¿Cuál es precisamente la base de la creencia y la nacionalidad judía?
Tengo que dar una charla sobre el tema “Los judíos: ¿raza o religión?”. Mi madre siempre me enseñó que el judaísmo es una raza, pero quiero el consejo de un experto. ¿El judaísmo es una raza o una religión? ¿Cuál es precisamente la base de la creencia y la nacionalidad judía?
Respuesta del Rabino de Aish
Categorizar al judaísmo “sólo” como una religión es una equivocación. El pueblo judío es una nación que comparte un territorio común (Israel), una religión común (el judaísmo) y una historia común (que comienza con Abraham).
Lo asombroso es que los judíos hayan mantenido su distintiva identidad nacional a pesar de estar esparcidos por los cuatro rincones de la Tierra. Este logro fue posible sólo gracias a nuestro apego a la Torá, la “constitución” del pueblo judío.
Las leyes de la Torá establecen el alcance de los derechos y las obligaciones personales, así como las leyes que abarcan el ciclo de vida, la práctica comercial, la ética médica, el rol del padre y de la madre, la vida matrimonial, etc. Por lo tanto, la observancia de la Torá fue el factor común que mantuvo al pueblo judío vivo y pujante en toda era y lugar.
Habiendo dicho esto, cabe destacar también que el judaísmo tampoco puede clasificarse como una raza en su definición simple, porque cualquier persona puede volverse judía si se convierte. Un converso se considera judío en todo aspecto, y su relación con Dios tiene el mismo nivel que la de cualquier otro judío.
Si alguna vez tienes la oportunidad de visitar Israel, encontrarás judíos de todo tipo: occidentales, europeos, de tez oscura, orientales, etiopíes, indios, etc., por lo cual sería incorrecto decir que el judaísmo es una raza.
En casi una década de trabajo descubrió el asesinato de un millón y medio de judíos durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial.
Es posible que el padre Patrick Desbois, un sacerdote francés, sea el mejor detective de todos los tiempos. En casi una década de trabajo descubrió el asesinato de aproximadamente un millón y medio de judíos en Europa Oriental durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. En su libro, In Broad Daylight (A plena luz del día), registra con exhaustivos detalles los asesinatos masivos de judíos en Europa Oriental.
Si bien las ejecuciones masivas de judíos en países tales como Polonia, Francia y Alemania en los campos de concentración y exterminio están bien documentadas, en los países orientales como Rusia, Ucrania, Bielorrusia y otras naciones vecinas, los nazis usaron un método diferente para asesinar judíos. En esas regiones más de un millón y medio de judíos fueron asesinados por unidades militares nazis móviles llamadas Einsatzgruppen. Los judíos eran llevados a los campos o bosques, les disparaban y los enterraban. Sus tumbas masivas quedaban sin marcar y eran olvidadas. El padre Desbois llama a estas masacres “El holocausto de las balas”. Él transformó la búsqueda para descubrir estos crímenes en su misión de vida, caso por caso, y revelar al mundo lo que ocurrió.
El abuelo del padre Desbois fue prisionero de guerra en Ucrania en un pueblo llamado Rawa-Ruska, aunque casi no habló con su nieto sobre lo que vio allí. Una visita a Polonia y Ucrania hizo que el Holocausto se volviera más real y al regresar a Francia el padre Desbois comenzó a estudiar hebreo e historia judía. Él quiso ver por sí mismo qué había pasado con los judíos cerca del campo nazi en Rawa-Ruska.
Le llevó años de visitas a Rawa-Ruska hasta que finalmente descubrió por lo menos una parte de la verdad. Al comienzo, el padre Desbois fue rechazado. El alcalde del pueblo se negó a hablar y tampoco los habitantes del lugar cooperaron. Al investigar la historia del pueblo, el padre Desbois descubrió que durante el Holocausto desparecieron del lugar 10.000 judíos. Estaba pasmado. Incluso el asesinato de una sola persona en ese pequeño pueblo hubiera sido un gran evento. El padre Desbois no podía entender cómo el asesinato de 10.000 personas había pasado inadvertido, y nadie parecía recordarlo.
Comenzó a buscar sobrevivientes del campo de prisioneros de Rawa-Ruska que estuvieron allí con su abuelo. Finalmente encontró a uno, Rene Chevalier, un sobrino del famoso cantante francés Maurice Chevalier. Él aceptó encontrarse con el padre Desbois. “¿Alguna vez vio que asesinaran judíos?”, le preguntó el padre Desbois.
Los ojos de Chevalier se nublaron. “Él comenzó a hablar con la voz llena de emoción contenida, y la mirada fija en la distancia”, cuenta el padre Desbois. “Había sido testigo de la requisa de mujeres judías para efectuar la cosecha cuando no había más animales para empujar las carretas cargadas de heno. Ellas llegaron en la mañana con sus hijos a cuestas. El alemán que estaba a cargo no soportaba sus llantos y cuando se irritaba demasiado, agarraba a un niño y lo golpeaba contra el carro hasta matarlo. Por la tarde sólo quedaban las mujeres, los carros y el heno”.
En el año 2003 el padre Desbois regresó a Rawa-Ruska. El nuevo alcalde sabía lo que estaba buscando., Él se acercó al padre Desbois y le dijo: “Patrick, te estábamos esperando”. Él llevó al padre Desbois a un área desolada fuera del pueblo donde lo esperaban un centenar de ancianos. Ellos lo llevaron a la tumba masiva de los judíos de Rawa-Ruska, donde les habían disparado y enterrado. Uno por uno, los ancianos comenzaron a hablar, recordando el día en que los judíos fueron masacrados. Los judíos fueron llevados todos juntos fuera del pueblo, y les dispararon cerca de la tumba masiva recién cavada. Como vieron que dentro del pozo todavía había algunas personas vivas, los soldados alemanes arrojaron granadas para matar a todos. Algunos locales recordaron haber ayudado a los nazis en el “baño de sangre”.
Cuando terminó el testimonio, el padre Desbois estaba atónito. Cuando se preparaba para partir, el alcalde le dijo: “Patrick, esto es lo que pude hacer en un pueblo. Puedes hacer lo mismo en cientos de pueblos”. En ese momento el padre Desbois comprendió que esa era su misión y decidió documentar esa y otras masacres olvidadas antes de que fuera demasiado tarde.
Comenzó su investigación, visitó los sitios de las masacres y entrevistó a los habitantes locales. En el 2004, el padre Desbois fundó un grupo llamado Iajad-In Unum, una combinación de la palabra “juntos” en hebreo y en latín, para promover su labor. Los 29 miembros de Iajad-In Unum, muchos de ellos personas jóvenes que trabajan para sus doctorados, le proveen el apoyo y la compañía necesaria al sumergirse en las profundidades de la maldad humana.
El sitio de una de las masacres en Lituania. Foto por Nancy Kennedy Barnett
Esta investigación ha llevado años y miles de horas. Han entrevistado a casi 6.000 testigos de las masacres de judíos y de otras minorías en Europa Oriental. Cada investigación lleva semanas. “Cuando me sonríen y me reciben en sus hogares, yo no sé si ellos salvaron judíos o participaron en las matanzas”, dice el padre Desbois respecto a los ancianos cuyas historias documenta.
“Nos sorprendimos por la cantidad de habitantes locales que recuerdan el día en que fueron asesinados los judíos”, afirmó el padre Desbois en una entrevista exclusiva con AishLatino.com. En cada pueblo donde los judíos fueron masacrados, los niños del pueblo fueron testigos, y a veces también participantes. “Las escuelas cerraron y todos fueron a observar el asesinato masivo de los judíos de su pueblo”.
En el pequeño pueblo de Medzhybuzh —el lugar donde nació el Baal Shem Tov, el fundador del movimiento jasídico— el padre Desbois y su equipo localizaron 17 testigos. “Nos llamó la atención que hubiera tantos testigos”. Descubrieron que el día de la masacre fue como una festividad. “La matanza de los judíos fue un evento público, como un show”.
Un testigo llamado Vladimir le contó al padre Desbois que un día un policía ucraniano llegó a su escuela con una carreta con caballos. El maestro señaló a cada uno de los niños que eran mitad judíos y gritó “¡Juden! ¡Juden! ¡Juden!”. Y el policía se los llevó. Después Vladimir describió cómo él y sus amigos fueron a observar el asesinato de los judíos: “Crucé el campo de trigo para observar. Para nosotros, los niños, era algo interesante”, explicó.
Algunos testigos incluso están orgullosos de haber ayudado a los asesinos nazis.
Para muchos testigos, el asesinato de los judíos del pueblo era algo para celebrar simplemente porque era divertido, o porque les permitió apoderarse de los bienes de los judíos asesinados. El padre Desbois descubrió que existe muy poco arrepentimiento o pena por las masacres. Algunos testigos incluso están orgullosos de haber ayudado a los asesinos nazis.
En muchos casos, los habitantes del pueblo fueron obligados a observar los asesinatos nazis. En otros casos, participaron voluntariamente. Es típico el testimonio de un ucraniano llamado Andrei, que tenía 15 años cuando ayudó a las tropas nazis a masacrar a los judíos de su pueblo. Andrei insistió en lucir sus antiguas medallas soviéticas en la entrevista con el padre Desbois, y las mostró con orgullo. Andrei estuvo entre los hombres del pueblo a quienes les pidieron construir una prisión temporaria para los judíos del pueblo. Él recuerda a un anciano judío suplicándole del otro lado del alambrado de púa, diciéndole que estaba hambriento y pidiéndole pan. Andrei le cambió un poco de pan por el reloj del anciano y con absoluta calma relató el episodio al equipo del padre Desbois, al parecer sin sentir ningún remordimiento por su rol en el sufrimiento. ”Todas sus pertenencias (de los judíos) pasaron a manos de los habitantes del pueblo. La gente se apoderó de todo…”.
“Los asesinatos de los judíos en el pueblo fueron como un carnaval”, explica con tristeza el padre Desbois. “Todos querían observarlo, todos querían apoderarse de algo”.
Durante todos los años que entrevistó testigos, ninguno de ellos le pidió al padre Desbois —en su rol de líder religioso— perdón por el papel que jugaron en la masacre de los judíos.
Una anciana llamada Olga recordó que los judíos de su pueblo fueron reunidos y los llevaron para ser ejecutados el 21 o 22 de septiembre de 1943. “Nosotros no vivíamos lejos de la calle pavimentada por la que llevaron a los judíos”, recuerda Olga. “La gente dijo que era el Día del Juicio”.
Este es un sentimiento que el padre Desbois ya había escuchado: para algunos testigos el asesinato de los judíos era el cumplimiento de la doctrina cristiana. “Algunas personas pensaron que había un elemento religioso”, explica el padre Desbois. “Los judíos morían en medio de los cristianos. Ellos pensaron que se trataba de algo enviado por Dios”.
Como refutación al odio contra los judíos que descubrió y para contrarrestar el número creciente de personas que niegan el Holocausto, el padre Desbois escribió: In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures behind the Holocaust by Bullets, un detallado relato de la mecánica para asesinar comunidades completas de hombres, mujeres y niños judíos. El libro describe cronológicamente el proceso de cómo llegaban al pueblo, seleccionaban a los habitantes locales para ayudarlos, reunían y mataban a los judíos y luego los enterraban en tumbas masivas y borraban todas las huellas del crimen. El libro ofrece un espantoso relato del proceso que utilizaron las tropas nazis para asesinar a más de un millón y medio de judíos, y el rol que los observadores a menudo jugaron al ayudarlos.
Al enseñar sobre el Holocausto, el padre Desbois subraya que fue un crimen de escala masiva. La ideología tuvo su parte, pero el deseo de robar, violar, saquear y matar fue lo que motivó a la mayoría de las personas que él entrevistó. El año pasado el padre Desbois enseñó en la Universidad de Georgetown, en Washington y preparó a alumnos y profesores para que sean meticulosos en sus investigaciones sobre el Holocausto y, de esta forma, sean capaces de probar a la próxima generación que el Holocausto efectivamente ocurrió.
En los últimos años, el padre Desbois y su equipo realizaron muchos viajes a Irak, documentando los asesinatos masivos de ISIS y escribió un libro sobre el tema. El padre Desbois continúa su duro camino por Europa oriental, documentando más tumbas masivas y evidencias de genocidio contra judíos y otros. El padre Desbois calcula que le quedan aproximadamente otros cuatro años de trabajo, porque los testigos del Holocausto ya son ancianos y van muriendo. Esto significa que quedan sólo cuatro años para “devolver los muertos a sus familias, a la comunidad y luchar con fuerza contra quienes niegan que el Holocausto existió”.
State Department official says maps will be updated to reflect change in policy and Israel’s need for ‘secure and defensible borders’
An image of the CIA’s map of Israel taken on March 28, 2019, that refers to the Golan Heights as “Israeli occupied.” (Library of Congress)
The Trump administration is preparing to update all US government maps to include the Golan Heights as part of Israel, after the president formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
A State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Persian service that the map changes would be “consistent” with the shift in longstanding American foreign policy that now “recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”
In the emailed statement Wednesday, the spokesperson declined to answer whether the US sees the Israel-Syria border as along the 1974 ceasefire line or along the western edge of the demilitarized zone that is patrolled by a UN observer force.
