Ever since becoming an ‘open’ Jew, one that practices Judaism loud and proud in the diaspora, I’ve stumbled upon a phenomenon; I’d call it ‘Jews come out of the smallest cracks’. In practice this means I openly show that I’m Jewish in the middle of some tiny town that has no Jewish infrastructure (i.e. fly in with my own packed Kosher food and start unpacking it in front of all my colleagues in a non-Jewish restaurant) and suddenly the flood gates open with locals enthusiastically disclosing their own Jewish ancestry.
I have had this happen so many times now that it’s almost disturbing how many people you find that had Jewish ancestors and are even unknowingly Jewish themselves but are completely lost in the world of the diaspora. They are completely assimilated and apart from knowing about certain ancestry of theirs there is absolutely no affiliation. These people are often very curious about what being Jewish actually entails. As for me, it is a connection to their past.
It seemed absurd to me that so many people could come out from the cracks of the strangest and smallest of places. Then I realised that living in a place like Australia, where most of the Jewish immigrants came right before or right after ‘the’ war, you find their descendents not knowing a thing about Judaism and the reason is always the same: “my grandfather (or other relative) never liked to talk about the past”. After only 2 generations the grandkids are completely unaware of even the name of the towns where their grandparents escaped from. Is there someone to blame? No, blame would be easy. You could say “why didn’t the grandkids ask” or “why did the grandparents hide their roots?” The answers to both of these are simple: “they didn’t want to push” and “they were scared”. After these ancestors are no longer here to ask, the real question that remains is “now what?”
Now that these branches are broken off from the roots what is there to do? I’ve thought about this a lot and honestly the only solution I see is the same as our overall role in the diaspora: to lead by example, to be a light unto the nations, to show the beauty and depth of Judaism, and be a Kiddush Hashem. I’m no longer embarrassed or awkward about showing that I’m different and I have my different practices in a secular non-Jewish world. I now know that whenever I pull out my Kosher food all double wrapped as though I’m trying to keep the germs away, and when I try to optimistically cut the hard chicken with my plastic knife, I will have looks and I will have questions come my way. But the looks aren’t negative and the questions aren’t hostile. They come from genuine, interested people and very often, from those who know no better – the lost Jews who just never asked and where never told. I find myself the catalyst for discussion, for open conversations about connecting to our past, our heritage, our ancestors. Judaism for me is just that – a connection to my own history, the history of the Jewish people. A history that was taken away from those who fled the war and never wanted to look back. A history that is still unfolding as more and more disconnect and forget. But now, as we openly show our pride and commitment to who we are, the descendents are able to ask the questions, not of them, but of us.