When Did I Stop Being a Jew – reposted

This is being reposted as Facebook in an act of censorship has categorised the original as ‘abusive’

Mike Cushman, chair of FSOI, explains that to be Jewish is not about supporting Israel but about abiding by a moral code that stands against oppression

Those of us in Free Speech on Israel and even more our colleagues in Jewish Voice for Labour are accused every day on Twitter of not being real Jews. I, like soMike Cushmanme of our other activists, am a Jewish atheist but others of my colleagues are observant and some work for shuls. But this is not good enough for our detractors. This trolling by apologists for Israel is meant to both hurt us on a personal level and devalue our efforts to show that not all Jews rally to Israel’s crimes.

I was born of a Jewish mother, which under Jewish law is definitive even if I had not been circumcised, as I was, eight days later. I was Jewish enough to go to cheder every Sunday to learn about Jewish history and fail to learn Hebrew – but then on the other six days I also failed to learn French.

I was Jewish enough to be Bar Mitzvah and enthused enough by that to attend shul every Saturday for a time, until I stopped believing in a God who intervened in our daily lives. Despite that, I was still Jewish enough in 1967 to volunteer to go to Israel to help save it. An offer I soon came to regret and which the Israelis had the good sense to decline; I would have been useless. By about 1970 I had come to realise that the six-day war had not led to salvation but to occupation and illegality.

I did not come from a very observant family, like many others more high-holiday than every day Jews. But Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur were important days for our family and every year my parents held a seder for our extended family – one of the high spots of my year. As the youngest I enjoyed asking the four questions, I still enjoy asking awkward questions, and was fascinated by the escalating arithmetic of the plagues and the disputatious, logical to the point of nonsense, nature of Jewish argument it demonstrated.

I remained Jewish enough that when my mother could no longer live independently I made sure she was looked after in Nightingale House, the renamed Home for Aged Jews, and to arrange my parents’ funerals with the help of their synagogue (of which my uncle had been president for many years).

I have always said I am a Jew for as long as the Nazis say I’m a Jew and for as long as Israel says I have the right to ‘return’ to a country I have never lived in.

I am a Jew by birth and culture, not by religion – by choice – nor by race, since there is no Jewish race.

I am Jew who is haunted by the experience of my unknown and uncounted cousins who died in Warsaw or Treblinka and I ask myself what does that experience teach me? As explained by my parents, it means that it places an obligation on all Jews never to visit on anyone else the oppression my cousins suffered from the Nazis, or the pogroms and the Cossack raids my Grandparents fled. In my eyes you cannot be a real Jew, despite your yamulkas, your teffilin and your mezuzahs, if you have not learned that simple lesson.

Last Monday I was proud to stand with the real Jews in Parliament Square against those who profess Judaism and fail its basic moral test. If anyone doubted that on Monday, by Saturday the leaders of that assembly were excusing the pre-meditated shooting of Palestinian children and civilians.

In cheder I learned about the prophets, the truth tellers, who called out against the proud leaders of Israel and Judea and were excoriated by the Kings and their courtiers who thought their power and riches excused all. Plus ça change…

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7 thoughts on “When Did I Stop Being a Jew – reposted”

  1. I am not Jewish but follow you and have many life long Jewish friends.
    This post touched me and informed and I admired your clarity and honesty.
    Thank you !

  2. Thank you, Mike. Your history as a Jew is different from mine, but the spirit in which you express it is something I absolutely resonate with.

  3. Thank you Mike. Your story and mine are very similar. I also volunteered in 1967. Look where it got us.

  4. Bad enough that Mike felt compelled to justify his life story in the first place but to have to do it again because explaining who he is was deemed offensive is outrageous. This surely is the real danger of a giant, pervasive, impenetrable media corporation like Facebook; the ability to erase other voices. When the Labour Party expels Jewish and black anti-racists in the name of anti-racism, FB censors Jewish voices in the name of fighting anti-semitism and the media amplify the baying for the blood of life-long anti-racists by a party oozing racism from the bottom to the very top then truly is the world turned upside down. That is a world ripe for change.

  5. A thought-provoking article. I am not Jewish but Muslim. However, I can definitely relate to your experience of being judged and maligned by people within your own religious/cultural circles who seek to crush any critical, dissenting voices which threaten to expose them for the racist, power-obsessed bigots they are.
    Your defiance in the face of such opposition and your determination to stand up to human rights abuses regardless of race, gender and religion is inspiring and heartwarming.
    Thank you!

  6. Very interesting read, however the author contradicts himself by saying there is no Jewish race, because he also says he is Jewish because of the Jewish law saying if your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish. Therefore it is DNA-based. Therefore there is a Jewish ethnicity, whereby many Jews shared certain physical attributes and their ethnicity can be guessed by looking at them. Obviously there are a few different kinds of Jewish ethnicities, as in the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sephardic Jews, and then of course, there are some less common Jewish ethnicities.

    1. Race is a sociological construct not a genetic one. Th boundaries of race are fluid and not linked to DNA genetic markers. There is no Jewish race because many would argue there are no definable races at all.
      Jews share a number of cultural traditions which are important and interesting – but this does not make them a Race. Just as, despite the beliefs of many who voted to protect their ‘Britishness’ by voting for Brexit, hter eis no British race (or English race) to be protected against dilution.

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