In a separate interview, Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, confirmed to VOA this week that the State Department would “redraw” its official maps and release them “as soon as they are ready.” He said the changes will reflect the “need for Israel to have secure and defensible borders.”
A screenshot of the State Department’s official map of Israel on March 28, 2019, that shows the Golan Heights as part of Syria. (screen capture: State Department)
Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.
A 1974 ceasefire agreement that officially ended the Yom Kippur War led to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force known as UNDOF on the Golan Heights.
US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan on Monday, drawing sharp rebuke from allies and UN member states.
At a Wednesday Security Council session convened at Syria’s request, the 14 other member nations denounced the US move, with most speakers noting a UN resolution that called Israel’s de-facto annexation “null and void and without international legal effect.”
US President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Trump’s proclamation raised questions about the future of UNDOF after its mandate expires on June 30.
US political coordinator Rodney Hunter told the council Wednesday that UNDOF has “a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria,” an assurance that the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty won’t affect its operation.
He said the force’s mandate to ensure that the area of separation between Syria and Israel “is a buffer zone free from any military presence or activities” is of “critical strategic and security importance” to Israel, and “can contribute to the stability of the entire Middle East.”
Hunter said the move doesn’t affect the 1974 ceasefire agreement, “nor do we believe that it undermines UNDOF’s mandate in any way.”
He strongly criticized “the daily presence of the Syrian armed forces” in the area of separation, where UNDOF is the only military force allowed, calling their presence a violation of the 1974 ceasefire agreement.
Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) enter Syria from the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria on August 30, 2014. (Flash90)
The United States calls on Russia to use its influence with President Bashar Assad “to compel the Syrian forces to uphold their commitment” to the ceasefire agreement “and immediately withdraw from the area of separation,” Hunter said.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean Pierre Lacroix told the council there is “a continued significant threat” to UNDOF personnel from explosive remnants of war, “and from the possible presence of sleeper cells of armed groups including (UN) listed terrorist groups.”
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo expressed hope that “the recent developments will not be used as an excuse by anyone to pursue actions that could undermine the relative stability of the situation on Golan and beyond.”
This week’s parashah follows last week’s cliff hanger: The altar and the priests who will serve it have all undergone seven days of consecration, in anticipation of the eighth day, the day of completion. Having done everything as set out earlier in God’s commands to Moshe, the community is gathered before the mishkan to see whether God will indeed reveal His Glory upon the newly-consecrated altar. This is by no means a given; just as the building of the Mishkan did not guarantee that God would “take up residence” in it, so here too, there is no guarantee that God will accept the offered sacrifice. God has free will, and the consecration of a sacred space is no guarantee that He will enter into it. We can only do our part; the outcome is out of our hands.
But this time, the miracle occurs: From within the Holy of Holies, where the glory of God has rested since the completion of the Mishkan, a fire emerges to consume the waiting sacrifice.
Aharon lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he stepped down after offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well being. Moshe and Aharon then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Eternal appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Eternal and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar, and when all the people saw, they shouted and fell on their faces. (9:22-24)
Playing with fire
But the triumph of the moment is marred by tragedy. Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu were also consumed by fire that came out “from before the Eternal.” Was this the same fire that consumed the sacrifice? The Rashbam seems to think it was. More recently, Rav Tamir Granot has shown that the position of the incense altar between the Holy of Holies and the sacrificial altar makes it all the more obvious that Nadav and Avihu were caught in the crossfire:
Since God’s glory was already present in the Mishkan, we cannot say that the fire emerged from heaven, as several commentators claim. The expression “from before God” proves our contention, since this expression universally refers to the Mishkan, and specifically to the Holy of Holies. The path taken by the fire, then, was from the Holy of Holies, via the incense altar (which stood facing the curtain, on the outer side, in the center of the vestibule), via the entrance, to the sacrificial altar outside. The direction of movement is horizontal.
Thus, the path of the holy fire crossed directly over the incense alter, the very place where Nadav and Avihu were standing, having loaded up their incense burners with an “outside” fire that they had not been commanded to bring. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. On a different day, their actions might have been correct. But not today. Not on a day when what was needed was not the man-made fire of the incense altar, but the holy fire of the Divine Presence.
The Rashbam on our parasha makes this clear:
Even before the heavenly fire had descended they [Nadav and Avihu] had already taken their censers to burn incense on the altar of gold since the incense offered in the morning precedes the offering of animal sacrifices (see Shemot 30:7); and they put in [the censers] an alien fire which Moshe had not commanded on this day. Though on other days it is written “And the sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire upon the altar” (1:7), on this day Moshe did not desire that they bring a man-made fire, since they were anticipating the descent of a heavenly fire; therefore the bringing of a different fire was not desired in order that God’s name should be sanctified.
ויקחו בני אהרן נדב ואביהוא – קודם שיצא האש מלפני ה’ כבר לקחו איש מחתתו להקטיר קטורת לפנים על מזבח הזהב, שהרי קטורת של שחר קודמת לאיברים ונתנו בהן אש זרה אשר לא צוה אותם משה ביום הזה, שאף על פי שבשאר ימים כתיב: ונתנו בני אהרן הכהן אש על המזבח – היום לא צוה ולא רצה משה שיביאו אש של הדיוט, לפי שהיו מצפים לירידת אש גבוה ולא טוב היום להביא את זה, כדי להתקדש שם שמים שידעו הכל כי אש באה מן השמים.
Nadav and Avihu made a simple mistake, but one with dire consequences. On the day that God was to appear through a heavenly fire before the whole congregation, man-made fire was undesirable, as it would negate the miracle, making it seem to be the work of human hands. Their punishment is the direct result of their actions. The fire that consumes them was the very fire that consumed the offering; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Stealing God’s thunder
But Nadav and Avihu were not the last to make this mistake. We will read in BaMidbar (Numbers) of how Moshe fared when the nation of Israel reached a place where there was no water. There, God tells Moshe to take up his staff of office and “go fix it”:
“Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink.” Moshe took the staff from before the Eternal as He had commanded him. Moshe and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank.
As on previous occasions, the people clamored for help in a crisis, and God brought about a miracle for them. And yet, this time was different.
The Eternal said to Moshe and Aaron, “Because you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.
But what did Moshe do wrong? And why so harsh a punishment? Hadn’t he been told to take the staff along and “bring forth water from the rock” In fact, we saw in a previous incident (Sh’mot 16: 1-7) that Moshe was explicitly told to strike the rock before the elders of Israel and bring forth water from it. Why are the two incidents different? The case of Nadav and Avihu provides a hint of an answer: In the parallel story, Moshe struck the rock in front of the chosen representatives of the people. It was a private matter, for their eyes only. They could be trusted to understand that Moshe was not himself working a miracle, but that God was doing the heavy lifting.
But in the second incident, the entire assembly was watching. Had Moshe merely spoken to the rock, as he’d been told, only those closest to him would have heard him. To those standing further off, it would just look like water came out of the rock when Moshe approached it: a miracle! The people — all of them, not just the elders — would see that neither Moshe nor his staff performed any magic, and would attribute the miracle to God alone. But when Moshe lost patience and hit the rock with the staff, he taught exactly the opposite lesson. Even those farther away could see water spurt out of the rock, seemingly as a result of Moshe’s forceful actions. What Avihu and Nadav only tried to do (wittingly or unwittingly) Moshe actually accomplished — he negated a miracle.
Not by coincidence is the key word in both cases “sanctified.” Moshe himself makes this point eloquently when he explains the source of the tragedy to Aharon:
Then Moshe said to Aharon, This is what the Lord said: “I will be sanctified in those that come near to Me (bi-kerovai ekadeish), and before all the people I will be glorified (ekaveid).” And Aharon was silent. (10:3)
Knowing what Moshe’s fate is to be, we can’t but see these words as chillingly prophetic.
Rare seal impression from 8th century BCE, bearing the name Nathan-Melech, found in dig at large Iron Age administrative center in Jerusalem’s City of David
Two minuscule 2,600-year-old inscriptions recently uncovered in the City of David’s Givati Parking Lot excavation are vastly enlarging the understanding of ancient Jerusalem in the late 8th century BCE.
The two inscriptions, in paleo-Hebrew writing, were found separately in a large First Temple structure within the span of a few weeks by long-term team members Ayyala Rodan and Sveta Pnik.
One is a bluish agate stone seal “(belonging) to Ikkar son of Matanyahu” (LeIkkar Ben Matanyahu). The other is a clay seal impression, “(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech). Nathan-Melech is named in 2 Kings as an official in the court of King Josiah.
This burnt clay impression is the first archaeological evidence of the biblical name Nathan-Melech.
The inscriptions are “not just another discovery,” said archaeologist Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Rather, they “paint a much larger picture of the era in Jerusalem.”
According to Shalev, while both discoveries are of immense scholarly value as inscriptions, their primary value is their archaeological context.
The ‘Natan-Melech/Eved Hamelech’ bulla found in the City of David. (Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)
“What is importance is not just that they were found in Jerusalem, but [that they were found] inside their true archaeological context,” Shalev told The Times of Israel. Many other seals and seal impressions have been sold on the antiquities market without any thought to provenance.
This in situ find, said Shalev, serves to “connect between the artifact and the actual physical era it was found in” — a large, two-story First Temple structure that dig archaeologists have pegged as an administrative center.
“It is not a coincidence that the seal and the seal impression are found here,” said Shalev.
It is not a coincidence that the seal and the seal impression are found here
The multi-room large structure bears clear signs of destruction in the sixth century BCE, which likely corresponds to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, according to the IAA press release. The destruction is evident through large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards, “all indications that they had survived an immense fire.”
The large administrative center, said Shalev, is further down the slope of the City of David than where some archaeologists had envisioned a First Temple-period city wall. Through this evidence of a large administrative center, scholars are beginning to understand that Iron Age Jerusalem saw the beginning of the western spread that continued in the future historical eras, including the Persian and Hellenistic periods.
The ‘Ikkar Ben Matanyahu’ seal found in the City of David. (Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)
“These artifacts attest to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city,” said Gadot and Shalev in the IAA press release.
For linguists, the pair of one-centimeter inscriptions are likewise opening new scholarly horizons. Based on the script, Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem dates them to mid-7th century to early 6th century BCE.
On the blue stone seal, written in mirror writing from left to right, is inscribed the name “(belonging) to Ikkar son of Matanyahu” (LeIkkar Ben Matanyahu). Private stamps were used to sign documents, and denoted the identity, lineage and status of their owners, according to the IAA.
Sveta Pnik working at the site where the bulla was found in the City of David. (Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)
The word “Ikkar,” meaning farmer, appears in the Bible and other Semitic languages, according to the Hebrew Language Academy. However, it is only used in the context of the agricultural role, not as a personal name. According to the linguist Chaim Rabin, the word Ikkar came to Hebrew through Akkadian, after being adopted from Sumerian, which is not a Semitic language.
King Josiah hearing the book of the law (1873 / Unknown artist / The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation / Wikipedia)
Mendel-Geberovich believes “Ikkar” refers to a personal name rather than an occupation. If so, this would be the first evidence of such a name. The other portions of the inscription are more familiar to biblical Hebrew linguists: “The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed,” said Mendel-Geberovich.
What is most likely to capture popular interest is the burnt clay seal impression, which features the words: “(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech).” The fact that it was written without a surname indicates his fame is on par with celebs of today, such as singers Madonna or Adele.
The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11. An official in the court of King Josiah, the biblical Nathan-Melech took part in implementation of widespread religious reform: “And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.”
Givati Parking Lot Excavations in the City of David. (Kobi Harati)
While the biblical account uses a different title than that impressed on the ancient clay, the title “Servant of the King” (Eved HaMelech) does often appear in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king. According to the IAA, the title appears on other stamps and seal impressions that were found in the past. In ancient times, seal impressions, or bullae, were small pieces of clay impressed by personal seals (such as the “Ikkar” seal) to sign letters.
But is this the very same biblical Nathan-Melech? That’s still a matter of interpretation.
Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation, which operates the City of David National Park, said, “This is an extremely exciting find for billions of people worldwide. The personal seal of Natan-Melech, a senior official in the government of Josiah, King of Judah, as described in the second book of Kings. The ongoing archaeological excavations at the City of David continue to prove that ancient Jerusalem is no longer just a matter of faith, but also a matter of fact.”
However, scholar Mendel-Geberovich isn’t as quick to confirm the tie.
“Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was in fact the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together,” said Mendel-Geberovich diplomatically.
Givati Parking Lot Excavations in the City of David. (Yonit Schiller, City of David)
Israel considera a Jerusalén como su capital “eterna e indivisible”, pero los palestinos reivindican su zona este como la capital de su futuro Estado.
