Thank you, Rudy Giuliani, for playing “Who is a Jew?”
As you leave the stage, please take with you the home version of our game, which should provide you with hours of amusement or aggravation.
For those who might have missed it, in a recent interview with New York magazine, Giuliani – the former mayor of New York, former U.S. attorney for the Southern district of New York, and now personal attorney for President Donald Trump – had this to say about George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish financier and bête noire of the American political right:
“Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel.”
Giuliani may fancy himself a philo-Semite, someone favorably disposed toward Jews (in general, if not individually). While likely intended as hyperbole, his comment made a contribution to understanding the meaning of klal Yisrael, Hebrew that translates to “the Jewish people.”
Though we Jews – and I’m generalizing here – are prone to questioning each other’s bona fides, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. That truth was at the core of remarks by several speakers at the recent Jewish Atlanta Solidarity Event.
Your status as a Jew is not dependent on your political beliefs.
A member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America may disagree vehemently, but both are Jewish. A right-wing Jew and a left-wing Jew are both Jews.
Your status as a Jew is not dependent on your opinions about Israel (or its prime minister).
A Jewish supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank may revile and be reviled by a Jew who opposes the Zionist enterprise, but both are Jewish.
Your status as a Jew is not dependent on your religiosity.
Orthodox Jews may adhere more strictly to religious law in their daily lives than the secular Jew who goes to synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or not at all, but both are Jewish.
Less observant Jews sometimes sound uncomfortable talking about Orthodox men with their black coats, tzitzit and payos, and Orthodox women with their sheitels and large families, while some Orthodox suggest online that many of the non-Orthodox are less authentic Jews because they do not live according to halachah, or because of their varying degrees of support for Israel.
Perhaps there is a hopeful sign in the numbers of Jews of all stripes who marched in New York City Jan. 5 in response to an increase in assaults there, primarily against Orthodox Jews, and attended the Atlanta gathering the next day. As Rabbi Yossi New of Chabad of Georgia said at the Atlanta event, “I look like many of the victims in Brooklyn and New Jersey. I know I’m stating the obvious, but it’s not how Jewish you look that causes anti-Semitism. The way one looks is merely the canary in the coal mine.”
Violence perpetrated against a Jew because they are Jewish is violence perpetrated against all Jews.
“Denomination, affiliation, observance levels and ethnicity seem monumental to us. We should take a cue from our enemies, who believe that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew,” Victoria Raggs cautioned the Atlanta rally.
Your status as a Jew is not dependent on your ethnicity or race. Raggs, for example, is African American.
Families that trace their Ashkenazic lineage to the shtetls of Europe, or their Sephardic roots to Spain and Portugal, or their Mizrachic past through the lands of the Middle East and North Africa, or whose African American grandparent converted to Judaism three generations ago, or those of Hispanic, Asian or other ethnicities – all are Jewish.
“No matter how one chooses to make Shabbat or how one defines their Judaism, whether one is a Jew by choice or by birth, Sephardic, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, African, Asian or Latin American, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, it is imperative that we not demean, critique, or marginalize one another,” Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner of Temple Beth Tikvah told the solidarity rally.
No doubt, some of Rudy Giuliani’s best friends are Jewish. But no matter the definition employed, he is not “more of a Jew than Soros.” A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And you, Rudy, are not a Jew. But thanks for playing.