There was a time that I would brace for impact whenever I told people that I was Jewish.
I was never scared for my physical safety, but I was always nervous about how people would receive me.
Would they berate me about Israel? Would they tell me that Jews should have learned from the Shoah? Would they make a joke about Jews and money?
After years of enduring this kind of abuse — particularly at university — there came a time that I didn’t want to brace for impact anymore. There came a time when I didn’t want to be nervous to tell people that I was Jewish. There came a time when I wanted to loudly and proudly shout my Jewishness from the rooftops.
It is this journey that inspired me to write my first book, on Jewish Pride, to be released next year. Through it, I aim to educate, inspire and empower Jews from all over the world to see their Jewishness as a source of pride, and never shame.
Over the course of thousands of years, Jewish People have been victimised by systemic and institutional anti-Jewish racism. It forms the foundations of the societies in which we live. This hatred shames us, persecutes us, murders us and attempts to destroy us.
In response, we have told ourselves that we have to keep our heads down. That we should stay quiet and get on with things. That we must never rock the boat. However, people who tell you this are wrong. It is imperative that we raise our voices as one people — while recognising our diversity — to advocate for ourselves.
We are desperate to be accepted by the non-Jewish world. We want so badly for them to accept us that we are willing to stand by and allow our People to be destroyed in the process.
We are willing to fundamentally change who we are to earn that acceptance. We change our names, our faces, our traditions, and our identity, and has it ever worked? Do we — after years of Jewish People working hard to gain the acceptance of the non-Jewish world — live in a period with no antisemitism? Do we feel comfortable and safe in our respective societies?
We are in an abusive relationship with the non-Jewish world. And like in all abusive relationships, we can’t force them to change. They must change on their own. Antisemitism is not a Jewish problem. It is a non-Jewish problem that impacts Jews. That means the task of eradicating it lies with the non-Jewish world. We can help, educate, dialogue and share our experiences but that is the extent of our role in this work.
Our work lies in rejecting the shame of antisemitism and in creating a Jewish Pride movement.
After millennia of trauma, Jewish Pride is not necessarily something we will fully embody overnight. It is a journey, but it is our journey. To move forward as a People with healthy individual and collective self-esteem, we must begin the difficult process of healing from the antisemitic abuse our People have been suffering for generations.
We need to understand Jew-hatred. We need to understand why it has persisted throughout history and how it became one of the building blocks of several societies and we need to understand how it has fundamentally impacted Jewish identity.
Ultimately, we need to understand who we are as a People. What does it mean to be Jewish? Are we a religion or a race? Are we white or not-white? There are many questions to be asked about Jewishness but we must find our answers in our own history and experience. We must not adopt non-Jewish concepts to define our nation. They do not fit and they only serve to further subjugate and dishonour our Peoplehood.
Jewish Pride is about diving into Jewish history and experience to understand who we are. It is about being actively Jewish — in whatever way that looks like for you — and it is about setting on the task of dismantling our individual and collective shame.
I love being Jewish. I love our diversity, our unique cultures, our unity, our food, our humour, our music. I love that not only have we survived multiple attempts of destruction, but we thrived by creating distinct, beautiful and inspiring cultures while always retaining our link to the wider Jewish People and our indigenous homeland.
There is so much about Jewishness to be proud of.
We are an inspiring and resilient People. I am so proud to stand here with all of you as we begin to build a Jewish Pride movement so that no one ever again braces for impact before telling someone that they are Jewish.
Am Yisrael Chai.