Soldados israelíes mataron a más de medio centenar de manifestantes palestinos que protestaban en Gaza. Además, más de 2.700 resultaron heridos, según cifras de las autoridades palestinas.
Es la cifra más elevada de víctimas que se produce en un día en Gaza desde la guerra de 2014.
Para entender el conflicto palestino-israelí es necesario ver más allá de los números.
BBC Mundo repasa las preguntas básicas necesarias para comprender por qué este antiguo enfrentamiento entre israelíes y palestinos es tan complejo y genera tanta polarización.
1. ¿Cómo empezó el conflicto?
Alentado por el antisemitismo que sufrían los judíos en Europa, a comienzos del siglo XX tomó fuerza el movimiento sionista, que buscaba establecer un Estado para los judíos.
La región de Palestina, entre el río Jordán y el mar Mediterráneo, considerada sagrada para musulmanes, judíos y católicos, pertenecía por aquellos años al Imperio Otomano y estaba ocupada mayormente por árabes y otras comunidades musulmanas. Pero una fuerte inmigración judía, fomentada por las aspiraciones sionistas, comenzaba a generar resistencia entre las comunidades.
Tras la desintegración del Imperio Otomano en la Primera Guerra Mundial, Reino Unido recibió un mandato de la Liga de Naciones para administrar el territorio de Palestina.
Pero antes y durante la guerra, los británicos habían hecho diversas promesas a los árabes y a los judíos que luego no cumplieron, entre otros motivos porque ya se habían dividido el Medio Oriente con Francia. Esto provocó un clima de tensión entre nacionalistas árabes y sionistas que desencadenó en enfrentamientos entre grupos paramilitares judíos y bandas árabes.
Luego de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y tras el Holocausto, aumentó la presión por establecer un Estado judío. El plan original contemplaba la partición del territorio controlado por la potencia europea entre judíos y palestinos.
Tras la fundación de Israel el 14 de mayo de 1948, la tensión pasó de ser un tema local a un asunto regional. Al día siguiente, Egipto, Jordania, Siria e Irak invadieron este territorio. Fue la primera guerra árabe-israelí, también conocida por los judíos como guerra de la independencia o de la liberación. Tras el conflicto, el territorio inicialmente previsto por las Naciones Unidas para un Estado árabe se redujo a la mitad.
Para los palestinos, comenzó la Nakba, la llamada “destrucción” o “catástrofe”: el inicio de la tragedia nacional. 750.000 palestinos huyeron a países vecinos o fueron expulsados por tropas judías.
Pero 1948 no sería el último enfrentamiento entre árabes y judíos. En 1956, una crisis por el Canal de Suez enfrentaría al Estado de Israel con Egipto, que no sería definida en el terreno de combate sino por la presión internacional sobre Israel, Francia e Inglaterra.
Pero los combates sí tendrían la última palabra en 1967 en la Guerra de los Seis Días. Lo que ocurrió entre el 5 el 10 de junio de ese año tuvo consecuencias profundas y duraderas a distintos niveles. Fue una victoria aplastante de Israel frente a una coalición árabe. Israel capturó la Franja de Gaza y la península del Sinaí a Egipto, Cisjordania (incluida Jerusalén Oriental) a Jordania y los Altos del Golán a Siria. Medio millón de palestinos huyeron.
El último conflicto árabe-israelí será la guerra de Yom Kipur en 1973, que enfrentó a Egipto y Siria contra Israel y le permitió a El Cairo recuperar el Sinaí (entregado completamente por Israel en 1982), pero no Gaza. Seis años después, Egipto se convierte en el primer país árabe en firmar la paz con Israel, un ejemplo solo seguido por Jordania.
2. ¿Por qué se fundó Israel en Medio Oriente?
La tradición judía indica que la zona en la que se asienta Israel es la Tierra Prometida por Dios al primer patriarca, Abraham, y a sus descendientes.
La zona fue invadida en la Antigüedad por asirios, babilonios, persas, macedonios y romanos. Roma fue el imperio que le puso a la región el nombre de Palestina y que, siete décadas después de Cristo, expulsó a los judíos de su tierra tras combatir a los movimientos nacionalistas que perseguían la independencia.
Con el surgimiento del Islam, en el siglo VII después de Cristo, Palestina fue ocupada por los árabes y luego conquistada por los cruzados europeos. En 1516 se estableció la dominación turca que duraría hasta la Primera Guerra Mundial, cuando se impuso el mandato británico.
El Comité Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre Palestina (UNSCOP, por sus siglas en inglés) aseguró en su informe a la Asamblea General del 3 de septiembre de 1947 que los motivos para que un Estado judío se estableciera en Medio Oriente se centraban en “argumentos basados en fuentes bíblicas e históricas”, la Declaración de Balfour de 1917 en la que el gobierno británico se declara a favor de un “hogar nacional” para los judíos en Palestina y en el Mandato británico sobre Palestina.
Allí se reconoció la conexión histórica del pueblo judío con Palestina y las bases para reconstituir el Hogar Nacional Judío en dicha región.
Tras el Holocausto nazi contra millones de judíos en Europa antes y durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, creció la presión internacional para el reconocimiento de un Estado judío.
Al no poder resolver la polarización entre el nacionalismo árabe y el sionismo, el gobierno británico llevó el problema a la ONU.
El 29 de noviembre de 1947 la Asamblea General aprobó un plan para la partición de Palestina, que recomendaba la creación de un Estado árabe independiente y uno judío y un régimen especial para la ciudad de Jerusalén.
El plan fue aceptado por los israelíes pero no por los árabes, que lo veían como una pérdida de su territorio. Por eso nunca se implementó.
Un día antes de que expirara el Mandato británico de Palestina, el 14 de mayo de 1948, la Agencia Judía para Israel, representante de los judíos durante el Mandato, declaró la independencia del Estado de Israel.
Al día siguiente Israel solicitó ser miembro de Naciones Unidas, estatus que finalmente logró un año después. El 83% de los miembros actuales reconocen a Israel (160 de 192).
3. ¿Por qué hay dos territorios palestinos?
El Comité Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre Palestina (UNSCOP, por sus siglas en inglés), en su informe a la Asamblea General en 1947, recomendó que el Estado árabe incluyera “Galilea Occidental, la región montañosa de Samaria y Judea, con la exclusión de la ciudad de Jerusalén, y la llanura costera de Isdud hasta la frontera egipcia”.
Pero la división del territorio quedó definida por la Línea de Armisticio de 1949, establecida tras la creación de Israel y la primera guerra árabe-israelí.
Los dos territorios palestinos son Cisjordania (que incluye Jerusalén Oriental) y la Franja de Gaza, que se encuentran a unos 45 km de distancia. Tienen un área de 5.970 km2 y 365 km2, respectivamente.
Cisjordania se encuentra entre Jerusalén, reclamada como capital tanto por palestinos como por israelíes, y Jordania hacia el este, mientras que Gaza es una franja de 41 km de largo y entre 6 y 12 km de ancho.
Gaza tiene una frontera de 51 km con Israel, 7 km con Egipto y 40 km de costa sobre el Mar Mediterráneo.
Originalmente ocupada por israelíes que aún mantienen el control de su frontera sur, la Franja de Gaza fue capturada por Israel en la guerra de 1967 y recién la desocupó en 2005, aunque mantiene un bloqueo por aire, mar y tierra que restringe el movimiento de bienes, servicios y gente.
Actualmente la Franja está controlada por Hamas, el principal grupo islámico palestino que nunca ha reconocido los acuerdos firmados entre otras facciones palestinas e Israel.
Cisjordania, en cambio, está regida por la Autoridad Nacional Palestina, el gobierno palestino reconocido internacionalmente cuya principal facción, Fatah, no es islámica sino secular.
4. ¿Nunca firmaron la paz palestinos e israelíes?
Tras la creación del Estado de Israel y el desplazamiento de miles de personas que perdieron sus hogares, el movimiento nacionalista palestino comenzó a reagruparse en Cisjordania y Gaza, controlados respectivamente por Jordania y Egipto, y en los campos de refugiados creados en otros estados árabes.
Poco antes de la guerra de 1967, organizaciones palestinas como Fatah —liderada por Yasser Arafat— conformaron la Organización para la Liberación de Palestina (OLP) y lanzaron operaciones contra Israel primero desde Jordania y luego desde Líbano. Pero estos ataques incluyeron también atentados contra objetivos israelíes en territorio europeo que no discriminaron entre aviones, embajadas o atletas.
Tras años de atentados palestinos y asesinatos selectivos de las fuerzas de seguridad israelíes, la OLP e Israel firmarían en 1993 los acuerdos de paz de Oslo, en los que la organización palestina renunció a “la violencia y el terrorismo” y reconoció el “derecho” de Israel “a existir en paz y seguridad”, un reconocimiento que la organización islámica palestina Hamas nunca aceptó.
Tras los acuerdos firmados en la capital noruega fue creada la Autoridad Nacional Palestina, que representa a los palestinos ante los foros internacionales. Su presidente es elegido por voto directo y él a su vez escoge un primer ministro y a los miembros de su gabinete. Sus autoridades civiles y de seguridad controlan áreas urbanas (Área A según Oslo), mientras que solo sus representantes civiles —y no de seguridad— controlan áreas rurales (Área B).
Jerusalén Oriental, considerada la capital histórica por parte de los palestinos, no está incluida en este acuerdo.
Jerusalén es uno de los puntos más conflictivos entre ambas partes.
5. ¿Cuáles son los principales puntos de conflicto entre palestinos e israelíes?
La demora para el establecimiento de un Estado palestino independiente, la construcción de asentamientos de colonos judíos en Cisjordania y la barrera de seguridad en torno a ese territorio —condenada por la Corte Internacional de Justicia de La Haya— han complicado el avance de un proceso de paz.
Pero estos no son los únicos obstáculos, tal como quedó claro en el fracaso de las últimas conversaciones de paz serias entre ambos grupos que tuvieron lugar en Camp David, Estados Unidos, en el año 2000, cuando un saliente Bill Clinton no logró un acuerdo entre Arafat y el entonces primer ministro israelí, Ehud Barak.
Las diferencias que parecen irreconciliables son las siguientes:
Jerusalén: Israel reclama soberanía sobre la ciudad (sagrada para judíos, musulmanes y cristianos) y asegura que es su capital tras tomar Jerusalén Oriental en 1967. Eso no es reconocido internacionalmente. Los palestinos quieren que Jerusalén Oriental sea su capital.
Fronteras y terreno: Los palestinos demandan que su futuro Estado se conforme de acuerdo a los límites previos al 4 de junio de 1967, antes del comienzo de la Guerra de los Seis Días, algo que Israel rechaza.
Asentamientos: Son viviendas, ilegales de acuerdo al derecho internacional, construidas por el gobierno israelí en los territorios ocupados por Israel tras la guerra de 1967. En Cisjordania y Jerusalén Oriental hay más de medio millón de colonos judíos.
Refugiados palestinos: Los palestinos sostienen que los refugiados (10,6 millones según la OLP, de los cuales casi la mitad están registrados en la ONU) tienen el derecho de regreso a lo que hoy es Israel, pero para Israel abrir la puerta destruiría su identidad como Estado judío.
6. ¿Es Palestina un país?
La ONU reconoció a Palestina como “Estado observador no miembro” a fines de 2012 y dejó de ser una “entidad observadora”.
El cambio les permitió a los palestinos participar en los debates de la Asamblea General y mejorar las posibilidades de ser miembro de agencias de la ONU y otros organismos.
Pero el voto no creó al Estado palestino. Un año antes los palestinos lo intentaron pero no consiguieron apoyo suficiente en el Consejo de Seguridad.
Casi el 70% de los miembros de la Asamblea General de ONU (135 de 192) reconoce a Palestina como Estado.
7. ¿Por qué EE.UU. es el principal aliado de Israel? ¿Quién apoya a los palestinos?
Primero hay que considerar la existencia de un importante y poderoso cabildeo pro-Israel en Estados Unidos y el hecho de que la opinión pública suele ser favorable a la postura israelí, por lo que para un presidente quitarle el apoyo a Israel es virtualmente imposible.
Además, ambas naciones son aliadas militares: Israel es uno de los mayores receptores de ayuda estadounidense y la mayoría llega en subvenciones para la compra de armamento.
Pero en diciembre de 2016, bajo la presidencia de Barack Obama se dio un paso inusual en la política de Estados Unidos hacia Israel: no vetar la resolución del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU que condena la política de asentamientos de Israel.
Pero la llegada de Donald Trump a la Casa Blanca dio nuevos bríos a la relación entre Estados Unidos e Israel, que se plasmó con el traslado de la embajada de Tel Aviv a Jerusalén, convirtiendo a Estados Unidos en el primer país del mundo en reconocer a esa ciudad como capital de Israel.
Por su parte, los palestinos no tienen el apoyo abierto de una potencia.
En la región, Egipto dejó de apoyar a Hamas, tras la deposición por parte del ejército del presidente islamista Mohamed Morsi, de los Hermanos Musulmanes —históricamente asociados con el grupo palestinos— mientras que Siria e Irán y el grupo libanés Hezbolá son sus principales apoyos y aunque su causa genera simpatía en muchos sectores, por lo general no se traduce en hechos.
