A friend and colleague of mine sent me a link to this video — I’m That Jew, by Eitan Chitayat. I loved it, mostly, and I love what it is trying to do, mostly. But, like many other videos about being Jewish and being Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), it also feels like propaganda, and I can’t help feeling that I’m a sucker for this stuff, which is different from actually agreeing with it.
Mostly, it makes me proud and makes me feel known — which I think is a basic human desire; certainly it’s a core desire of mine. Mostly, it puts into words things I can’t seem to articulate when I face uncertainty or threat. Mostly, it reflects the things I love about Judaism: the wish to be a functional family that is open and tolerant internally and externally, the wish to honor tradition and stories in ways that honor humanity, the wish to be expressive and persuasive.
I’m That Jew also reminds me of the words of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid. The video captures the nature of the tiny bridge we stand on, crossing over hatred and hardship and violence that has been hurled at us and hurled by us. It is hard not to fear on that very narrow bridge, and sometimes, I fear, that I have fallen off and I just haven’t realized it yet.
However, I also feel a different kind of fear — like we shouldn’t be so cocky. Maybe that’s from growing up in the South where the Klan still had a billboard a few miles outside my Girl Scout camp, maybe that’s from growing up in the generation that followed the Shoah (the Holocaust), maybe that’s just because history is a much longer story than our experience in the past few decades might suggest, maybe – and this is when I start to wonder if I’ve fallen off that very narrow bridge – maybe that’s because other peoples are in the crosshairs right now and I feel guilty for feeling safer because of their danger.
I also feel like something’s missing from I’m That Jew. We are the Jews who bought the story we were told about how the Arabs abandoned their homes to us in 1948, for no reason but cowardice or some divine guidance that the land was ours or something. That, of course, is not true.
But, in the end, I think I am grateful for I’m That Jew. What this video awakens in me is the idea that we are Jews who are human and to be human is to struggle with impulse, hunger, fear, pain, and so on according to some rules that we believe will make the world a better place. We’re not the only people who play by sacred rules and we’re not the only people who break our sacred rules; but we don’t give up on those rules.
In the end, I think that we are the people who, when we say We’re only human, it’s not an excuse. It’s a declaration of hope and faith that what we were created to be is a blessing to ourselves and the world.
So, I guess, I’m that Jew.
Special thanks to Isabel Geffner who sent me the link to I’m That Jew.