“The word ‘Jew’ testifies to conflict. Before there were Jews, there was Israel, the people chosen by God to be the bearer of his covenant. After the death of Solomon the people split in two, into a northern kingdom of ten tribes called Israel, and a southern kingdom called Judah, though it comprised the tribe of Benjamin as well. In the eighth century BCE the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and its population deported. Rapidly they merged with the surrounding peoples, losing their language, their distinctive faith, and their identity. They assimilated and disappeared from the pages of history, to be remembered as the lost ten tribes. Those who remained were yehudim, Judeans, or, as the word gradually evolved from Greek to Latin to English, Jews. The history of the world takes us inexorably back to the first great division in Israel’s memory. It was not the last.”
“As individuals, there is nothing remarkable about Jews. There have been many theories, Jewish and non-Jewish, which attribute to us an innate genius, a racial gift, a genetic endowment, a mystic difference. None is convincing. Removed from our traditions, our past, our way of life and our community, within three generations or less we merge into the wider landscape and become invisible. Individually we are ordinary. Collectively we become something else… though we might not be born great or achieve greatness, our history thrusts greatness upon us. We are more than individuals. We are part of a collective history and destiny, perhaps the strangest and most miraculous the world has ever known. That is our inheritance, and the most important thing we can do is to hand it on to our children.”
“If we are Jews it is because our ancestors were Jews and because they braved much and sacrificed more to ensure that their children would be Jews. Can we do less?”
“To be a Jew is to be a member of the people of the covenant, an heir to one of the world’s most ancient, enduring and awe-inspiring faiths. It is to inherit a way of life which has earned the admiration of the world for its love of family, its devotion to education, its philanthropy, its social justice and its infinitely loyal dedication to a unique destiny. It is to know that this way of life, passed on from parents to children since the days of Abraham and Sarah, can only be sustained through the Jewish family; and knowing this, it is to choose to continue it by creating a Jewish home and having Jewish children.”
“To be a Jew [is to] inherit a faith from those who came before us, to live it and to hand it on to those who will come after us. To be a Jew is to be a link in the chains of the generations.”
“When Jews ask the question Why be Jewish? we know that we are in the presence of a major crisis in Jewish life”
“If to live is to love life, then to be a Jew is to love Jewish life”
“To be a Jew, now as in the days of Moses, is to hear the call of those who came before us and know that we are the guardians of their story.”
“I am a Jew because, knowing the story of my people, I hear their call to write the next chapter. I did not come from nowhere; I have a past, and if any past commands anyone this past commands me. I am a Jew because only if I remain a Jew will the story of a hundred generations live on in me. I continue their journey because, having come this far, I may not let it and them fail. I cannot be the missing letter in the scroll.”
“To be a Jew is to have the courage to refuse easy answers and to reject either consolation or despair. God exists; therefore life has a purpose. Evil exists; therefore we have not yet achieved that purpose. Until then we must travel, just as Abraham and Sarah travelled, to begin the task of shaping a different kind of world.”
“To be a Jew is to argue with heaven for the sake of heaven.”
“To be a Jew is to see nothing as merely natural, not even the process of bringing a new generation into the world.”
“What is wrong in Jewish life today is that we have forgotten Zis gut zu zein a Yid, It’s good to be a Jew”
“Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, and they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism”
“To be a Jew is to be part of a history touched, in a mysterious yet unmistakable way, by the hand of Providence.”
“To be a Jew is to know that one cannot be indifferent when one’s people are suffering.”
“To be a Jew is to hear a voice from the past, summoning us to an often tempestuous and never less than demanding future, and knowing inescapably that this is the narrative of which I am a part.”
“To be a Jew is to join the journey of our people, the story of Pesach and the long walk across centuries and continents from exile to homecoming.”
“To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope. Every ritual, every command, every syllable of the Jewish story is a protest against escapism, resignation and the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism, the religion of the free God, is a religion of freedom. Jewish faith is written in the future tense. It is belief in a future that is not yet but could be, if we heed God's call, obey His will and act together as a covenantal community. The name of the Jewish future is hope.”