Sing It Loud: 'I Am a Jew'

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published April 14, 2010.
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Perhaps you’ve already seen and heard it. So, as of this writing, have some 2,700 people, courtesy of YouTube. It is one of those songs that comes to remind us of some basic, non-parseable ideas. Watch the video here:

And here, for your pleasure, is a translation of the Hebrew lyrics you’ll hear there, sung movingly by a group of 10 singers:

When I ask myself who I am,
I am a bit Sephardi, a bit Ashkenazi,
A bit Israeli, a droplet Exilic
Perhaps I’m religious, perhaps secular,
But between me and myself, I am a Jew,
That is my uniqueness,
Not better than the Other, not worse
Simply Jewish.

Sometimes a soldier, sometimes a student,
I have a huge past, and I also see the future
Sometimes a mitnaged [the opposite of Hasid], sometimes a Hasid,
Perhaps materialistic, perhaps spiritual,
But always, always, I am a Jew and that is my uniqueness.
Not worse, nor better, a different drop, simply Jewish.

Suddenly I returned from afar,
So that we can be here together, that I can be more secure,
That I can return to laughter, that I can live with nakhes and not fear,
Because I am a Jew, and that is my uniqueness
Not better, nor worse, simply a Jew.

My brother, nothing will succeed in breaking me,
My soul is part of an eternal higher light
To mend the world [l’taken et ha’olam] is my reality,
That is how I was born, I am a Jew
Simply a Jew, just as in other religions
I have holidays and Shabbatot and customs and mitzvot.
Though everyone is confident of his rightness,
In the end we are all Jews before the Throne of His Honor.

I am terribly afraid of baseless hatred,
Love my land, love my people,
I have been here and there and in all the world
Whatever you ask, I’ll have two opinions
And also a third,
Because I am a Jew.
That is my uniqueness, not worse, not better, a bit different,
Simply a Jew.

There’s one line that I found particularly intriguing. In the last verse, the singer tells us he loves his land and loves its people. But he doesn’t say “my people.” He says: “I love my land, love the people.” Most likely, in context, the reference is to the Jewish people. But perhaps the wording was deliberate, and was meant to stress love for all the people who dwell in Israel.

Overall, it is a refreshing song, and surprising as well — not what we might have expected from a very “with it” group of Israeli singers. It’s — well, it’s a feel-good experience to hear it.

But: The April 12 edition of The New York Times reports on the rise of the far-right party in Hungary, called “Jobbik,” and its espousal of antisemitism, its use of the Jews in a classic scapegoat way — “even if,” as one leading Hungarian sociologist observes, “many Jobbik voters have never even seen a Jew.” And a couple of pages later, reporting on graffiti in Venezuela, we learn that one young artist has provoked something of a backlash with his grim portraiture. Defenders of the Chavez regime have (mistakenly) taken the artist for a Jew and “began directing anti-Semitic slurs against him in online forums.”

Worried about antisemitism? So, it turns out, are the 25% of America’s Jews who think it a “very serious problem” here in America, according to a new American Jewish Committee survey of American Jewish opinion. I am astonished that a quarter of us think it a very serious problem — but then I reflect on a front-page ad in the April 7 Jerusalem Post, which reads, in part, “Attention! Jews living in America… Last chance to escape! President Obama has just signed an executive order authorizing martial law in the United States… come home now to Israel before it is too late!” Insane, of course, but read, perhaps, by people who also read Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper of April 11, which includes an op-ed by the influential Israeli extremist Moshe Feiglin, in which he refers to Vice President Joe Biden as a “diseased leper,” further evidence of a mental disorder that is as destructive as it is persistent. And, to render things still more complicated, I suspect that Mr. Feiglin also is warmed by parts of the song I have here translated — and agrees with the Jerusalem Post ad, too.

Feiglin, alas, is not alone. The movement he leads is an important element of the Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party (much as the prime minister would prefer to keep Feiglin out of the public eye, and out of the Knesset as well). Enemies within as well as enemies without. One response: Stop reading newspapers (except, of course, for this one). A better response: Listen to the song again, and take its words to heart. The song is, of course, deeply Israeli — but as deeply filled with optimism, inclusiveness and good will that knows no boundaries.

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