Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Jim Shipley
Shipley speaks 

Seventy years a Jew


September 6, 2019

I cannot count my first 17 years as a Jew. My father inherited a hatred of Orthodoxy from his father, a dedicated Socialist. Therefore, I would not be bar mitzvahed until my 40s—but that’s another story.

My Zionism and Judaism rose together in that Wave that swept the Jewish Community in 1948 with the founding of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. Suddenly our family was part of the Zionist rush most Jews felt in the founding of a Jewish State—a country of our own.

My father suddenly became as ardent a Zionist as you could find. So, my introduction to Judaism was also my introduction to Zionism. At the age of 17, I was swept up in the history of Israel. I learned that there had never been an indigenous State in the Land since the Romans took it from the Jews. The Turks took it from the Romans, the British took it from the Turks and now, at last, it was our turn.

I became fascinated with Jewish history. To think we had a land of our own—to lose it in a war with the most powerful army on earth—to go into Diaspora for all that time...

So I learned. Learned what it was like to live as a Jew in a gentile world. Suddenly the word “Jew” meant something totally different to me. I became an eager Zionist. The Jews who settled the land became heroes to me. Joseph Trumpeldor was larger than life.

Our first trip to Israel was a real eye opener. We booked through American Express (yeah, I know). We stayed at a hotel on the “West Bank” in the City of Jerusalem but “on the West Bank.” We stayed at a Jordanian Hotel where the urinals had been fashioned from Jewish headstones.

Thank God, we met a couple of Cleveland Jewish leaders in the Rome airport who totally turned our trip and for the matter our lives around. The next day we traveled to a kibbutz in the north that had been shelled by the Jordanians the night before. I met the young head of security at the kibbutz.

I realized that if my grandfather had waited a few years to leave Europe he could not have come to the U.S. because President Woodrow Wilson banned all refugees from Europe.

So, I was lucky. Born in the USA. In Brooklyn. As I noted being Jewish meant little in my life. My father did not want me a bar mitzvah boy, so my bar mitzvah waited until my 40s.

No. It was the founding of the Third Jewish Commonwealth that thrust me into Jewish Awareness and an appreciation of Jewish Life.

Suddenly I became aware of Jewish history. That we were indeed a people with DNA and a history that included a country of our own.

I became a leader in the Cleveland Jewish Community. Personally, I did not have the means to make huge donations to the United Jewish Appeal or to support a lesser endeavor. So, I did what I was good at: Talking. I developed a good presentation of the Jewish Cause and took it wherever they’d let me speak,

I carried that over when we moved to Orlando, Florida. A much, much smaller community—but the cause was the same and the goals had not changed. I developed a presentation to non-Jews that explained the historical reasons for a Jewish Homeland and its value to the world.

So, now at the age of 89 I think I have paid my dues. Another generation has matured to carry the message forward: The need for a Jewish Homeland, the history that brought us to this point.

Then I hear this new generation does not feel that pull in the “Kishkas” that the very name Israel produced in me and so many of my generation. They have mixed feelings about Israel in its present state. Perhaps it is the government presently running the country. Perhaps it is the lack of education about Israel and its very reason for being. Whatever.

It is on us if a new generation is growing up without the historical ties every Jew has to our Homeland. We lost our way. We failed to find the proper forum to teach the millennials and those who followed how much that little nation means to all of us.

We have failed to teach the history—the pain of living without a homeland—the very reason for our Peoplehood.

We hope it is not too late to turn things around—to teach our real history and why that little nation means so much to us, regardless of its present government. Don’t like how Israel is being run. Fine. Move there, pay taxes, vote and live that dynamic life. Don’t want to do that? Then keep your gripes to yourself and defend your homeland. Yes—your homeland.


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