I Am Jewish

An Excerpt From David Hartman's Book

By David Hartman

Published February 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

After Shavuot, the next Pilgrimage Festival, Sukkot, evokes the desert experience and the yearning to reach the Promised Land. The land adds the dimension of the realization of our values and ideals within the total life of community. God desires that the material conditions of history, the social, economic, and political realities in which we live, mediate the divine presence. God’s command to pursue justice and compassion cannot be fulfilled unless the public frameworks of communal life reflect these normative ideals. The land takes holiness, k’dushah, beyond the private realm of the individual, or even of the enclave, into the public marketplace, the factories, the hospitals, the welfare system, the military—the vast array of living frameworks that make up human society. Without the land, we are a family. With the land, we are a people in the fullest sense of the term. Our family circle of values, ideals, and responsibilities expands to embrace the total Jewish people.

By appropriating the memory of Passover, I learn that I can never forget Auschwitz or be indifferent to any manifestation of anti-Semitism in the world. Yet, no matter how powerful and compelling the experience of the Holocaust is for Jews today, we must not define ourselves as victims but must move from Auschwitz to Jerusalem. Like the movement from Egypt to Sinai, we must learn to celebrate our people’s yearning to build a new future by taking responsibility for our lives as individuals, as a people, and as a country.

Our return to Israel as a sovereign nation can be understood figuratively as a reenactment of the drama of Sinai, where we learned not to define ourselves as victims but to take responsibility for how we lived. In the Land of Israel, the voice of Sinai speaks to Jews, holding them accountable for all aspects of their lives.

THE CREATION NARRATIVE AND JEWISH IDENTITY

While the festivals indicate the importance of the historical narrative in organizing Jewish identity, there is another type of narrative, the narrative of creation, that informs Jewish consciousness every week through the observance of the Sabbath. The Jew’s perspective on life is nurtured not only by the collective memories of the Jewish people but also by awareness of the shared condition of all human beings.

The creation story is about the common source and condition of all humankind. The biblical description of the first human being as a creature is a graphic representation of the normative rabbinic principle “beloved is every human being who has been created in the image of God.” The historical narrative develops a sense of intimacy with the Jewish people.

Through it we become a family and embrace our particular identity with joy and love. But the family narrative is not our only living framework. Every seventh day we interrupt the flow of our tasks and ambitions and stand quietly before God the creator.

The dialectic between our particular and universal identities, between the God of Israel and the God of creation, is the fate and challenge of being a Jew.

David Hartman was founder and director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, a frequent lecturer in the United States, and author of several widely acclaimed books, including two winners of the National Jewish Book Award.

The above excerpt by David Hartman is from I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. © 2004 Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl. Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.