8. ¿Qué tendría que ocurrir para que haya una oportunidad de paz duradera?
Los israelíes tendrían que apoyar un Estado soberano para los palestinos que incluya a Hamas, levantar el bloqueo a Gaza y las restricciones de movimiento en Cisjordania y Jerusalén Oriental.
Los grupos palestinos deberían renunciar a la violencia y reconocer el Estado de Israel.
Y se tendrían que alcanzar acuerdos razonables en materia de fronteras, asentamientos judíos y retorno de refugiados.
Sin embargo, desde 1948, año de la creación del estado de Israel, muchas cosas han cambiado, en especial la configuración de los territorios en disputa tras las guerras entre árabes e israelíes.
Para Israel eso son hechos consumados, para los palestinos no, ya que insisten en que las fronteras a negociar deberían ser aquellas que existían antes de la guerra de 1967.
Además, mientras en el terreno bélico las cosas son cada vez más incontrolables en la Franja de Gaza, existe una especie de guerra silenciosa en Cisjordania con la continua construcción de asentamientos judíos, lo que reduce, de hecho, el territorio palestino en esas zonas autónomas.
Pero quizás el tema más complicado por su simbolismo es Jerusalén, la capital tanto para palestinos como para israelíes.
Tanto la Autoridad Nacional Palestina, que gobierna Cisjordania, como el grupo Hamas, en Gaza, reclaman la parte oriental como su capital pese a que Israel la ocupó en 1967.
Un pacto definitivo nunca será posible sin resolver este punto. Otros podrían negociarse con concesiones, Jerusalén no.
I’m a Jew and I’m proud and I’ll sing it out loud, ’cuz forever and ever that’s what I’ll be.”
These timeless words were adapted into Benny Friedman’s hit — “Ivri Anochi” — from an old Camp Gan Israel song I grew up singing.
The ugly head of anti-Semitism is rearing itself shamelessly all over the world, even in 2019. We see frum Yidden being kicked off planes, punched and kicked in the “shtetls” of Brooklyn, and blatant anti-Semites elected to governments in supposedly peaceful and religiously tolerant countries. Understanding and taking pride in the role of the Jewish People is even more important than ever.
The Nazis yemach shemam v’zichram were fastidious about the purity of bloodlines, believing that there are actually strains of humanity that are made from better “stuff” than others. While we rightfully do claim “asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim,” that we were chosen from all of the nations of the world, we believe that all of mankind was created equally.
Choosing to Be Chosen
In his commentary on parshas Noach, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l refers back to the creation story. He points out that many different species of animals were created, each one with a male and female counterpart. But Man came to this world as one finely crafted being; it is only later that Hashem “separated” him into Adam and Chava, and the many nations of the world emerged from their progeny.
Rav Yaakov quotes the Zohar in stating, “For this reason Adam was created as ‘yechidi,’ as one: so that no one could say to his friend, ‘My father is greater than yours.’” Just as each animal was created with many different species, Hashem could have created many different cultural subgroups, yet he created us all from one person to show that we are all of equal lineage.
While we may all have been created equal, the reason the Jewish People are the Chosen Nation is because we took on that role. In Shir Hashirim (2:3), Shlomo Hamelech says, “And like the apple among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the lads. In his shade I delighted and sat, and his fruit was sweet to my palate.” The Midrash Rabbah explains that apple trees provide little shade, so people refrain from sitting under them during a heat wave. It compares this to the nations of the world, who did not want to sit in the “shade” of HaKadosh Baruch Hu during the intense spiritual “heat wave” that was Matan Torah, in contrast to Klal Yisrael, who enthusiastically accepted the Torah.
It is both a privilege and a tremendous responsibility to be Hashem’s Chosen Nation. The Torah enables us to accomplish more spiritually than any other practice or religion could. The 613 mitzvos are Hashem’s guide to achieving perfection, each mitzvah with the potential to lift us to further spiritual greatness. But the pitfall of this supreme Sinaitic lineage also enables us to be great sinners. Failing in 613 ways is very different from failing in seven!
But let’s focus on the privilege inherent in being Hashem’s People. The Gemara in Menachos alludes to the intimacy of the relationship between the Jewish People and the Ribbono shel Olam: “A yedid (friend) will come, who is the son of a yedid, and will build a yedid, for a yedid, in the portion of a yedid, and yedidim will find kapparah.” Using specific verses from the Torah and Neviim, the Gemara illustrates how each of the following are called “yedid”: Shlomo the son of David will build a Beis Hamikdash for HaKadosh Baruch Hu, in the portion of Binyamin, and Yisrael will find kapparah.
Born a Friend
In the tefillos recited at a bris, a newborn baby is referred to as a “yedid mibeten,” a friend from the womb. Every Jewish child born is part and parcel of that friendship with Hashem, a relationship that we are bonded to for eternity.
What is the secret of feeling that yedidus, that close friendship with Hashem?
The pasuk in Koheles (2:3) tells us, “Shifchi kamayim libeich, nochach pnei Hashem.” Rav Wolbe explains this to mean we should pour out our heart like water, as if we are speaking to Hashem, Whom we envision standing opposite us, face to face, hearing our pleas (Alei Shur 1, Shaar 4). “Nochach” refers to a place deep in our hearts where the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu is experienced as a tangible reality. Every Jew has the ability to access this.
The yetzer hara traps us into getting stuck in the rut of “mitzvas anashim melumadah.” Our service of Hashem becomes perfunctory, and we stop appreciating the great value of being Jews, of the intimate relationship we have with Hashem. In his introduction to the Shulchan Aruch, the Beis Yosef emphasizes the importance of living according to the dictum of “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid,” of being cognizant of Hashem at all times, and tells us that tzaddikim live with the constant accompaniment of Hashem.
Tap into Connection
Thus, the key to moving away from lackadaisical avodas Hashem and reinvigorating our relationship with Him is through being aware of His presence in the minutiae of our lives. We can tap into our connection to Hashem when looking for a parking spot, be aware of His presence when a recipe works and when it is an indisputable disaster. We can point out to our children Hashem’s involvement in every aspect of their lives, teach them to look for Hashem, and thank Him for everything He does for them.
“Ki heim chayeinu v’orech yameinu, u’vahem nehegeh yomam valailah. Torah and mitzvos are our life, and we will toil in them day and night.” Toiling is not easy, yet the satisfaction of accomplishment and spiritual growth is a happiness that cannot be compared with the ephemeral high of indulging our passions.
The Gemara in Yevamos (47a) tells us that if a person wants to convert to Judaism, he must be asked, “What did you see that made you want to convert? Don’t you know that the Jew right now is despised, pushed, dirtied, ravaged, and suffering so much?”
If he says, “I know and I still don’t feel worthy to be part of them,” we accept him immediately. Rashi explains “I am not worthy” to mean not worthy to endure their tzaros, of the opportunity to merit this experience.
This is the Jew throughout this long and bitter galus. This is the greatness of that Jew who stands tall and firm despite his suffering, the Jew who does not break. He sees everything associated with being Jewish — both the intimate connection to Hashem we acquire through Torah observance and the persecution we experience as the Chosen People — as a zechus. Only one who recognizes this can be a sincere convert.
Rav Wolbe tells us, “When Klal Yisrael comes to a place that is comfortable, and they feel safe from the yissurim of galus, galus will chase them!” Even cozy America is causing us to become a bit unsettled as we encounter governments, universities, and the uninviting masses who are clearly taking back any indications of a warm welcome.
Yet we remain singing with a vigor and a tenacity that is only stronger for each hundred years since this galus began: “I am a Jew and I’m proud — and I’ll shout it out loud ‘cuz forever and ever that’s what I’ll be!”
Millennials are not like other generations. Or so we are told. Defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born between 1981 and 1996, millenials are now the world’s largest living generation. In Jewish life, millennials have shown themselves to be less interested in joining Jewish institutions or observing Jewish rituals, and more distant from Israel than their parents. The 2013 Pew survey of American Jews found that 32 percent of millennials self-identified as “Jews of no religion.” But when we asked 18 millennials to describe how their Judaism and Jewish identity diverge from that of their parents, a more complex picture emerged. Of course, no sample this small can be representative; nor is it likely to capture the young people who’ve left the community behind (or, left Judaism behind entirely).
But we found a group who feel deeply Jewish—even as they also value other parts of their identities. They are at home in multiple worlds and proud of it. And like generations before them, they are evolving: For some seeing the rise of the alt-right and encountering anti-Semitism for the first time has led them to reconnect with their Jewishness; for others parenthood has enhanced their commitment to their faith and heritage. They value text study, have reimagined rituals and enjoy celebrating Shabbat—although often differently from the way they were raised. We think you’ll enjoy meeting them.
Eve Peyser, 25
Credit: Elizabeth Renstrom
My parents didn’t raise me with much awareness of my Jewish identity, or what it meant to be Jewish. As a kid I had this impulse to reject religion and tradition, so when people would ask me, “What’s your religion?” I’d say, “Oh, I’m an atheist,” but note that my grandparents are Jewish. My mother is the child of two Jewish refugees—my grandmother was from Austria, my grandfather was from Germany. They sought asylum in Australia in 1939, and my mother was born there in the 1950s. Her mother never really imparted much about the trauma of having to leave Vienna. My mom moved to New York in the 1970s, where she met my dad, who is the child of second-generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Jewish identity wasn’t something I thought about much. I grew up in New York City, where it was normal to be Jewish. Throughout my childhood, I went to a lot of lavish bar and bat mitzvahs, so I associated Jewish identity with an upper-class culture that I didn’t have access to. There was this idea that Jewish people are very privileged and oppressors in some way, which made me feel alienated from my Jewish identity.
When I went to Oberlin, I started thinking about it more. On campus there was a lot of pro-BDS activism, a culture of extreme leftism and radical college politics. My parents don’t support the Israeli occupation, and we’ve always been quite critical of Israel. The campus politics made me feel embarrassed about my Jewish identity.
But after I graduated, especially when I started writing about politics in 2016, I experienced a fair amount of anti-Semitic harassment online, like many other Jewish journalists. I realized that I can’t escape being read as Jewish, nor did I want to. This is an inescapable part of my identity, and it’s something I’m going to receive abuse for. The persistent myth about anti-Semitism is that it doesn’t exist, and that Jews don’t experience violence based on their religion and ethnicity. That’s just not true, especially in the Trump era. We had this deadly synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh; conspiracy theories about Jewish people run rampant. Anti-Semitism has not gone anywhere, and because of that, the way I understand my identity has changed. It almost inadvertently made me feel proud of who I am, because I want to push back against all of those violent stereotypes. For me, Judaism is still more of a cultural affiliation—reading great Jewish authors like Philip Roth and Hannah Arendt, learning how to make Jewish food that I love, having Jewish friends and talking about our identities with each other.
To me it’s not religious at all—especially since Jewish culture here in New York is so vibrant. And even though I don’t really have a Jewish community, over the past couple of years I started to very strongly identify—I’m a Jew. It’s not something that I push into the back of my mind. Regardless of my past feelings, this is who I am.
My Judaism and my parents’ are surprisingly very similar and very different all at once. My parents are both spiritual people who are deeply connected to Judaism. My mom is a Reform rabbi and cantor who raised my brother and me with a strong focus on belief in Torah and Hashemand observance of mitzvot. When I started to define my own relationship with Judaism, I ultimately found my spiritual home in Modern Orthodoxy, but the truth is that my beliefs and observance feel like an extension of how I was raised. I have embraced all my parents taught me—most profoundly their strong love of God and their faith in God’s hand in our lives—and have built a home that is my own and a continuation of theirs.
Now I’m really working in my dream job. I get to serve God and His people, and I am very blessed that I live at a time in history when I can do all that my job entails. I love learning, teaching, providing pastoral care and being with our community members in moments of joy and, God forbid, sorrow. It’s avodah—holy service—more than “work.” And my own relationship with Hashem is deepened through it. Orthodox Judaism has always had space for learned spiritual women to lead, and my job is an extension of that. There have certainly been tough times, but it’s all been worth it. And Baruch Hashem, my parents are so proud of me! Judaism exists in so many beautiful forms in my family—Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and cultural—and we all love each other. My family supports me in serving God in the way that is right for me. And we try to look at the differences we have as opportunities to learn more and connect more.
Alissa Thomas-Newborn, 30, a rabbanit at B’nai David-Judea Congregation, is the first Orthodox woman to serve as a clergy member in Los Angeles.
I grew up in Williamsburg, in the Hasidic community where Judaism is your entire life. From the second you wake up to the second you go to sleep, from the moment you were conceived until the end of the shiva, everything is determined. The way you go to the bathroom is regulated, the way you dress, what you’re supposed to talk about and what you’re supposed to do. I struggled a lot growing up. Since I can remember, I identified as a girl. In that community, gender is a huge part of who you are. Men and women don’t interact at all, unless you’re in a huge family. There are radically different roles for boys and girls. I was married when I was 18, and then when I was 20, my son was born. With fatherhood, gender again felt so prevalent. At that point I was going to go down a very similar path as my father had and become a rabbi. And that became really hard when I was questioning my whole identity, and as a result also questioned a big part of Judaism.
