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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - December 2012
From the Rabbi - December 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

When Antiochus Epiphanes IV of Syria invaded Jerusalem in 168 BCE and converted the Temple into a place of idolatrous worship of the Greek gods and Roman emperors, he gave the Judeans an either/or choice.  Either you worship our way, or we will exterminate and destroy you.  As the books of Maccabees and later Josephus tell us, Mattathias the Hasmonean and his followers resisted this ultimatum.  Eventually, they expelled the intruders and restored the worship of Yahweh, Israel’s God.  But, as you think about this episode of Jewish history, you might consider the fact that the Hasmoneans were just as intransigent in their beliefs as were the Hellenists.  For them, the old ways of the Judean desert and the Jerusalem-based Temple were the only way; nothing else was admissible and no compromise could be entertained.

For virtually the entire length of the Jewish adventure, this has been our story.  We could either be ourselves or we could be what the others want us to be, but there could be no intermediate position.   In 1742, Phila Franks, the daughter of New York’s leading Jewish family, eloped with Oliver DeLancey, son of British aristocrats and an officer in the army.  She converted to the Anglican religion, we believe, because that was the only way in which the marriage could have been accepted in British elite society.  Again, as had always been the case, it was either one side or the other.  In the Tzarist lands from which many of our ancestors emigrated, you were either one of us or the alien other, with us or against us.

The consciousness of this nearly-uninterrupted history of several millennia is what makes our existence in America so remarkable.  Even recently, interchange among American religious communities was so unusual that, when the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and Temple Beth El began their joint Thanksgiving service in 1934, Time Magazine found the event worthy of national coverage.  What only seventy-eight years ago evoked curiosity would today be a consummate yawn; sharing across ethnic, religious and racial boundaries is so much a part of our society in the twenty-first century that we take it for granted.

We should not.  The world in which we live, for virtually the first time in Jewish history, has made it possible for us simultaneously to be Jewish and to be integrated as full participants in our greater community.  Paradoxically, this novel situation provokes a different kind of choice for us.  No longer are we confronted with a stark alternative, with either/or, with one side or the other.  Now, the challenge for American Jews is how to live on both sides of this cultural fence with integrity and authenticity.  Each of us has both the right and the obligation to decide how much and what elements of our identities to assign to each side of this equation, and even when we have made that decision, we recognize that the assessment is fluid and may change as conditions and circumstances change.  It’s an exciting and dynamic time to be a Jew and an American.  May we be worthy of the challenge.

    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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