As we come into the home stretch of 2013, Jews have never had it better. We live in unprecedented wealth, comfort and freedom. We have a state of our own and we’re an integral part of society in the other countries where we live.
So how come we’re so anxious all the time?
“I met a young woman on campus,” Clive Lawton, a British Jewish educator, says. “She told me it was important to fight the BDS campaign.” That’s the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The BDS campaign operates on many campuses and Jewish students are organizing to counter it.
Lawton continues, “I asked her, ‘How successful has the BDS campaign been?’”
“’Oh, it’s very strong,’ she said.”
“’I know. But how successful?’”
“’That’s not the point. We have to fight it.’”
Lawton turns back to his audience at the Conservative movement’s Centennial conference, where issues of Jewish identity and topics like the Jewish future were served up even with coffee. Lawton, who is Orthodox and a founder of the Limmud educational organization in Britain, faces his audience, and asks,
“To make it the focus of your Jewish life? There are people, and that’s what they do for their Jewish life.”
Jews, he says during a session called “Should We Be Afraid?,” have lost their sense of purpose. “Until 200 years ago, Jews never worried about survival. Because God promised that.”
Back then Jews focused on the future. Our function now is to preserve the past and to fight enemies, he says.
“We need to find more enemies. Because what would happen if we found we didn’t have any enemies?”
Israel has enemies, right? Israel is all alone. Friendless in a rough neighborhood. Surrounded by enemies, as that wonderful map shows.
“We love the story that we have no friends,” Lawton says and begins another dialogue with himself. “Israel, friendless in the world.”
“Except for the one world superpower.”
“Yes, well, except for America, friendless.”
“And Australia, Canada, India.”
“But basically friendless.”
“Why do we do this to ourselves?” he says. “Because we’ve lost the heart of our mission. We don’t remember what we’re for.”
Are we seeing the world upside down? Are we wearing our Judaism inside out? An hour with Lawton, and his London cadences that reminded me both of Michael Caine and Monty Python, and I was checking where the tag of my shirt was.
Like everyone at the conference, he brought out a nugget from the Pew Research Center’s report on American Jews. It was probably the most astonishing of the study’s findings.
The report found that of all the possible way that being Jewish can be meaningful, fulfilling, joyful, rich or challenging, the highest number of people – 73 percent – said that an essential part of what being Jewish means to them is remembering the Holocaust.
“Folks,” he says. “How sick is that?”