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The Non-Jewish Jew


4 or 5 years ago were living in Raanana a small city north of Tel-Aviv. We lived on the first floor of a small apartment building. One of our neighbors was an old man who lived by himself in a second floor apartment. He was a private, polite, soft-spoken individual. He spoke Hebrew with a rare accuracy and punctuality.

One day we encountered him on the footpath leading from the sidewalk and into the building. He tripped and fell and slightly injured his knee. We helped him up and Andreea helped him clean and bandage his wound.

A few days later he came to us carrying a gift. It was a paper he had recently written and published (or was about to be published). It was then that we discovered that he was a Professor of psychology at the Tel-Aviv University. His paper (in Hebrew) was titled “Psycho-history of the Jewish People”. Though I still haven’t read the entire article, it was in it’s first few pages that I encountered some vague connection to being Jewish.

Most people that know me have probably heard me say that the only thing that makes me Jewish is having been born to a Jewish mother. I have purposefully distanced myself from any religious practices, I know very little about Jewish traditions and I object to it as I do to any religion or, for that matter, any ritual that is performed blindly. In fact the modern incarnation of Judaism as it manifests through the state of Israel has been a source of much conflict and suffering for me.

Yet in this paper I encountered something which resonated with me. According to the paper the term The Non-Jewish Jew was first coined by Isaac Deutscher who was born to an orthodox Jewish family. Though he denounced Jewish faith and Jewish national aspirations he refused to forfeit his Judaism. The paper then quotes a letter written by Freud to a local Jewish organization in Vienna (following is my own rough translation from the Hebrew article into English:

“I must admit that I share neither Jewish faith nor national pride … but there are other qualities that endowed Jews and Judaism with an irresistible attraction. This attraction is rooted in mysterious forces and feelings which draw their power from an inexplicable source that defies definition”.

When I contemplate this I can feel a movement somewhere deep inside but it does not have enough momentum to reach the surface and sustain itself. My Israeli (and Jewish) Yoga teacher is my primary source of Jewish inspiration. Through her I have, in recent years, learned to appreciate and wonder about the spiritual qualities of the Hebrew language. Yet as I think of her, my heart and mind travel on to other people who have inspired me and with whom I feel a connection and the thread that connects this small and special group is indeed something that defies definition and it is the only tradition where I feel at home. I know of no clear religious, tradition, national, social, intellectual or ideological thread that passes through me.

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