I recently learned the term "bageling,” in which you make known your status as a member of the Tribe to a fellow member, without ever saying so directly. As in approaching someone with a yarmulke and saying, “Gee, it’s as hot as Tisha B’Av today, don’t you think?”
Or, for example, a client with a WASP-sounding name managed to tell me about his son’s bar mitzvah, coming up in five years. These people, and there are tens of thousands of them, want to be identified as Jews. But where does that go and how far?
A recent survey showed that Jewish voters put abortion, women’s rights as well as other social issues ahead of Israel in national elections. Israel, the Jewish miracle, the country that re-established Jewish pride after hundreds of years of discrimination, abuse and the murder of one-third of the Jewish people, is facing the greatest existential threat (a nuclear Iran) since its founding in 1948. Whether it’s one or three years, the threat is there. And American Jews don’t seem to care.
One of the most poignant moments of my childhood was when my father, a Holocaust survivor (one of the very few in my town), gave a Friday night talk to my friends and about 50 other young people in our home about what happened to him and his family during the Holocaust. The next day a man about 60 years old approached me and told me his daughter came back mesmerized by the talk.
He said that his family was in the U.S. during the war. There was a long pause and then he said, "I’m sorry."
I was 14 and fascinated by what happened during the Holocaust years, especially in the U.S. So I asked him what he did while the war was going on in Europe.
“Nothing,” he said.
I asked whether he went to protest rallies or prayer sessions or just cried at night in his bed. He said "no," he went to movies and baseball games and lived life as if nothing was happening. What could I say? After another long pause, we separated.
American Jews must make the shift from bageling to caring. Bageling shows they care enough to want to be identified as Jews to other Jews. But do they care enough to want the world to know they’re Jews and, more importantly, that they care about other Jews?
Jews are at the forefront of every social movement – from the civil rights movement in the 1960s to Live-Aid to Darfur to Rwanda. But too many of those same Jews put Israel, which is facing threats to its existence from Iran’s supreme leader, toward the bottom of the "issues that matter" in elections.
It’s time to care. But what will it take?
Wake up, Jews, and tell the world you care. This Rosh HaShanah get out there and pray for your fellow Jews. And in November vote for those who care about Israel. Really care – with policies, not just words.
Let the world know that Jews will stand up for their fellow Jews. And won’t be silent. Again.
J. Philip Rosen is a local attorney and Jewish activist.