It is like a slow, crawling skin infection that you think is just a rash and will go away and then you look at it sometime later and still is there and the months and years have passed and it still there, but now you know it is not just a rash. Sometimes, a feeling may develop in us, that is so subtle and so insidious and so inoffensive that we do not think about it, or even put a name on it until one day it is no longer just a feeling and it is not subtle. So it has been with my sense of being Jewish.
I have always known I am Jewish. If there was any doubt, and if I had a memory of the end of my first week in this world, I would remember the moment when my parents fulfilled their covenant with God and I lost a couple of grams of foreskin. But I am not such a memory genius and will have to place my awareness of being Jewish somewhere in the range of three years of age or so. But, whatever that time was, until this very moment, I have known that I am a Jew.
But what is a Jew? Once in a while I read short fragments from the Old Testament and realize that I am fulfilling very few of the commandments God asked our forefathers to follow as His chosen people. Actually, if it were not for the small rectangular box on some of our door thresholds, and the fact that I do recite the “Shemah” every morning, and that more often than not, my wife and I go to temple on Rosh Hashanah and in Yom Kippur, if it were not for these few telltale signs, and the fact that I feel intensely about issues concerning Israel, nobody could tell that I am Jewish. Yet, no matter how I am looked upon by an orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, or a conservative rabbi in America, I am as Jewish as them and then some.
It is said that King David danced for the Lord. I happened to believe that King Saul got the short end of the royal stick when it comes to establishing a royal line. Here there is a King that took a bunch of scattered people and gave them the political identity that would be theirs for the next several millennia, who fought against deadly enemies and won, who went once to a fortune teller and because of this, God basically finished with him and his children. Then, on the other side of the royal coin there is King David. He did not consult a fortune teller, he knew exactly what the future would bring him when he sent to sure death the husband of the woman he desired and then brought her, the wife of the slain Hebrew soldier, and consummated his sexual desires. For this, he got to seed the royal family line for generations to come, and on top of that, if you believe in those things as well, to produce Jeshua ben-Joshef, later to become well known in Christian circles as Jesus of Nazareth. Well, so much for fair play.
Yet I, like David, do want to dance for the Lord. But here, our similarities end. As it turns out, David spoke Hebrew –even if ancient. I speak no Hebrew. David could dance to a music he heard clear in his mind and that he perhaps, was able to play in the zither. I on the other hand, find myself wanting to dance to a tune that escapes me even as I hear it clearly inside my head. The tune persecutes me day and night when I think that I want to dance for the Lord, but at the very moment, I forget the tune and I cannot speak the words. I want to dance on the streets of Old Jerusalem but am thousands of miles away. I want to be there, but know fully well that I am not worthy of those dancing now. I would be the odd one, the one cover in sin, the one thirsty for God, but unable to drink from him for lack of a cup. So, it rest within my own self-limiting walls, knowing that I am as Jewish as King David or King Saul were, but as far from being a Jew as one can be and still be in some “to be kill” list in the hands of the eternal Nazi.