When he was younger, our son Adam (now in his 50s) asked me “Dad, what will happen when the last old Jewish guy dies?” What he meant, metaphorically, was what do he and his generation do when they no longer have access to the stories, the culture and the warmth of that first generation that had that accent, loved that food and cried when they heard Ha Tikva.
Memories fade. Young people will be voting in this year’s presidential election for the first time who were three years old when Saudi terrorists took out the Twin Towers. Their parents and most of their grandparents have no vivid memories of the Holocaust and the Israeli fight for independence.
They do not know of a time when we were a “Sha Still” people. A time when Jews walked softly so as to not be noticed as Jews in wider society. A time when Shloime became Sam and Herschkowitz became Hersch or Shiplacoff became Shipley. When most Jews feared to speak out on matters vital to their people for fear of losing status or even their jobs because of it.
That all changed in May 1948. The land of Israel declared its independence and the Third Jewish Commonwealth became a reality in the same land the first two had been declared and thrived. Jews the world over were proud. Heads held high we began to name our children with biblical names instead of those of movie stars or soap opera celebrities.
Jewish organizations flourished, the “Jewish Vote” was sought after by both American political parties even though we represented, like today, only one to two percent of the voting public. We had pride, we had involvement. We also had horrific wars thrust upon this new nation by an Arab world dedicated to destroying the People of the Book back in the Land of the Book.
The war of independence and then 1957, 1963, 1967, 1973. All attempts to destroy The Hope, The Dream. But we prevailed. 1973 was 46 years ago. Many of the parents of these new voters were not alive when the Arabs last attempted to destroy the Jewish Nation.
Technology has been a blessing and a curse on our sensibilities. We can communicate as never before—instantaneously—but in that lightning fast ability, credibility takes a hit. People, specifically young people are exposed to a torrent of bad information, which they absorb like sunlight on their various devices.
They are an instantaneous generation, these new voters. They are not deeply involved in the world because they feel it is temporary, that they have no influence in what happens and for the most part their parents have done a really poor job of showing them anything different. Our Sages say “you must know from whence you come to know where you are going.”
The falloff in Organized Jewry is a symptom of this wider phenomenom. The mere fact that a cancer like BDS can grow on college campuses with large Jewish populations is a clarion wake up call. That anything resembling BDS or an “even handed” approach to Israel would even be contemplated in the Democratic Party Platform would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
If we, the Jews, are to survive as a people; if we are to still be here when “the last Jewish old guy” dies, we have to re-learn history. If we look at our fractured world today, we must accept that tribalism is not a dead concept. When people feel confused, leaderless and afraid, they retreat to their bunkers, their comfort zone, their Tribe.
We all have become an “us and them” society. People are angry and looking to take it out on the “Other.” Racial tensions run high, people are looking for someone to blame for their own lack of self-being. And when there is an “Other” to be sought, you know the Jews, if not first, are high on that list.
I am dead sure that Donald Trump, for whatever he may be, is not an anti-Semite. Hillary has yet to show her true colors on Israel, but Bill did his best only to be screwed by Arafat. No, the problem we as Jews have is not in the two political parties or the unrest in our nation.
The problem, as Shakespeare said, is in our selves. Who are we? For what do we stand? The guiding tenant of our people is tikkun olam. We take care of each other, we are here to heal the world. It’s all in our book. We have three basic religions in our world. They are all based on that book. According to that book, the Muslims are our cousins. The Christians worship a Jew. So the responsibility falls to us—the first of the Abrahamic religions.
Our Torah is full of stories. Our history is full of more stories, not all of them with happy endings. When will the “last old Jewish guy” die? When we forget our stories, our history, our purpose as Jews.