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Sussex Jewish News
9 June 2021

Jewish Pride: An Antidote to the Longest Hatred

This book review by Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo was originally published in Sussex Jewish News magazine. Subscribe to Sussex Jewish News, the Jewish cross-communal publication for the South Coast.

Register here to join our Book Club to discuss Jewish Pride: Rebuilding A People on 7 July at 7:30pm.
Perhaps you have been told that young Jews do not feel Jewish anymore - that they care about social justice and feel alienated from Judaism because of Israel - that our faith and our tradition sound hollow to the young Jewish millennials.

If this is the case, do yourself a favour and read this book. You’ll come across the story of Elisheva Rishon, a young Black Orthodox American Jewish woman, fashion designer. She has learned and truly can teach how every single part of her identity is precious and unique.

You’ll meet Elyahu Lann, born in 2001 in Watford and who has grown up as a transgender Jew in a remote corner of rural Australia, facing LGBTQ+ phobia and antisemitism at the same time. He wears a kippah every day because he wants the world to know who he is.

You’ll read about Hen Mazzig, a Mizrahi Israeli Jew. His parents came from Iraq and Tunisia. “Zionism saved my family’s lives,” he says. “Without Zionism, I would not exist”. Hen has served five years as a lieutenant in the IDF; if you follow social media, you’ve probably read him arguing with antisemites of various sorts.

There are other stories in this book, among them a moving and candid interview with Rachel Riley. They are all young Jews and—here’s the point—they are proud of being Jewish. It makes this book such a refreshing read, because it tells us of a revolution that is taking place under our very (senior) eyes. And perhaps we fail to notice it, precisely because we are senior.
None of these amazing young people want to change Judaism or reject Zionism. On the contrary: they have fully embraced our culture and our tradition; they practice religion on their own terms, choosing what they find comforting and inspiring.
I am impressed by their maturity. They see the faults and the weaknesses of the Jewish world.

It made me furious to read the discrimination that Beta Israel (Jews from Ethiopia) endure in Israel. It makes me think that a young transgender Jew feels out of place in a supposedly inclusive Liberal synagogue because people were obsessed with labelling him. Not to mention the struggle with the religious normative by an Asian-American patrilineal Jewish young woman... But it is such a powerful experience to learn how, despite everything, they all are so openly, so proud and in-your-face Jewish.

Our community is changing. We British Jews used to think of ourselves as the “model minority”, immigrants who have adapted to the general society’s rules and have become “more English than the English”. This is not what these young people want to be. They want to be Jewish, first and foremost, and they are proud to have found ways to affirm their identity in our culture.

Ben Freeman, the author (a Scottish Jew who lives in Hong Kong; he also is a bit exotic) makes clear that this is not a book about antisemitism and he’s very keen to repeat that antisemitism is not a Jewish problem—it is a problem of the general society.

But of course, antisemitism is part of the biographies of these young and proud Jews. And almost all of them have developed a strong and confident Jewish identity precisely because they have faced and suffered antisemitism.

The first part of the book is indeed devoted to antisemitism. Ben Freeman explains how deeply embedded the hate for the Jews is in Christian and Muslim societies; how it remains virulent and dangerous, even when these societies become secular or Communist. He also explains the Jewish responses to antisemitism, from assimilation to acculturation, and all their limits and failures: pretending to be “a citizen of the Mosaic faith”, turning Judaism into a religion. Erasing the peoplehood, did not protect German Jews from persecution one century ago and unfortunately it is not of great help in America nowadays.

The proper way to face the perennial threat of antisemitism is Jewish pride, embracing the richness and the beauty of being Jewish without guilt and apologies. This is what an increasing number of young Jews have chosen to do, and they are writing a new chapter of Jewish history.

Definitively worth reading.