are talking about religion specifically, discussing “the Jews” is the same as discussing “African Americans” or “Latinos.”
I still don’t exactly get what it means to be ethnically Jewish. Jon Stewart just looks like a white guy to me. At this point, I am almost completely dependent upon an excess of Jewish holiday mentions to divine Jewishness. And that means I am often wrong.
I think a lot of people are in the same boat as I am. I remember an episode of Northern Exposure where Joel accuses Maggie of living in an area without any Jews. Maggie responds that there was a woman who lived on her street who was Jewish. How does she know the women was Jewish? “She was smart… And funny.”
I can see why Israel is so important to Jews the world over. If it weren’t for Israel, I doubt an ethnic Jewish identity would still exist. As it is, Judaism is one of the smallest religions in the world.
I don’t see hanging on to ethnic Judaism as an identity as being important. Of course, my thinking about ethnic Judaism may be colored by the fact that, like Stephen Colbert, I don’t see Jewishness. I feel the same way about every other race. From what I know, I am a mixture of many different races, including Hebrew. However, I wonder about the wish to maintain purity of blood; it seems to me to be much the same thinking as that of the antisemites. Obviously, individuals have a right to arrange their lives as they see fit. In the past, the races developed because humans were not in contact with each other. Over time, with our very connected world, the races will become indistinguishable. And I think that’s a good thing.