I left religion at 20, and I remember exactly the Shabbat that I used my phone: It was January 2012, seven years ago. That was a really big deal for me. At that time, I was done with Judaism—not just Hasidic Judaism. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. In 2013, my idea of celebrating Yom Kippur was arranging a camping trip for a bunch of people who also grew up Hasidic and had left. And everything on the menu was pretty much made out of pork, which was just our way of saying, “Fuck you, fuck everything and we’re just going to do this.” Slowly, though, there was this realization that there were parts of Judaism that I missed. I started reading and I remember the first book of what I call modern Judaism that I read was Judaism as a Civilization, Mordecai Kaplan’s book. This was the first time I was aware that there are liberal and progressive Jews. I also started really falling in love with Shabbat, but a very different kind of Shabbat from the one I grew up with. If you asked me if I observe Shabbat, I would say no; if you asked me if I celebrate Shabbat, I would say yes.
About four years ago, before I transitioned, I was going through a lot of struggles, and I decided that every Friday night I’m going to do something. For a lot of people who have been through depression or really hard times, one of the biggest problems they have, and I had, was getting into this zone of weeks—sometimes months—where you don’t interact with anyone. And once a week, I’m forced to make a short stop and do something different and go out and be with people. Whatever that is—going to a service, going to a meal, just going out with friends—I’m going to do something to celebrate Shabbat. Yes, I’m going to use my phone and watch TV, because that doesn’t seem like a contradiction. That just seems perfect to me. Growing up we would make fun of all these people who change the traditions and decide what they do and what they don’t do. Even in the more progressive world, people almost have these expectations where there’s a straight line of observance, and there are all these bullet points. But I take some things that are radically Hasidic and celebrate those at the same time as I’m being totally secular—and it doesn’t just feel okay, it feels beautiful.
Abby Stein, 27, a transgender activist, is the first openly transgender woman raised in a Hasidic community. Her book, Becoming Eve, comes out in November.
My Judaism is an idealism derived from the Torah and built on top of an ethnic and national sense of identity that my mother experienced growing up. My mother was born in Poland right after World War II and lived there until the age of 10. Although she didn’t have a religious upbringing, she’s always been very confident about her Jewishness as a national identity. Growing up as an American kid in New Hampshire, I knew I was a Jew but also knew I could never be Jewish in the way that she was. When I was studying in the UK during graduate school, it was the first time I had moved away from the Boston area and outside the protective bubble of home. I encountered so much hostility to Israel, and it just woke me up to the point of saying, I have to decide what this means to me, and if it matters to me, because it suddenly felt like a very high-stakes game. Discovering that there was still so much animus toward the Jewish people in the world was the first thing that really struck me. Even though I didn’t know what was going on in Israel, I instinctively had a strong sense of closing ranks and just wanting to protect Jews. I visited Israel, and I fell in love with the land and learned the language. As a result, I also read Tanach and Talmud, which felt like an unparalleled intellectual opportunity to me. I drank deeply of Torah and became very addicted to it.
For me, Judaism is a set of tools for approaching the deepest questions of the human condition. There are things that I love and cherish about the traditions and the customs, but what I’m ultimately compelled by are the ideas about how to relate to the Creator of the world, how to serve Him and how to keep the covenants that are laid down in the Torah. One of the wonderful things about the peculiar trajectory that my life ended up taking is that I had reached adulthood as a scientist before taking any interest whatsoever in the texts or tradition. As a result, I came to the Torah not wanting to give up on science. I made a choice to say, this is a covenant that was given to the people of Israel by the creator of the world. He knows all that I know and more. When some things seem kind of hard to square, then I am the one who needs to work more. I think that maintaining a discomfiting intellectual tension, and not resolving the tension by rejecting God or rejecting this letter or that word in Torah because it must be a mistake, was possible for me because of where I was coming from. From where I stand now, I know this insistence on the truth of the Torah helped me climb to heights of understanding I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.
Jeremy England, 37, an associate professor of physics at MIT, is credited with creating a new theory of the physics of lifelike behavior.
My parents were not that religious until I was in the third grade. My dad was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and my mom wanted us to become religious so that he would get sober. She thought if we leaned into Judaism and became real Jews, it would motivate him. In some ways, maybe it helped, but I think it was a false equivalency. He didn’t get sober until I was 17. So I don’t know how much of an influence it had. My mom found a synagogue when I was nine and joined, and she threw herself into it. She was like, “This is great. I love this. I’m friends with the rabbi, I’m taking adult education courses and I’m learning all this stuff.” Then she moved me from public school to a Jewish day school. Both my parents served as presidents of the temple, and they brought a bunch of people over and koshered the kitchen. They changed from being very hippy-dippy Florida redneck to very, very intensely Jewish. It seemed like it happened in the blink of an eye, but I think it was over a few years. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into, “I wonder what kind of Judaism they’re teaching.” We were at a Conservative synagogue that shared a building with an Orthodox synagogue. We had a male rabbi, a male cantor. The cantor’s wife and the rabbi’s wife were expected to do certain things like setting up food and cleaning. It just read to me as a very patriarchal system.
Spoiler alert: I ended up gay. When I was in middle school and high school, there was a lot of stuff that was like, “Don’t have sex, and also don’t be gay.” It was worlds away from when I would go to friends’ synagogues that were Reform or Reconstructionist and say, “Oh, there’s a woman rabbi.” Or, “Oh wow, that’s the cantor and her wife.” So by the time I was around 15, I was like, “I’m an atheist and I hate everything.” I fought my parents on everything and didn’t want to do confirmation. My sister ended up transferring back into public school.
My parents are still very Jewish, but they have relaxed a little bit. My dad actually did get sober of his own accord, so it became less dire that they be so super Jewish. And by the time I was 19 or 20, I was like, “Okay, I don’t hate it.” I had all of this knowledge: I knew the songs and the prayers. I started getting closer to my grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor, and I met other LGBTQ Jewish kids. Now I feel it would be like renouncing an ethnicity to reject Judaism. I make all the foods because those are the foods I know how to make. Or I speak a certain way because those are the words I know. The Jewish star necklace comes back on, the one I got at my bat mitzvah—I still wear it. It’s interesting now where Judaism comes up. My girlfriend is the biggest goy of all time, but we do Hanukkah and we got a little Hanukkah sweater for the dog. We don’t have a kid—we don’t have any plans to have a kid at any point—but I once said, “Well, at our future child’s bat mitzvah…” And my girlfriend was like, “Why would they have a bat mitzvah?” And I don’t know if my mom just put a tip in my head, but I was like, “Oh, she’s having a bat mitzvah.” She doesn’t exist; she’s not a real child! I’m 30 now, so it’s been interesting as I get older, realizing what I had taken for granted as being a thing. I’m not a synagogue-going Jew, but I acted like it was the craziest thing my girlfriend ever said, that our nonexistent child wouldn’t have a bat mitzvah. So I don’t know how it got so deep, but it’s in there.
Gaby Dunn, 30, is a comedian and the host of the “Bad With Money” podcast and co-creator of the YouTube show Just Between Us.
My family framed Jewish identity in a way that emphasized how a lot of Jewish values are humanistic. We saw them as cornerstones of our humanity rather than as a separate space. My mother’s side is from Russia and Poland and comes from a long line of Hasidim, and my father’s side is African American from South Carolina and Philadelphia. My father passed away very young, and my mom tried her best to keep us a part of the Jewish community and religion. At home we did certain things, like always coming home for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. After 13, I started fasting on Yom Kippur. Our version of Yom Kippur was fasting and watching Sanford and Son reruns, or Good Times—basically black television and fasting. Laughing really hard and fasting don’t really go together, but it was what we did.
While we kept certain traditions at home, it wasn’t as safe for us to be in the synagogue because we looked different. In some places it was overt racism, even from rabbis and in the synagogue. At others it was more covert, where we were being told that we might not “fit what the community is looking for” or that “we can’t have you here because you will impact our image.” I must have been five or seven, and I remember vividly all the things that were said. We weren’t physically kicked out of synagogue, but I was told and shown from an early age that me being Jewish in the body I inhabit was not allowed. That happened in all of the six or seven places around us that we tried to go to.
Now I belong to two synagogues and a minyan. My kid goes to preschool at one, and the other two are just a short walk away. It can still be a difficult experience sometimes. The pervasive nature of racism and bigotry that still lives in Jewish culture is there. I sometimes have a really hard time connecting spiritually because I’m worried about what might happen, like some clearly racist members of the synagogue trying to silence me when I speak up or making derogatory remarks. But today I have more tools to deal with these situations. My Judaism has always been tied to interactions with fellow human beings. As far as identifying as Jewish, I don’t use one label or another, but being Jewish has always been a deeply rooted part of my identity. I feel like more and more people are moving away from labels. I’m seeing more and more Jews of color, multi-heritage Jews, as well as mixed families, claiming what’s rightfully ours. And while some organizations have programs for Jews of color and some organizations are moving toward integrating Jews of color into their actual leadership, it hasn’t made it to leading organizations in our community yet. The community has to realize we are not a program, we are a people.
Jared Jackson, 36, is the founder and director of Jews in All Hues, a group advocating for inclusion of dual-heritage Jews in the Jewish community.
My Judaism is probably more Israel-focused than my parents’. Israel wasn’t as much of a disputed issue in the United States among young people when my parents were growing up in the era of the Six-Day War. But I was in high school during the Second Intifada in 2000 and Israel was in the headlines all the time, so I was forced to learn about the conflict. I was becoming very politically aware at that time in general, and then Israel became this major geopolitical issue, which I recall being very formative for my own political development and development of my Jewish identity.
My views on Israel and my views on a lot of issues are sort of old-school liberal views. They’re views that liberal Democrats, like Scoop Jackson, held. But today, I think a lot of millennial Jews are estranged from Israel; they don’t understand the history of Israel, the history of the conflict. It’s sort of an annoyance to them. There’s this Jewish country and it has this problem with its neighbors, the Palestinians. And it’s sort of embarrassing, as liberals and leftists, to have to be associated with this country that is portrayed as a colonial occupier. If you actually spend time studying the history of the conflict, you realize how erroneous and unfair this categorization is. I think it’s really just an ideological laziness. A lot of young, left-wing Jews have been privileging their ideological leftism and their desire to be liked by their peers on the left at the expense of truth and justice and what’s right. There’s this whole movement to disassociate from the State of Israel, and I don’t buy it. I don’t think you have to choose between being a liberal and being a Zionist; I think they’re both perfectly compatible. And if the government of Israel now happens to be right-wing, it’s because of the failures of the left in that country and the fact that the left doesn’t speak to that many Israelis anymore.
Anti-Semitism is also becoming more of an issue for me, strangely, than it was for my parents. Obviously they were growing up at a time when it was probably harder to be Jewish. My parents went to college in the late 1960s, and they were just at the end of the era of quotas in the universities. It was more of a genteel anti-Semitism back then, of the country club and the Ivy League schools. It wasn’t like what happened in Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t like what’s been happening in Europe over the past 15 or 20 years. I never felt more aware of being a Jew than when I lived in Europe. It’s not something that you really are forced to confront living in America as a secular Jew. Obviously if you’re Orthodox, it’s a different story. But as a secular Jew living in America, growing up in Boston, going to Yale, working in Washington, DC, for The New Republic magazine—none of these are environments where you’re really made to feel out of place as a Jew. You expect that you’re going to be treated as an equal. In Europe, it’s completely different. You are made immediately to feel like an outsider.
James Kirchick, 35, is a journalist and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age.
Credit: Michael Alvarez-Pereyre for Nefesh B’nefesh
The difference between my parents’ Judaism and mine is that I live in Israel now. I made aliyah when I was 17. In Israel, Judaism permeates everything. It’s part of life, whereas in the United States you have to make an effort to have it in your life. One example is that, growing up, it was important for my parents that we wouldn’t intermarry. In Israel it’s still important, but also kind of a non-issue because the chances that a Jewish religious person here would intermarry are very small. In communities outside of Israel, Jewish institutions are the centers of Jewish life. In Israel it’s not like that. Jewish life is everywhere. So you don’t have to specifically join a place and pay your dues to be part of the Jewish community like in the States.
Another difference between my parents and me is that I grew up being Modern Orthodox, whereas they came from a less religious background. Because of that, they tend to be more strict about the exact details of the practice of religion, whereas for me it’s less important. I definitely consider myself Modern Orthodox and live within that traditional framework, but I don’t get hung up on any details. I think fitting into the box of the community has been more of a concern for them than it is for me. As far as practice and how it affects my day-to-day life, Shabbat is non-negotiable. I turn my phone off. I do read newspapers, but I don’t work or write. I observe Shabbat halachically and I think it’s beautiful, because I get to spend time with my family. Part of the advantage of being in Israel is that my employer understands that. Even when I was managing the Jerusalem Post’swebsite, which is a 24/7 job, I would have plans for what other people should be doing but made sure that I could disconnect.
