How I Stopped Being a Jew
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Shlomo Sand was born in 1946, in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, to Jewish parents; the family later migrated to Palestine. As a young man, Sand came to question his Jewish identity, even that of a “secular Jew.” With this meditative and thoughtful mixture of essay and personal recollection, he articulates the problems at the center of modern Jewish identity.
How I Stopped Being a Jew discusses the negative effects of the Israeli exploitation of the “chosen people” myth and its “holocaust industry.” Sand criticizes the fact that, in the current context, what “Jewish” means is, above all, not being Arab and reflects on the possibility of a secular, non-exclusive Israeli identity, beyond the legends of Zionism.
States that I understood why Americans equate and confuse Yiddish identity with a general imaginary Jewish identity. They cannot distinguish between, on the one hand, a popular culture that prospered within a large population in a large though limited territory, and a religious culture spread across every continent in varying forms. What is called ‘Jewish humour’, for example, is actually Yiddish–Slavic humour (to use Romain Gary’s expression) and continues to fuel New York jokes and the films of
and yet they, too, receive no mention in Lanzmann’s account in Shoah. Unfortunately, this French director is not the only agent of memory to effect an ethnic selection when it comes to constructing the memory of the victims; he was both preceded and followed by others. For example, the permanent and deafening silence of Elie Wiesel, an immigrant who did not remain in Israel, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for having perpetuated the exclusiveness of Jewish death while never expressing the least
tired. Suddenly my gaze was drawn to a woman sitting on a bench near the check-in desk; her head, though not her face, was covered by the traditional scarf (misnamed a ‘veil’ by Western media). She was being guarded by two Israeli security agents, who had taken her from the queue a few moments before. It was not hard to figure out that she was a ‘non-Jewish’ Israeli. Around me, the Jewish Israelis seemed not to see her, as if she were completely transparent. It was a routine embarkation scene.
thereby developed among Jews a particular sensibility, a fundamental common behaviour, a specific solidarity? Just look! Here was the secular Jewish culture in which, according to all appearances, I had grown up: didn’t Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein create Jewish culture and science? Were they not, along with many others, objects of pride for the modern secular Jew? At least, that is what I so often heard on the school bench from both teachers and classmates. The more time went
them? In other words, is there a creative Jewish culture that serves as spiritual nourishment or everyday expression for those people in the world who are identified as Jews? Can one genuinely point to Jewish elements in the work of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein? Has the critique of capitalism, the theory of the unconscious, or the theory of relativity contributed in some way to preserving and shaping a secular Jewish culture? Knowing that each of these questions calls for a