Those Cosmopolitan Jews

I have always had an exaggerated interest in the notion of a homeland. Having been born in one country, spent my childhood in another and living my adulthood in a third, I feel defined by my lack of a place of origin just as strongly as some do by their hometown in upstate New York or provincial France.

This sentiment, i suspect, is due no less to the sheer fact of my being a Jew than to my personal biography. Any Jew, with the questionable exception of the generations born in Israel, is always an immigrant, caught in a complex relationship between a home from which he is distanced by both space and historical time, and a current residence from which he is separated by a paper-thin but surprisingly resistant mental wall. He has no choice but to be a cosmopolitan, and there are three general ways in which this cosmopolitanism may manifest.

The stance of the religious Jew is willful alienation from any of his myriad temporary homelands (for some, that even includes Israel). They are all but stops – some pleasant, some terrifying – on a journey to Zion, which is at once the Eternal City and a destination of which neither the time nor the geographical or eschatological location is known, but to which he trusts God to be leading His people. Cardinal Lustiger compared the prayerful waiting of the Jewish people to the Christian monastic vocation: ever separated from the world, ever waiting for deliverance into the realm in which we truly belong. The religious Jew, as the monk, is a cosmopolitan in that he makes do everywhere and belongs nowhere.

The progressive secular Jew is a cosmopolitan in a very different way. Like his religious brother, he never has the pleasure of belonging to a place; as the Nazi episode among others illustrates, his decision to treat a place as his home means very little to others and to history. Unlike his religious brother, however, he does not see his loneliness in the midst of the nations as a prelude to salvation; it is rather a source of confusion and often pain that he must learn to mitigate. If he chooses to intermingle and intermarry with his neighbors, he makes the cosmopolitan statement that ethnic and national differences must be transcended. If he abstains from doing so, he makes a statement which is cosmopolitan in a different way: that some things about a person lie deeper than geography, beliefs, culture, and even personal preferences (in all of which he is likely to differ little from the non-Jews around him) – that a person is not beholden to their particular upbringing and surroundings.

The Christian Jew, ironically, is perhaps the least cosmopolitan of the three. In choosing to treat his Gentile neighbors as brothers and sisters, he neither ignores the special destination of the Jewish people nor suggests that all ethnicity must be transcended in the name of global unity, nor to the contrary that his particular ethnicity constitutes a special unity that transcends local geography. Rather, he affirms the incorporation of the Gentiles through Christ into God’s chosen people: a people whose origin is with God in the Holy Land, and whose destination is with God in the world to come. Like the religious Jew, he knows that his homelessness, though it may be acutely felt, is temporary; like the secular Jew, he feels no need to remain lonely while awaiting its resolution.

About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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