Outside of that, I am Orthodox, but I’ve always been on the liberal end of Orthodoxy, which can be difficult in Israel. I know there are other people out there like me, but there aren’t many institutions that reflect that way of life. I have a two-year-old daughter. I hope that by the time she is in school, there will be more humanist and more feminist values about treating women more equally in Orthodox institutions. The place of these values in the Jewish experience has always been an issue for me within Orthodoxy. There’s nothing that my daughter loves more than Shabbat. Every time she sees candles, she covers her eyes and thinks it’s Shabbat. Being a parent adds a whole other level of meaning to being Jewish. I learned a lot from my parents, and I hope I’m going to impart that knowledge to my children.
Lahav Harkov, 30, is A Senior Contributing Editor at The Jerusalem Post.
My parents were proud to be Jewish, but Jewishness was more of a cultural habit (bagels and lox, Seinfeld). We belonged to a Conservative synagogue in the suburbs of Washington, DC, which my grandparents had helped found, and we would go to shul on High Holidays. I went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and went to a nominally Jewish summer camp; but besides that, Jewishness was not a big part of my family life or identity.
In college I found myself drawn to Jewish thinking and Jewish philosophers. I had friends who became baal teshuva and were more religious and they convinced me to come to Israel and spend a couple of months in yeshiva, where I deepened my Jewish identity and developed a strong connection to the land of Israel. In the years since, I’ve grown my Jewish learning and observance, been part of many vibrant Jewish communities, made Jewish music and am today applying to rabbinical school. It’s interesting how, in my generation, many of us have ended up becoming more Jewishly engaged than our parents!
While in Israel, I also spent time as a journalist and activist in the West Bank, and I came face to face with the reality of Israel’s occupation and ongoing denial of Palestinian rights. As a Jew committed to the pursuit of tzedek and tikkun olam, I found it painful to realize that these injustices were being committed against the Palestinian people. I was also angry that I wasn’t taught any of this growing up, in a Jewish community where too often, we were only presented with a surface-level, one-sided understanding of the conflict, and it was assumed that if you are Jewish, you support Israel—no questions asked.
Back in America, I became a part of a growing movement of young American Jews who demanded an end to Israel’s occupation and deep-rooted injustices against the Palestinians. We are very proud to be Jewish, and we are also very proud to support Palestinian rights. This led me to work for Jewish Voice for Peace for several years as their campus coordinator and to become a member of IfNotNow.
For me, and for many of my generation, being Jewish is about engaging with our rich histories, rituals and traditions; grappling with our legacies of trauma and resilience; standing against anti-Semitism and all oppression; and wrestling, compassionately and bravely, with the vital issues facing our people—including the moral crisis in Israel/Palestine. We hope, we pray and we work for a just peace that feels ever more elusive every day.
Thankfully, my parents have been generally supportive of the many novel paths, religious and political, my Jewish journey has taken. They had always supported Israel by default, without thinking about it that much—and while they haven’t always agreed with my activism, they listen and engage, and we learn from each other.
With my grandmother, our Israel conversation has been harder. For her generation, Israel was the phoenix rising from the ashes after the Holocaust—the David, never the Goliath. While she is also very liberal—certainly no fan of Israel’s emboldened right wing—it was hard for her to stomach my fervent, vocal activism. The issue was especially fraught because she and I share a deep Jewish connection, a love of Hasidic lore, progressive Jewish culture, Yiddish and Jewish song.
For years, there was pain and frustration between us. But gradually, we have come to a greater understanding. I have worked to understand what Israel means to her and her generation. She has developed a deeper understanding of how my activism is rooted in Jewish love and pride, a Jewish yearning for justice and peace. Building this open-hearted, honest understanding between generations is vital for Jewish communities right now, as we grapple with the deepest issues facing our people, and work to build a renewed future.
Ben Lorber, 30, is a writer, researcher and former campus organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace.
For Iranian Jews, Shabbat is our Torah. That’s always stayed a consistent, powerful element of our Judaism. And that consistency is beautiful. When I was younger, I remember struggling with, “Why can’t I just go out?” I remember when I was 16 sitting at my grandmother’s house, being with my family, and a lightning bolt hit me, and I realized that I’m lucky to have this. To this day I text my mom to see what they’re doing for Shabbat before I make other plans. My parents both keep kosher, my brother, sister and I don’t.
Many Iranians also feel that their Persian identity is inseparable from their Jewish identity, and they always make sure to say they’re Persian-Jewish. When my family came here after fleeing the Iranian revolution, they found it comforting to be embedded in this community in Los Angeles that still had some feeling of home. Growing up, that was very true for me. My identity as a Jew also centers around my Mizrachi identity. At the same time, I’ve felt that otherness of being Persian when institutions, organizations or even individuals make the assumption that the Ashkenazi way is the most normal, organic, widespread way to think about Judaism. I do feel very lucky to be in this generation, because the conversation about “ashkenormativity” has been happening for a while now.
The messages in the Jewish community and from my parents were very traditional, and their understanding of LGBTQ identity and community was limited. So being gay, I never had any role models or examples of people who were like me and were out. So inadvertently the message was I wouldn’t be able to be me if I stayed in the Jewish community. But I have always had a rich Persian-Jewish circle, and in college my circle and I started building a Jewish life that was relevant to us. That was the catalyst for an exploration of my Jewish faith and identity. As I engaged more, I began to embed Jewish learning on a weekly and monthly basis, I explored my identity as a Jew, and I really tuned in to it. While in my youth, Judaism was more of a cultural idea; over the last ten years I’ve explored it through adult learning, Kabbalah, reading texts and working with organizations. I’ve independently pursued a richer understanding of Judaism, and I now experience it in a much more significant way. What deeply informs me in my work is my focus on tikkun olamand the idea of “justice you shall pursue.” My whole life as an activist has been built on the feeling that, in my role as a Jew, I’m responsible for making the world a better place. Working for a Jewish LGBTQ nonprofit, my Judaism is never separated from my daily life.
Arya Marvazy, 32, is a first-generation Iranian-Jewish American, an LGBTQ advocate and a Jewish community organizer.
My father comes from a very strong cultural Jewish background. He grew up in Brooklyn, and I’d say he is a very typical traditional-cultural-atheist Jew. My mom grew up Methodist and chose to convert to Judaism. She actually converted to Judaism the day I was born—she had just left the mikvah when she went into labor and rushed to the hospital. I grew up in what I consider an atheist household, but still with Jewish culture as a central element of life. We did all of the large Jewish holidays, the High Holidays, Passover and Hanukkah, but also celebrated Christmas and Easter. There were times when we did Shabbat, but it wasn’t a consistent, regular occurrence. On the other hand, my father is very situated in the Jewish community as a poet and a writer and the owner of an art gallery. He recently won a National Jewish Book Award, so I’d say a lot of his work has always been centered in Jewish culture.
I went to Sunday school for a little while. Having a bat mitzvah wasn’t a given for me, but I remember talking to my parents and telling them that I wanted one. Initially, it might have been part of the fact that it goes along with having a party. But learning the chanting and the singing turned out to be a meaningful experience. Standing there during the service was a transcendent moment where I felt fulfilled and had a sense of a deep connection to Jewish faith and tradition. I remember thinking, after the ceremony was over, that I didn’t need a party anymore because that was enough for me.
I’ve always felt that the remembrance of the Holocaust was a part of my Jewish identity. There were books everywhere about the Holocaust, and I feel like I read every Jewish children’s book about it. It cultivated in me early on an understanding of the Jewish experience and of being oppressed, but also a deep sense of empathy and compassion. When I was 12, I played Annette in an opera called Brundibar, which had been performed in the Terezin concentration camp, and I played Anne Frank in the Meyer Levin stage version of her diary a few years later. I got to meet Holocaust survivors, and the feeling of carrying the torch of these stories was significant for me both as a Jew and as a human being.
My Judaism has always had something to do with the music, too. The songs that were sung in congregation struck a deep chord within me that always felt so natural, alive and full. The music inspired me, and I feel that it entered my blood in a way that felt like drinking a glass of water—it was nourishing and beautiful. In my work I’ve drawn stories from the Torah to make my musicals and compositions. One of my favorite pieces I’ve composed is “Song of Song of Songs,” obviously based on the “Song of Songs.” That text is something that intrigues and feels familiar to me. I feel that I have enough ownership of it that I can interpret it.
There’s a groundedness and sense of family that I get from my Judaism. It is also a way to interpret the world, because it has a great wealth of space for questioning and critical thinking. I’m a seeker; I love learning and I’ve always had a deep spiritual longing. I’ve explored many different texts and cultures over the years, but Judaism has always been my home.
Marisa Michelson, 36, is an award-winning singer, composer and writer of interdisciplinary music-theater performances.
My paternal grandmother extracted a promise from my mother before we were born that we would be raised Jewish, which was partly rooted in an argument over conversion. My mother refused to convert (though she eventually did, right after my bar mitzvah), and the compromise was that my brother and I would be raised Jewish and bar mitzvahed. My parents raised me with a Jewish identity and the understanding that that meant something. And that’s never been in question for me, which is in part why I always found the barriers of exclusion that we ran into so absurd. One way to fulfill the “assimilation will lead to the destruction of the observant Jewish population” argument is to exclude Jews who are interfaith, who actually want to be Jewish and want to be part of the community, as opposed to just having a secular identity. It took a while for my family to find a congregation that would accept us as an interfaith family. My brother was bar mitzvahed at a Reconstructionist synagogue, after other congregations would not accept him.
My father was in the Foreign Service, so we lived abroad for a significant portion of my childhood, in places that didn’t have Reform congregations. I did have a bar mitzvah, I did read Torah. But I also had to deal with anti-Semitism fairly early. We spent a significant amount of time in Italy, and I very distinctly remember being told that I had killed Jesus, and things like that.
Now I would say that my observance isn’t super different from my parents’. They go to temple on Fridays more often than I do, although I go more than twice a year for the High Holidays. Probably the only real difference is that I try to avoid pork and shellfish, and meat and cheese, and my parents absolutely do not care. I don’t have separate silverware or anything like that. I just try to avoid consciously eating it.
As a biracial Jew, there have also been moments when people treat you like you don’t actually belong there. Those are rare, but they happen enough that I remember them. Part of it is a kind of benign ignorance—“Oh, are you Jewish?”—you get that question. For the most part, it’s that kind of stuff. People trying to exclude you because your mother’s not Jewish, or because you’re a curiosity.
Today, the rise in anti-Semitism has brought up a lot of memories. I would say that the current climate has provoked a civic impulse in me. Precisely because it feels like there are people who don’t like the fact that I’m Jewish, I want to make a point of it. I don’t think that’s about religious observance. It’s about asserting identity.
Adam Serwer, 36, is a staff writer at The Atlantic covering politics.
We were Reform growing up; I was bat mitzvahed, and that was really important to my family. My parents were pretty regular in attending services and observing certain traditions. Today, I think I’m less—maybe rigorous isn’t the right word—probably less formal in my practice. Part of my career path means I’ve been moving around a lot, and it’s been harder for me to find a Jewish community, and it’s also harder for me to get home to my family to celebrate some holidays.
But I also think that, as part of my career path, I am always surrounded by cultural Jews, and I’m engaging in the social side of it. So maybe even though my Judaism is less formal and ritualized, I’m just as culturally engrossed as my parents were. As an adult, being able to find a Jewish community is not something I take for granted. It’s something I’m really grateful to my parents for, for instilling a love of tradition and the importance of those moments of ritual.
But also, more so than my parents, I’m someone who works with part of my identity public facing. When I worked for the Observer, owned by Jared Kushner’s publishing company, I wrote an open letter to Kushner about the anti-Semitism in Trump’s presidential campaign. I really just wrote it out of pure fury at the time, just in a fugue state. I was shocked and furious and gaslit by the entire campaign, which either ignored or sort of winked at those forces and people. The harassment I received in response was beyond anything that I knew existed. You know in the abstract that it exists obviously, but I had never internalized it in that way. I think it further entrenches me in my pride and cultural heritage. Being true to my own identity is something that’s really important to me. Being Jewish is not something I ever am able to hide, both in my face and my last name, nor is it something I would ever want to hide.
Dana Schwartz, 26, is a correspondent for Entertainment Weekly and the author of And We’re Off and Choose Your Own Disaster.
Like many Jews, I grew up culturally Jewish. My parents are Israeli, originally from Kiryat Gat, so they grew up in a typical, secular Israeli mindset. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, which is similar in that it’s culturally Jewish but religiously pretty secular. Probably the most religious experience for me back then was having my bar mitzvah, but that was pretty common in Jewish communities that aren’t really religiously observant. You spend the year going to a million bar mitzvahs, and that was it.
