Most of the Jewish people are so very scattered and removed from each other that they hardly ever find a common language, or even any language that makes sense to them as Jews. This is what is called assimilation, which is basically the loss of the common heritage. We therefore have to try to reach some deeper levels of the soul, many of them bordering on the unconscious, to help us get back to talking together, to having some kind of a common language.
Jews can hardly be categorized as a nation (even though there is now an emerging Israrli nation); we cannot even be considered a religion in the ordinary sense of a religion with a message which we think should become general, which we want to sell to others. Altogether, we are a very different sort of entity.
To clarify what we are, we may start by saying that we are a family. Just a famly-a large one, not entirely a biological one, but basically a family. Now a family tie, sociaologically speaking, is a far more basic tie than either that of a nation or a religion. To be sure, the family tie is a very primitive way of bindling people, but it is probably the most stable one, and the most resistant to outside change and influence.
The concept of the Jews as a family defines us, not onlysociologically, but also, in a manner of speaking, theologically. In fact, we do not only behave like a family-felling like a family, and incidentally fighting and hating each other as within the family, sometimes at great length-it’s even dangerous for a stranger to intervene. Because any outside pressure only reinforces the unity and the feeling of the famly. We can easily be separated and estranged from each other, but at a certain level, we come together again as a family; that is, we feel the unity in just the way we conduct ourselves, in the way that even when we do deceive ourselves about the meaning of it, we continue to behave in a certain manner.
Even though, at times we may think that we have nothing in common, as it happens in every normal family, we still have all kinds of ties and links that are enormously hard for us to explain. What is more, we somehow find ourselves at ease with each other, sometimes in fighting but comfortable within our own family. Understandably, too, we feel a certain amount of safety in being together and we find it easier to make connections within the family. But of course, brothers and sisters tend to get estranged. They move to different countries, adopt different accents, ways of life, ways of behavior. Nevertherless there is this uniting element, very primitive, very hard to define, but undeniably very much in existence.
One can go so far as to say that Judaism, as a religion, is in many ways simply the ways of our particular family. It is the way we do certain things. We walk and talk with G-d and man, like everyone else, but we have our won way of doing it. And, as in any other family, we try sometimes, when we are young, to run away, to fight our parents. Later on, we find ourselves resembling them more and more. This particular way, which is called Judaism, is in many respects, the way that we as a family move together pray, dress, eat, do a variety of things. We have our own approach to all sorts of matters. For example, in our family we don’t eat certain things. This doesn’t mean that we have a special claim of any kind, saying “we are the best family ther is.” But as in any group of people, we may have this feeling, and nobody can blame us. Telling myself that “my father is different, my brother is different,” is still a very human preference.
At a very deeper level, the notion that our people are really our family, brothers, sisters, connected by kin as well as life style, is called in the Bible the “House of Jacob”, or “The House of Israel.” It has the flavor of a family or tribe, very much enlarged, but still a tribe, with common goals, and somehow united even if the unity is obscured by a great variety of individual expression. The connections are so very deep that we usually are not aware of them consciously, but they awaken, and sometimes it is as though we feel that the clan is calling. And then to our own surprise, we join.
This family feeling is possibly one of the main reasons why Judaism as a religion was never very actice in proselytizing-just as a family would never go out into the streets to grab people to join the family. It doesn’t mean that Jews feel superior or inferior. IT’s simply that from the very beginning it has its own pattern and way of living. Even when members of such a family are out of the family house, when they are wandering far away, they follow the life style, theologically, sociologically, behavioristically. Of course, members of the family can be severely chastised and rifts can occur between individuals and groupd, but htere is really no way of leaving the family. You can even hate it, but you cannot be separated from it. After some time, people, younger or older, come to the conclusion that in fact, they can’t get away from it. And therefore, it is far better that they try to find the ways in which they are connected. Because the connections is beyond choice. It’s a matter of being born with it. And since you are stuch with it, it is far better to get know where you came from and who you are.
