Loud, Proud, and Jewish: a book review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

February 6, 2020 by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen
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The publicity for this book describes it as “This collection of reflections from Jewish leaders is a passionate response to attacks on the Jewish community.

Each voice is filled with Jewish pride, forceful in their response to Anti-Semitism, and committed to recognizing the divine image inherent in all people. The title sums up the goal: “Loud, Proud, and Jewish!”

Unlike the recent book by Deborah Lipstadt on Anti-Semitism- and other similar books- this book does not try and explain antisemitism but rather reaches out to a number of people to sense how they react to it. Most seem to be born after 1980 and some would perceive them as left of centre- that is no reason to dismiss what they have to say. They represent the voices of our (Jewish) future. They are committed Jews. Much of the discussion is based upon recent events such as the Pittsburg and Poway shootings as well as other antisemitic events.

The author himself has been a pulpit rabbi and now is part of the UJA-Federation in New York. For many years I have noted his ability to respond to events in the Jewish world- both negative and positive- with liturgy and music often within hours of the event. And such creative and spontaneous prayer is not part of (my) traditional Jewish world.

Like all such anthologies/collections of essays, not all will speak top each reader. The review essay by Miriam Gorelich entitled This is Our Moment highlights two things. First is how the relatively low number of antisemitic incidents (there never none) seems to have distracted much of the community and when BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) popped into our world view we both tended not to answer it well and that we used old methods. To put it another way. We spent so much time on Tikkun Olam that we failed to see the brewing storm [yes some as the ADL warned of it but most of the community treated them as scaremongers]. Second is how we interact with the world beyond our own community. She advocates “We must counter hate with love, fear with support, and again be active visionaries and participants in the country and world we want to live in”. Some would think her naïve for wasn’t that what happened before WWII and in the days following the 75thanniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz they would challenge that we have failed to learn anything from history.

Annie Tucker tells a story which begins in Poland just as the Nazis took over. The story is powerful but the question is more penitent “as antisemitism continues to rise in this country and around the world, we might feel suddenly less comfortable outwardly proclaiming our Jewish identity than we’ve felt in a long while.” Being part of that generation who was coming of age at the time of the Six-Day War I was aware that suddenly many of my contemporaries wore their kippa in the street instead of under a hat. I here that in some parts of the world law enforcement is suggesting that we revert to the pre-1967 approach. Two questions arise. First. Is it necessary to be conspicuous in one’s observance for isn’t it between the individual and their creator? Second, and in a sense the converse question. Why cannot a person express their religious commitment without fear in our so-called open society?

There is a great piece by Ruth Zakarin called My mother used to say…. The story she tells are in themselves interesting, but each reader should then reflect what phrases each of our parents used and how we responded then and how we hear them now. I know my own children were never enamoured by my “there is no such thing as a problem, only a lack of solutions” or “what were your other alternatives” and truth be told I am not sure their mother liked the latter one either.

I found the essay by Jason Fruithandler [and I kept asking myself “what was it originally?”] quite challenging. He asks “what makes me loud and proud to be Jewish is tricky to answer?” Is it enough to wear a necklace with a Magen David” or a kippa or is it something much more? He offers the following question that he looks at “other groups and say, ‘My group is not better than yours, and yet we have something to offer’”. The question he does not ask is what is a Jew in a time when the (US) National Jewish Population Study estimated that one person in six who self identifies as Jewish is not accepted as such by the orthodox community. And he concludes with “In this current climate of division, hatred, and fear, my Jewish pride has nothing to do with those who hate us.”

The final essay is in fact a sermon from last Kol Nidre. It is long as most Kol Nidre sermons are (where else is there to go on that night?). It is powerful. I would have preferred to have heard it as she delivered it. It is poignant as she begins with a story of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem (her mother was killed in the bombing of the Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires). She speaks of the reaction to the Pittsburgh synagogue murders in terms of “Most importantly we committed ourselves to moving forward without letting fear define us, but instead putting love and Torah at the centre as our guide.” And then she honestly observes that “it is easier said than done”.

These 119 pages are well worth the investment of about $US10. None of us will agree with everything but if you approach it with an open mind and be prepared to have as many questions as you have answers then you will find it worthwhile.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen is Associate Professor (Adjunct) in the School of Medicine (Sydney Campus) at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He has also served as CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum: The Holocaust and Australian Jewish History as well as Senior Visiting Research Fellow at UNSWMedicine

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