When I went to Arizona State Uni-versity, I started going to Hillel early on, and spent a year after graduation going to the local Chabad. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself, so I went to a yeshiva for baalei teshuva (those becoming more religious) in Israel, and that’s where my journey to Orthodoxy started. Two things really attracted me to Judaism: the belief and the practice. The belief system that I was attracted to is Chassidus. I think Judaism can be all-encompassing, but what interested me are the parts that deal with mystical ideas and things that are less based in the day-to-day. You can say it’s the big questions, like what is God? and why are we here? I always wanted to know more about these topics, but felt like I had no system to address them. So to have tools that help me engage these questions on a spiritual level is really powerful. One practice I really love is farbrengen, a Hasidic tisch. It’s usually an experience where a bunch of hasidim get together, sing and talk about deep spiritual ideas, and try to elevate each other through this practice, and it’s meant to reach a higher spiritual level than one can get to on his own. Now, I run these things called creative farbrengen in my home. Creativity is my access point into Judaism.
When I started my journey into Orthodoxy, my parents were a little nervous. They were a bit suspicious, but I think that once they saw I wasn’t going crazy they were supportive. My mom’s only difficulty was having to adjust to have kashrut in her home when my wife and I visited their house. What’s been interesting, as I’ve grown spiritually, is that they have started to admire what I’m doing and support it more. In the Orthodox world I’m seen as a bit of a rebel, but maybe I’m just going back to my roots. I’m more on the same page with my parents than I used to be, even before I became religious.
By now I’ve stopped calling myself Chabad. There are things in that community that I strongly disagree with, but I still think there’s so much truth and value to it. I call myself Modern Orthodox when I’m speaking publicly. I was drawn toward this change because I was bothered by the fact that the wisdom of the world—things like culture, science, math and so on—are not taken into account in the Haredi and ultra-Orthodox world. So I call myself Modern Orthodox today, but in my head I think of myself as half Chabad and half Modern Orthodox. Once you have a family, it becomes easier to practice in some ways because there is a lot of structure in which to be involved in the Jewish world. Going to shul on the High Holidays and having Shabbat every week with your family is very invigorating and special. It’s funny because that aspect of Jewish practice is not that different from other sects of the community, and I think it’s a big part of what ties us together.
Elad Nehorai, 30, Founded Hevria, a creative Jewish community, and is a leader of Torah Trumps Hate, a progressive Orthodox group.
My parents were raised pretty differently. My father came from an Orthodox home, where they kept Shabbos, kashrus and mitzvahs. My mother grew up in the same neighborhood, a suburb of Detroit called Oak Park, but she was raised in a very different environment. It was very Jewish—her parents spoke Yiddish—the difference was that both of her parents were artists and actors, so their Judaism was different from the connection my father’s family had to their religion. Our level of observance landed somewhere between their backgrounds.
I have three older brothers, and there was always a focus on raising us Jewish. We weren’t Orthodox but would often have Shabbos dinner together. We wouldn’t keep all of the prohibitions of Shabbos. We did fast on Yom Kippur and keep the dietary rules of Pesach, but we never had a feeling that we must do things a certain way. Only my middle brother and I went to Jewish day school, and I think that’s one of the ways my identity was shaped by the forces of history. Going to day school, I was required to learn Hebrew and understand Jewish texts. The learning and literacy that I gained there added to my own experience and to my Jewish life as a whole.
When I really started to study Yiddish, it felt very natural, like it was within me, and that I just had to train my lips around the contours of the words. When you learn Yiddish, it’s not just a language. You learn what it means to be a Yid, a Jew. For me, being Jewish means reading and speaking Hebrew and Yiddish, feeling connected to the land of Israel, observing the holidays with friends and family, and feeling at home at shul. It’s also a state of being, a state of connectedness to your peoplehood, which means ritual and culture. That doesn’t mean I keep all of the mitzvahs in the book, but I’m happy that I have that knowledge, and I could go back and study more if I wanted.
All of the ruptures of the 20th century, the tragedies and destruction, created a major break in the way Jews relate to their history. But these events also brought a kind of rebirth. It’s one thing that was lacking in my Jewish education. You study biblical and rabbinical texts, and then you jump forward to the Holocaust and the State of Israel, and now you’re here. There are all of these years of civilization in between that we weren’t exposed to, all of these rich cultures and texts, and I think that was a major fault. I don’t think the name of the writer Shalom Aleichem was uttered once in my school. But a lot of people of my generation are trying to go back and learn what we didn’t learn, and I think it connects us more deeply to our national history.
Mikhl Yashinsky, 30, is a theater director, playwright, actor and Yiddishist. He is currently performing in the Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof in New York.
I’ve been on a Jewish identity rollercoaster. My parents were Reform until I was about six. In kindergarten they sent me to Jewish school, so we also made the house kosher so we could have people over. In that transition, my parents became kosher and started keeping Shabbat. In Miami, Jewish identity was based on how observant you were. Almost everyone in our neighborhood was Jewish, and it was more of a question of “what do you keep?”
Then I went to St. Albans in Wash-ington, DC, after applying on a whim without telling my parents. I was the most affiliated and engaged Jew in the school. So my experience shifted from where my identity was based on practice, to being the “billboard Jew”—whatever I was doing was seen as “this is what Jews do.” It was a crazy amount of responsibility. But it also helped my understanding of being a global citizen and seeing my Jewish identity in the broader context of the world. In college, I did my own thing and was not really practicing. Later on, I started getting into Jewish mysticism and re-engaging with my identity. When I moved to New York in 2010, I started keeping Shabbat and kosher again.
During my professional and philanthropic experiences I became turned off to the Jewish experience. But two years ago at Burning Man, I had Shabbat with a thousand people from all over the world, and it was the most beautiful Shabbat I’ve ever had. From there, I began questioning and reframing my Jewish identity and experience. I’m more excited about my practice now. I don’t do anything just because that’s how it’s done. Practicing without the kavana (intention) or understanding of why, that would lack integrity for me. Once I leaned into designing the tradition I really wanted, it ignited a new wave of excitement in my practice. What does that look like? Instead of going to synagogue and sitting through three hours of prayers I don’t understand, it means designing meditation and sound work around that holiday that allow me to get the most out of that holiday experience.
All of the institutions and organizations that are running the Jewish world were built and run by our parents’ and grandparents’ generation who practiced and lived Judaism differently. Before, there were details and divisions that put people in boxes. But for me Judaism is more fluid, inclusive and integrated. Those are all key generational values that are important to the millennial experience. Human values like inclusivity, equality, women’s empowerment are part of our foundational belief system. Where elements of Judaism might rub up against those, my human beliefs and experiences are the first lens that I’m living through. And then, it’s about reconciling those beliefs with Jewish values and experience.
A friend told me that 70 percent of non-Orthodox marriages were interfaith, so next generation, everyone is bringing a “plus one” to the table. The reality is that it’s happening, so now the question is how do we engage the plus one so everyone is inspired to come back. If we don’t, we alienate and lose everyone. The future of the Jewish people is going to look more black, brown, blue and LGBT than it does today. We could either ignore that, or engage that conversation in meaningful ways.
David Yarus, 32, is the founder of JSwipe and Mllnnl, a digital marketing agency that helps brands connect with millennial audiences.
______________________________________________________________________ Asya Vaisman Schulman, 35
My parents are from Chernivtsi, Ukraine, and I was born there. We lived in Moscow until I was seven, at which point we moved to North Carolina. Growing up, we weren’t super traditionally observant, but Jewish identity was very, very important in my family. My father was very invested in Yiddish language and culture. He himself did not speak fluently, but three of my four grandparents do. I grew up with this sense that Yiddish is a really important part of our identity, and in the history of the Jewish people. I grew up listening to Yiddish songs and klezmer music and the Yiddish phrases that everybody hears.
In high school, I started studying the language with private lessons, and then continued on through college and grad school. It made sense for me to choose Yiddish: I’ve always loved languages, and I think my parents successfully transmitted to me their idea that Yiddish is a language that was spoken by every single one of my ancestors for a thousand years—and I could contribute to maintaining it.
I always wanted to at least teach Yiddish to any kids I would have. Luckily, I married someone who also values Yiddish very much. In fact, we met at a Yiddish weekend, a Shabbaton for young people who speak Yiddish. Now my husband is the main person transmitting Yiddish to our daughter, who is six and a half. He speaks exclusively Yiddish to her.
I see this as a toolbox for her. It is one of the options available to her in expressing her Jewishness, and I hope she will enjoy everything that Yiddish and Yiddish culture has to offer. She will have the option of going on and reading all of Yiddish literature, if that is something that she wants to do, or speaking to other Yiddish speakers. There are so many wonderful songs, and great literature—so much that can be discovered if you have access to the language. The connection to her past is also important, the same way it was for me: Yiddish’s thousand-year history as the language of Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, and later in Eastern Europe. In Yiddish there’s this term, di goldene keyt, “the golden chain,” which symbolizes transmission across generations. Yiddish is one of the things that help connect my daughter and me to this di goldene keyt of our ancestors.
Asya Vaisman Schulman, 35, is the director of the Yiddish Language Institute at the Yiddish Book Center.
I was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, which is home to one of the largest yeshivas in the world. Even though my religious observance never quite went to that level, I benefited from having that around. My parents didn’t grow up in an Orthodox household, but we got progressively more religious as I was growing up, and by the time of my bar mitzvah we were basically Orthodox. It was really gradual and I was so young, so I’m not really sure what the reason was behind that. What stands out to me about my Jewish life is the fact that my parents let us go at our own pace. They certainly led the way and had a way they believed was preferable. But we had the space to grow into our own, so where I ended up is really where I wanted to be. I’m not one of those people wondering if the grass is greener on the other side. It was a process that took place all the way throughout college. I was mostly keeping kosher by then, but I still did eat out, mostly vegetarian food to avoid that conflict. After that, I became shomer shabbos and shomer kashrut. I went through a period where I was even more religious. I mostly stopped listening to secular music, which was a lot for me because I’m a big music fan, and that was too much for me.
Now we consider ourselves Modern Orthodox, and I think the whole family is on the same level of religiosity. As far as practice goes, if you make time, you find time. I have kids now, and that makes a difference. You really feel the weight of history, that responsibility to carry on a tradition that’s thousands of years old, and you see the beauty in it. I daven every day and take time to learn by myself. I make it a practice to study shulchan aruch and say tehillim on my commute. We make kiddush and motzi at home. My kids will see me davening and know that kiddush is coming. The actuality of practice, the physical traditions and rituals are what make a big difference when you’re a parent. You have to know enough to answer questions, to help them learn. You also see it through a child’s eyes, which is rare because it’s tough to remember what it’s like learning about these things as a kid. When you have a family and you’re resolved to live a religious life, not even strictly observant, you tend to see its values everywhere. The kids want to know where they’re from, what they can and can’t or shouldn’t do, and all that’s informed by Judaism.
Seth Mandel, 37, is the former op-ed editor for the New York Post and executive editor of The Washington Examiner.
If a Jew isn’t wearing a visible sign—a kippah or a Magen David—how can we tell if he or she is Jewish? We can’t. We make assumptions based on context. But context is tricky. A white person in a Jewish setting, such as a synagogue, appears Jewish to most people. A person of color in the same setting is often assumed to be an outsider.
I committed this gaffe about ten years ago at my Manhattan shul when, just before Friday night services began, an African American woman I didn’t know took a seat next to me. Schooled to welcome strangers, I offered my hand, spoke to her warmly, indicated the right page in the siddur and, like an idiot, asked her what church she belonged to. “I’m Jewish,” she smiled. “I belong here. But thanks.”
Probably because it had happened to her many times before, the woman seemed to take our exchange in stride, but I wanted to sink into the floor and not come out until Havdalah. Ten years later, the tendency to “see” non-whites as something other than Jewish isn’t just a lazy assumption. Given the increased visibility of our diverse Jewish population, it’s a symptom of a persistent, if unconscious, bias—one that dismisses people as “not like us” before knowing who they are or what they believe.
Of the six million Jews in the U.S., more than 7 percent as of 2005 identified as African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or mixed-race—a total of around 435,000. The number is probably higher today. Yet many white Jews still think only of celebrity converts when they think of black Jews. The reality is different—and much more varied.
The actress Maya Rudolph calls her father “a pretty adorable Jew,” but she doesn’t practice Judaism. Walter Mosley, the crime novelist, identifies strongly with his dual black-Jewish heritage. Daveed Diggs, who originated the roles of Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette in Hamilton, says, “When I was young I identified with being Jewish, but I embraced my dad’s side, too.” The actress Rashida Jones went to Hebrew school at a Reform synagogue but chose not to have a bat mitzvah. In other words, these black and brown Jews sound like a lot of white Jews you know.
Celebrities are unlikely to end up sitting next to you in shul. But chat with your regular co-congregants of color and you’ll likely discover as many commonalities with them as differences. Listen awhile, and you may also benefit from their unique, often hard-won dual perspectives on Jewish life.
