The Source of Jewish Pride
I was recently asked a question: “Why are you proud to be a Jew?”
I would like to preface by pointing out that this question makes a large assumption: that I am indeed proud to be a Jew! The wording of this question is a testament to a near universal feeling among Jews: that Judaism is worth being proud of.
I often read about Americans who use their freedoms to pronounce that they are not proud to be Americans. So why is it so rare to hear someone proclaim that they are not proud to be Jewish?
Being Jewish is not usually a choice. Only a few of us get to say that we freely decided to dedicate ourselves to being part of the Jewish people. Why is it worth being proud of Judaism if you are just born into it?
On January 5, 2020, Bari Weiss gave a speech explaining why she is proud to be a Jew at the ADL’s “No Hate, No Fear” march against antisemitism. In the speech, Weiss emphasized that her Jewish pride is not drawn from the outside forces of Jew-hatred, but from the conduct and resilience of Jews who came before her. She cited a number of biblical sources for that pride, including Abraham, Ruth and Esther.
Abraham noticed that the world was overrun with depravity. Instead of treating others with contempt, he welcomed them into his home. At the first signs of a quarrel, he went to great lengths to ensure peace. Abraham treated others with respect, and advocated for the lives of his family and strangers, even when they may not have deserved it. By doing this, Abraham set a precedent for how his descendants, the Jewish people, should act.
Ruth saw how fleeting life is in this world, and came to understand the higher value of the spirit. She came to fully embrace Hashem, His truth and His people. She did not anchor herself to her past, but lived openly and advanced toward growth and positive change. These attitudes were communicated to future generations, and produced some of the most righteous leaders the world has seen. She did this because she was a Jew.
Esther grew up in a country that hated her for being born as she was. She did not reject the leaders of that country, but came to marry one (the king). She did not use her position to indulge herself, and leave her Jewish identity behind, as she could easily have done. Instead, she exposed her Judaism at risk of her life to save her kin all over the empire. She did not let her country’s treatment of her people influence the way she treated them. She did not plan a riot, an assassination or anything of the sort, despite counting down the days until the empire that crowned her would attempt to massacre her people — the Jewish people — under the king’s decree. She behaved as her ancestors, Abraham and Ruth, did before her. She trusted in Hashem, rallied by her people and stood for what was right. She did not destroy the system, but worked to improve it for everyone, bringing it to a straighter path. She did this because she was a Jew.
Jewish pride is rooted in our history, but it does not end there. If we are only our past, what are we now? Yes, I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud of Abraham, of Ruth, of Esther. But I am also proud of myself.
I am proud to be a Jew because it does not just mean what I am, but how I am.
I am a Jew. I do not spite history but learn from it, building the world into a better place. Evil and malice are not a part of me. The past does not cause me to rescind my pride, but increase it; I use it to refine the future.
Like my ancestors before me, I take note of the ways of the world, of how people treat each other, of how I have been treated, and I take it to heart. I call upon Hashem, and I allow Hashem to call upon me. I do not let the past fossilize in the annals of history, but I actively pursue the past into the future.
Judaism is a living breathing thing, as alive as I am today. It does not lie stagnant, and neither do I. Where there is wrong, I will fight, not to destroy it, but to right it. As a Jew, I keep moving forward, working to build a better world for everyone — a world that comes closer to G-d.
I am not only proud to be a Jew.
I am a Jew because I have a living source of pride.
Photo Caption: Yale student Netanel Crispe wearing an Israeli flag and tefillin, surrounded by pro-Palestinian supporters.