In Jewish tradition, rabbis try to discourage those who seek adoption as converts; they're supposed to be turned away either three or four times, I forget which. In my case, it took a total of four rabbis and at least ten years to adopt -- and be adopted by -- the Jewish people. Most of the rabbis tried to discourage me by pointing out the dangers inherent in being a Jew. I was told that my decision, should it be carried out, could put not only me but my family at grave risk. I accepted that risk even though I didn't -- I couldn't -- yet fully understand it.
It was not until some years later that this risk was brought home to me, when I watched one of those Hamas "martyr" videos. You know the ones I mean, the recordings made by suicide bombers before they went off to detonate themselves among Jews in the hope of a "successful" mass murder. The first one said his message to the "loathed" Jews was this:
"...we will chase you everywhere. We are a nation that drinks blood and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of Jews. We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children's thirst with your blood. We will not leave until you leave the Muslim countries."
The second terrorist spoke on camera as his mother helped him dress for "battle" prior to his suicide mission. To the Jews this one said, "In the name of Allah, we will destroy you, blow you up, take revenge against you [and] purify the land of you..."
Having once been a non-Jew, I realized that not everyone would feel as personally threatened by this language as I did. Simultaneously I realized -- to the extent I was able -- what it felt like to be threatened by hate. This hate was neither passing nor superficial; it was as permanent, uncompromising and deep as it could be. I realized this was what the rabbis had warned me of, that there were indeed people in this world who didn't know me from Adam but because of my adoption, my choice, my love of a religion, a tradition, a people and a land, they literally "thirsted" for my blood.... because now my blood was Jewish blood. Its DNA, pretty much all White Anglo-Saxon, had nothing to do with it.
I wrote about my reaction at the time: "When you read that 'there is no blood better than the blood of Jews,' you are tempted to laugh and cry and vomit all at the same time, but you end up doing none of those because you can't really wrap your mind around it. I guess this is what shock feels like, an odd sensation of lack of sensation."
Over time the shock wore off and I came to accept as a fact of my life that -- like it or not -- I had enemies, and very determined ones. I learned not to distance myself by saying "you" instead of "I," so that now I can own all of it -- my birth, my history, my families and yes, my Jewish blood.
What enables a Jew to live like this? What gives us the strength? For me, it is the assurance that nothing is new in this world since the Five Books of Moses. There is an answer for everything under the sun, and the "answer" for the Jewish people is our urge, our tradition, our habit, and our instruction from the Creator... to choose life (Devarim/Deuteronomy, Ch. 30).
The depth of this Jewish heritage, handed down from generation to generation, holds the combined wisdom and teachings of all those Jews who came before us and on whose shoulders we are now blessed to stand.
Sadly, not every Jew understands this. Not every Jew finds access to the riches of our inheritance. When availed of no strength in one's Jewishness, some even stray so far as to seek solace in nothingness. In nothingness, there are no differences between peoples, there are no disputes that cannot be peaceably adjudicated, there is no hate and so of course one has no enemies. In nothingness, everything is the same.
It is this nothingness that enables some young Jews to believe, as Paula Kaufman wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail ("Hanukkah in Palestine"), that "no person can be called, in one word: terrorist. That's too easy. Try this: human being."
Tragically for Israel and for all the family of Jews, it is the nothingness that provides the easier route. Believe me, I understand its appeal. If we are all the same, then no one hates me, and certainly no one actively thirsts for my blood.
Hundreds, if not thousands of Jewish young people fall into this trap. Like Kaufman, they feel not only virtuous but safe in the lairs of their enemies. Somehow, when everything and everyone is the same, an "all-Muslim" university or an "all-Muslim" territory is a good thing, not a form of apartheid, and any distinction between a real country like Israel and an imaginary country called "Palestine" fades into nothingness.
Conceivably harmless in and of itself, the nothingness can lead to danger should a young person like Kaufman fall victim to manipulation, a scam. Believing that the warm hospitality extended to her by her "Palestinian" friends is evidence of their kindred humanity, it does not occur to Kaufman that she might have become a useful tool in a propaganda war meant to delegitimize Zionism in general, and the Jewish state in particular. To believe that, you'd have to believe that there are people in the world who actually thirst for your blood.
If my suggestion is incorrect, then how is it that a young Jewish woman is freely admitting that "most all the fathers or men" she has talked to in "Palestine" have been detained in Israel prisons? From this basis Kaufman accuses Israel of using its prisons "to subdue an entire population" -- of poor unfortunate victims, or so one is led to assume, guilty of nothing other than harmlessly throwing some rocks, and after all, who can blame them?
Until now, no distinctions were being made -- we were all human beings, there were no terrorists -- but then the nothingness gave way to a certain discernment, the bread and butter of political propaganda.
In the town of Nablus where Kaufman has chosen to live and work, there are no Israeli prisons, but if you are suspected of "collaborating with Israel" you are simply picked up and taken to the public square where you are shot to death. Your body is then tossed into a nearby dumpster. In Nablus you can be arrested for your opinion. In fact, a professor at the very university where Kaufman teaches was arrested last year for criticizing the university. I guess his loyalty couldn't be bought for a laugh over some mint tea or a loaf of bread.
Thankfully, our Jewish children are now far removed from their homeless ancestors who doubtless roamed the globe, at one time or another, in search of peaceful refuge. Many of our children have grown up taking the re-establishment of the state of Israel for granted; it is "always there" to catch the Jew who might fall into some sort of insecurity. They may not understand that it is exactly Israel's existence that allows them to feel so assured of the security of their own existence. Herein lies the rub: in the nothingness of non-distinction, they risk believing that security is part of their being, the natural state of their shared humanity, and that it will follow them into the territories and homes of the enemies they do not recognize having.
We Jews, distinctly from all others, must teach our children well and foster for them access to their heritage, because someday, somewhere, it could provide them with the necessary strength to choose life... should Others seek to chase them "everywhere" to destroy them.