For some of our people it’s almost like the story of the duckling who was hatched by a hen. Often enough, our ducklings grouw up in a different atmostphere. They are taught to think and act in ways which are entirely alien. Jews have adopted a lot of other cultures, national identities and sometimes religions. Sometimes there is a very wonderful recognition and return. Frequently, it comes as a very unpleasant discovery that I am somehow different, that my medium is a different medium. When I do indeed find water, I will swim in it, even though those that raised me and taught me, don’t. Altogether, finding somehow to which family one belongs is a familiar theme in literature, and in life, knowingly or unknowingly, each person begins to discover it. If the discovery comes soon enough, the person is not only able to acknowlege the fact that he belongs somewhere, (at least to be buried in the right graveyard), but also to make his life, in a way, more sensible. Paradoxically, freedom comes with the acceptance of a definite framework from which one cannot move away.
To be sure a family is usually a biological unit; the Jewish family is and isn’t a biological unit. We speak about ourselves as being the children of Abraham, or the children of Jacob. Surely,, many of us are biologically the children of another patrimony. But in fact, our real legacy isn’t a biological one at all. Our tribe is a very different kind of tribe. To quote an old source, when we speak about the father of our family, the mother of our family, we say that the father of our family is G-d, that the mother of our family is that which is called the communal spirit of Israel. This is not just a mystical theological statement. It is the way our family is constructed, it determines how the family behaves and feels.
When we speak about G-d our father, it is not just an image, it is a feeling of integral belonging to the source of the family. This makes for a stronger family of course; nevertheless, we continue to behave just like an ordinary family, Like all children, we pass through periods of admiring father and periods of fighting with father, even hating father. We can never come to the point at which we deny the existence of a father, our father. Of course, some children may express this denial as a mark of revolt and various members of the family may react in different ways. Sometimes members of the family are very angry at such blasphemy. Sometimes they just wait for the young blood to boil down a little bit. But alway, whether one hates or loves, whether one is an ardent believer or a convinced herectic, one remains his father’s child.
This basic connectin is what is called the Jewish religion: being a member of that family. We have our won history, but that is not the most important part of it. Most central is our relationship to the father and mother of the tribal entity to which all of us belong in one way or another. This is what makes sense to those who have remained.
There are widely dissimilar parts, a great variety of members in our rather large, distressed and sometimes not so glorious family. How much are we aware of thes connectins, and how much are we aware of each other’s existance? We oftern try, and some of us keep trying very hard, to ignore, to deny, and even to throw out of ourselves any kind of belonging to this family. On the other hand, there are many of our people who are consciously reentering into the family fold. And not necessarily is it a seeking for “G-d”. It is oftern a result of long wandering and far reaching explorations, and the feeling, that we cannot always describe, of coming home.
One can point to more beautiful mansions and more exciting sites, but they cannot very much duplicate the home. For like any person roaming and wandering of individuals separated from their family, the desperate attempt to be independent only leads to a discovery that somethere one must try to come back and find the truth of being home.
The real point of a Jewish person, then is the reconginiton of :”I do belong” whether I want to or not. It is the deepest and most improtant part of my being, and one that I can’t cover over with opinions about language, culture, nation or religion. Ultimately, I do belong to the family. The deeper I go into myself, the more improtatnt the past becomes. I can reject this past and I can even cut it off from myself entirely, playing roldes and trying to imitate others, but that does no change what I am. And, then, if I ever want to find out more about it, I follow the long way home. It is not an easy way, but it has its compensations and its own truth.
When animals brought up in a zoo are released, they sometimes do not even know wheter they are wolves or deer. They have to find out who they are, what they are. It’s a great discovery to learn “I am that,” and to explore the right way of behavior for one’s own kind, Such is the destiny of a Jewish person who has been estranged. He may find helpers or he may not. He may almost instinctively move into his natural habitat, or he may have all kinds of strange resistances that will interfere forever with his normal behavior, so that it can possibly be only corrected in a later generatin. Whatever happens, he is at least coming to grips with the problem.
Very frequently, the process is accompanied by tragic mishaps, finding, losing, finding again. But basically it is the situatin of the person who wakes up and finds out that even though he grew up somewhre in young midwest America, he really belongs to this very old family, with those strange parents, those sometimes lovely, sometimes ugly, brothers and sisters. He has to get accustomed to this idea, and then find out what to do about it.