A New Life Balance: Being Jewish after October 7th
Gaining Perspective in Uncertainty

On Being the Archetypal Other


When people forget our shared humanity—and Israel becomes a pariah state and Jews are pariahed; and blood libels are once again all the rage; and when binary thinking condemns conversations and peaceful conduct—to whom do we turn for strength?

To the wisdom of the wise.

The following is an excerpt from a lecture that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, gave in 2011, titled, “A People that Dwells Alone.”

“In ancient times, Israel was a small nation surrounded by large empires. In the Middle Ages they were the most conspicuous minority in Christian Europe. Today in the Middle East, Israel is the most conspicuous country that is not Muslim. Jews are the archetypal other, we don’t fit into the dominant paradigm—the dominant faith, the prevailing culture—and that is what we’re there for. To remind ourselves [humanity] that there is such a thing as the dignity of dissent. That’s what we do in life. We challenge. We argue. We stand out against the crowd; we go against the trend. We are apart, but we are not destined to be alone.”

About the Tower of Babel, he noted that everyone was saying the same things. He quoted Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin who explained why the Tower of Babel needed to be destroyed: “If everyone thinks the same thing, there’s no dissent. That is not a free society.”

Rabbi Sacks continued, “We are there to be different, for the sake of everyone’s right to be different. We fight for the right to be, whether as a nation in its historic land or as a religious group in the diaspora, we fight for the right to be free to live as Jews, not just for our sake, but for the sake of every other minority in the world.… Everyone who seeks the right to challenge the prevailing culture or the dominant faith. That is why we are there.”

His words brought me the comfort of history. For a moment. It is discomforting to be in sync with history, and not beyond it—as we had hoped would one day happen. Why must we once again be a scapegoat for yet another angry group? Why must we be forced to stand, isolated to some extent, before the forces of evil that, unfathomably, seem so enticing? Why must our every action be scrutinized, manipulated, and twisted? Why must we always be seen as other, when our otherness is so very ordinary?

A few days later, I listened to the podcast Wondering Jews during their discussion of antisemitism. A key idea presented was that Jews represent whatever it is that the ruling or majority groups hate. So, “For today's anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists, Israel is the quintessence of imperialism, truth be damned.” Once again, Jews are being condemned by the antisemites for being what they don’t want to recognize in themselves.

Then, in an online lecture, the speaker said that the role of Jews is to crush evil.

And I thought to myself, that’s so much to put on one very small group of people. To be condemned for being different and to defend everyone’s right to be different. To be hated and to fight against hate for all. To be derided for something that they’re not, while the deriders feel stingily better about themselves as they try to oppress the other. To be accused of crimes that are done to us. To be the bulwark against the spread of evil that others think is still wise to appease.

Who are the Jews that so many other groups depend on them in such twisted ways?

It’s not as if we are born with super-human strength or intelligence or courage or wealth or any number of advantageous advantages.

We are a people held together by religion, faith, traditions, education, and values. We are also a people held together by our love, and their hateful actions.

Going back to what Rabbi Lord Sacks said about Jews being the archetypal other. It is ironic that in this era when we’re supposedly all about accepting everyone for who they are and what they believe, vile antisemitism is rampant.

While my voice is barely heard, it is still another voice calling out, standing up—dissenting. Proclaiming, too, that I am proud to be a Jew, as different and alone as we may be. I am also proud of those people (friends!) who are not blinded by the cacophony of twisted logic.

This battle is not new. It is as old as the Bible. A while ago, I told younger daughter that I didn’t want to study Torah, that I wanted to learn from new stories that I could relate to. Now, I see how wrong I was. Those stories, and the analyses of them that have been a part of our ongoing oral and written tradition, are the basis for understanding our world today. I see now that learning from history is understanding how a people reacted to unfolding events, over and over again, and what fortified them. This now gives me strength.


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