I wrote earlier that the existence of Israel is freeing for the Jewish people both politically and spiritually, allowing, among other things, the freedom to explore the Christian faith without threat to one’s fundamental sense of identity. I wanted to note that Israel is freeing not only for the Jew who has historically clung to Judaism as both his religion and the “foothold” of his national identity, but also, and perhaps even more so, for the secular Jew, and specifically the post-Soviet Jew (which, let’s face it, is a lot of us!). The latter’s sense of being a Jew derives chiefly, in practice, from a shared history of persecution.
Diana brought to my attention this powerful article by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, in which he argues that a major difference between Christianity and Judaism is the fact that the latter embraces hatred for wicked or evil men, and especially enemies of the Jewish people, while the former rejects it in the name of Christ. Soloveichik points out that the value of hatred is that it keeps us on our guard against the unrighteous. To have one’s sense of identity defined primarily through hatred and fear of evildoers, much as they may deserve it, is to live perpetually on one’s guard – which is a deprivation of both peace and freedom, if not necessarily of a sense of justice.
So Israel is freeing because there a post-Soviet Jew, such as yours truly, can relax: he can be a Jew for a reason, and in a way, other than standing his guard against anti-Semites. Even when the anti-Semites are up to no good, he can be a Jew not because they hate him but just because he lives on Jewish land. It’s unlikely, I think, that God will give the Jewish people a long respite – the worldwide opposition to Israel is growing, which may threaten its very existence or it may redefine the persecution dynamic to put Israel, rather than Jews in the diaspora, in the middle of it. But for as long as Jews can have the untroubled identity, not rooted in hate and fear, of being residents of their own land – let them make the most of it.