I’m thinking of Bentley Addison, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins, who after the Tree of Life massacre wrote a piece for The Forward called “Guns in Synagogues Will Make Black Jews Less Safe.” Addison calls himself a “Blackity Black Jewy Jew.” He sees and experiences some parallels between racism and anti-Semitism. Yet his dual identity gave him special authority to protest a piece in Haaretz by an Orthodox man with white skin who blithely equated harassment of Hasidim in black hats with the history of virulent racism against people with black skin.
Recent news stories that set my teeth on edge are a gut punch to people like Addison: White nationalism found to be spreading in the Orthodox Jewish community. A Hasidic mob attacks a black Jewish bar mitzvah teacher carrying a Torah. Conservative Jewish columnist Dennis Prager, agreeing with President Trump’s “shithole” comment, casts aspersions on “the moral state of many or most African countries.” The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel is quoted calling black people “unusual creatures,” “monkeys,” and kushi, the Hebrew equivalent of the N-word.
It’s enough to drive Jews of color out of Judaism, especially when, in their own synagogues, black Jews report white Jews calling them schvartzes, or doubting the authenticity of their conversions, or ostracizing them so their kids won’t cross paths, date or marry each other.
Jews of color are the living, breathing (often stressed and suffering) embodiment of the “intersectionality” you may remember hearing about in connection with January’s Women’s March. Basically, this theory holds that different kinds of oppression can’t be compartmentalized and attacked separately; rather, all forms of persecution and subjugation are interconnected and must be defeated together.
No wonder black Jews were stuck between a rock and a hard place when a dispute broke out among cofounders of the March over the issue of its association with Louis Farrakhan (who calls Jews “termites”). And when arguments festered over whether Jews should be welcome in the March if they identify as Zionists.
Asking a black Jew to take sides in such disputes or to prioritize one aspect of her identity over the other is like asking you to prioritize one of your eyes. Black Jews can’t only protest racism or only speak out against anti-Semitism, because they are not either/or, they are both. And many of them are trying their intersectional best to remind the rest of us that the two “isms” are born of the same hatred and must be fought simultaneously. Instead of reacting with self-righteous defensiveness (“How can I be a racist when I’m a victim myself?”), we need to accept the challenge.
My knee-jerk equation of a decade ago—Jew equals white—won’t pass muster today. Now the job of the majority Jewish population is to climb inside someone else’s skin and listen. Until white members of our tribe repudiate default correlations between religion and race, and until we treat our black and brown brothers and sisters with equal dignity, we can never fulfill the promise of becoming a diverse, welcoming community in which every individual is seen as tzelem elohim, a mirror image of God. I’ll go one step further: If we can’t recognize and honor the inner Jew whatever its outward form, Judaism itself will be a shanda far di goyim, a disgrace in the eyes of the world.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is currently at work on her twelfth book, Shanda: Family Secrets, Private Shame, Public Disgrace, and the Fear of Being Found Out.
Una breve guía sobre la historia y el valor estratégico de las Alturas del Golán.
Las alturas del Golán son la protección de Israel contra su vecino del norte: Siria. Las alturas del Golán, que están en manos de Israel desde 1967, volvieron a las noticias ahora que el presidente Trump acaba de firmar una proclamación reconociendo la soberanía de Israel sobre el área. A continuación les presento cinco hechos sobre las alturas del Golán que proveen un poco de antecedentes sobre la zona.
1) Lazos históricos
El Golán es el escenario de algunas de las historias más impresionantes de la Torá. Cuando el pueblo de Israel entró a habitar la tierra de Israel, las tribus de Gad, Rubén y la mitad de la tribu de Menashé le pidieron a Moshé permiso para asentarse al oriente del río Jordán. Moshé aceptó y los judíos de la tribu de Menashé se asentaron en “el Golán, en (la región llamada) el Bashán”, en la actualidad, las alturas del Golán (Deuteronomio 4:43).
Los judíos construyeron allí una comunidad activa y piadosa, pero el área estaba bajo constante ataque del reino de Aram. El Libro de Reyes describe la monumental batalla que tuvo lugar en el siglo IX AEC, cuando las fuerzas combinadas de las tribus de Iehudá e Israel vencieron al ejército arameo en el Golán: “Y sucedió… que (el rey) Ben Hadad contó a Aram y subió a Afec para pelear contra Israel… Se libró la batalla, y los hijos de Israel golpearon a Aram y mataron cien mil soldados en un día” (Reyes I 20:26-29).
Restos de una casa de baños bizantina en el parque nacional Kursi, en las alturas del Golán
Las comunidades judías en el Golán florecieron. Muchas de las batallas contra el ejército sirio griego que celebramos en la festividad de Jánuca tuvieron lugar en la zona. Iehudá HaMacabí lideró en la zona a las tropas judías contra los griegos, y su sobrino nieto, el rey judío Alexander Ianai (que gobernó entre 103-76 AEC) anexó la región del Golán a su territorio.
Cuando el imperio romano destruyó el reinado judío de Iehudá, el Golán fue una de las últimas áreas en caer. Roma sólo logró dominar la zona en el año 67 EC. Si bien entonces terminó la autonomía judía, la vida judía en el Golán siguió floreciendo. Los arqueólogos descubrieron en la zona los restos de 34 antiguas sinagogas que pertenecen al final del reinado de Judea en el año 70 EC. Durante el período romano, la vida judía en el Golán floreció, con sinagogas y centros de estudio de una comunidad judía letrada y piadosa.
Esto llegó a su fin en el siglo VII cuando las tribus islámicas vencieron y sometieron a las comunidades judías del territorio., La última batalla contra la conquista islámica se luchó en el valle Yarmouk en el año 636, en las alturas del Golán. Después de eso, los judíos fueron expulsados del área durante siglos.
2) Los pioneros trabajan la tierra en el Golán
La vida judía retornó brevemente al Golán en 1891, cuando los pioneros judíos comenzaron a comprar terrenos y a cultivar la tierra en la región. El barón Edmond Rothschild compró 18.000 acres en la zona de Ramat Magshimim, en el Golán. Los judíos construyeron cinco pequeñas granjas en las verdes colinas del Golán.
El experimento agrícola de los pioneros judíos llegó a su fin en 1898 cuando las autoridades turcas locales expulsaron a los judíos y se apropiaron de sus tierras. Al finalizar la Primera Guerra Mundial, Inglaterra tomó el control del área. En 1923 los ingleses le dieron el Golán a Francia, junto con los territorios que en la actualidad pertenecen a Siria y al Líbano. En 1947 Siria obligó a los judíos a abandonar las alturas del Golán y utilizó la zona para bombardear los pueblos y las granjas israelíes que quedaban a la vista desde las montañas del Golán.
3) Un área pequeña
Las alturas del Golán aparecen tanto en las noticias que uno podría llegar a pensar que se trata de un enorme territorio, repleto de habitantes. En verdad, el área de las alturas del Golán que se encuentra bajo control israelí en la actualidad comprende sólo 1.200 km cuadrados. En el Golán viven alrededor de 40.000 personas; muchos de estos residentes son miembros de las minorías drusa y alawite que habitan en varios pueblos pequeños en las montañas. Además, hay 32 poblados judíos y comunidades agrícolas a lo largo del Golán.
El Monte Hermón al norte del Golán tiene aproximadamente 2.800 metros de altura y es un famoso sitio de esquí. A unos pocos kilómetros a lo largo del río Yarmuk (que fluye por la parte sur del Golán) las colinas tienen unos 400 metros. Es una región que se destaca por su belleza. Allí hay muchos parques nacionales israelíes y áreas protegidas.
Entre 1948 (cuando se estableció el estado de Israel) y 1967 (cuando Israel capturó las alturas del Golán de Siria) la artillería siria bombardeó regularmente la región norte de Israel. Ellos también seguían a Fatah, el brazo político de la OLP, y llevaron a cabo ataques a la región. Haifa se encuentra a sólo a 95 kilómetros de las alturas del Golán y el Golán ofrece una vista excelente del valle Hula en el norte de Israel, que es la región agrícola más fértil del país.
Durante años, los niños israelíes se vieron obligados a dormir en los refugios antibombas. Muchas rutas al norte de Israel sólo se pueden transitar después de que camiones de detección de minas limpian los caminos. Golda Meir, quien fue primer ministro de Israel, recordó la miseria que los sirios provocaron a los israelíes desde la mira de las alturas del Golán: “Los sirios buscaban una escalada del conflicto; ellos bombardeaban constantemente los asentamientos israelíes debajo de las alturas del Golán. Los pescadores y los granjeros israelíes debieron enfrentar casi a diario ataques de francotiradores. Ocasionalmente yo visitaba esos asentamientos y observaba a los habitantes del lugar seguir adelante con sus labores como si no hubiese nada fuera de lo normal en arar con escolta militar o poner a sus hijos a dormir cada noche en refugios subterráneos antibombas” (Una cita de Mi vida, por Golda Meir).
Reconociendo que Siria aprovechaba las alturas del Golán para atacar a Israel, la ONU envió tropas a patrullar la frontera entre Israel y Siria. En 1966 Israel apeló a la comisión mixta de armisticio de la ONU, pidiendo que detuviera a Siria para que no permitiera que las tropas de la OLP siguieran bombardeando a Israel desde el Golán. La ONU se negó a condenar a Siria, pero condenó a Israel cuando las tropas israelíes se atrevieron a disparar a las posiciones sirias en el Golán.
4) La Guerra de los Seis Días
Después de años de provocación, Israel recuperó las alturas del Golán en la Guerra de los Seis Días, en 1967. Los combates comenzaron el 5 de junio de 1967, cuando Israel lanzó un ataque preventivo contra Egipto. Siria aprovechó las alturas del Golán para disparar a pueblos y granjas en el Valle Hula, y también envió aviones a bombardear Haifa. El 9 de junio, Israel enfrentó a los combatientes sirios en el Golán y capturó el área con una rapidez casi milagrosa en la tarde del 10 de junio.
Muy pronto los arqueólogos encontraron en el área recordatorios de los lazos históricos de la zona con Israel: monedas del siglo II EC en las que estaban inscriptas las palabras: “Por la redención de Jerusalem”.
Siria trató de recuperar el Golán seis años más tarde, en 1973, cuando junto a Egipto y con el apoyo de otros nueve países árabes, lanzaron un ataque sorpresivo a Israel en Iom Kipuir. No tuvieron éxito y posteriormente Siria firmó un acuerdo de retirada como parte de su armisticio con Israel, que dejó el Golán en manos de Israel. Las tropas de la ONU se estacionaron en la frontera de lo que ahora eran las alturas del Golán controladas por Israel y Siria, aunque Israel nunca aprovechó las alturas del Golán para disparar hacia el territorio sirio de la forma en que Siria utilizó esas colinas para aterrorizar a Israel.
En 1981 Israel efectivamente anexó las alturas del Golán, reflejando la importancia clave que tiene la zona para la seguridad del país. Siria sigue exigiendo su devolución. En 1999, durante las conversaciones de paz con Yasser Arafat (que muchos israelíes pensaron que podían llevar a una paz permanente con la OLP), Siria reveló su postura: ellos sólo estaban dispuestos a hacer paz con Israel si Israel devolvía por completo las alturas del Golán. Ellos querían ser capaces de reestablecer los puestos militares en las montañas y también controlar las fuentes de agua pura del área. Debido a su experiencia con la agresión siria en la zona, Israel se negó a considerar esa indignante demanda.
5) Ayuda humanitaria en el Golán
Con el desastre humanitario resultante de la brutal guerra civil en Siria que ya lleva ocho años, los israelíes aprovecharon la región del Golán para proveer ayuda humanitaria a los refugiados sirios. En junio del 2016, las Fuerzas de Defensa de Israel (FDI) lanzaron la Operación Buenos Vecinos, que coordinó masivos envíos de ayuda médica y material en la zona del Golán.
Bajo la Operación Buenos Vecinos, Israel distribuyó más de 1.500 toneladas de alimentos, más de 250 toneladas de vestimenta, alrededor de un millón de litros de combustible, decenas de generadores y aproximadamente 25.000 contenedores de equipamiento médico y remedios. Sólo en una semana del 2018, la brigada Bashán de las FDI efectuó seis riesgosas operaciones en las alturas del Golán para hacer llegar toneladas de ayuda a los civiles en Siria que incluían ropa y juguetes para los niños.
Cuando las luchas de la guerra civil siria se acercaron al Golán en julio del 2018, el Consejo Regional Israelí del Golán lanzó una colecta general para recolectar ítems para ser distribuidos a los refugiados sirios en una zona fuera del control israelí. “Nos gustaría que todas las familias del Golán preparen bolsas cerradas para un niño sirio con juguetes… dibujos para colorear, crayones y golosinas… para proveerles un momento de dulzura y alegría”, pidió el consejo. “Ellos son nuestros vecinos y para nosotros es una mitzvá ayudarlos en un momento difícil”, explicó el director del Consejo, Eli Malka. En pocas horas llegaron miles de donaciones.
La brutal lucha continúa cerca de las alturas del Golán, un recordatorio constante de lo crucial que es que Israel tenga control sobre esta área críticamente estratégica e histórica.