I woke up on January 1st to an unusually large number of text messages, the cleverest being, “Welcome to the roaring ’20s!” It’s exactly the kind of joke I would normally love because it combines two of my favorite things: history and word play. Instead, I looked at my phone and just felt conflicted. How could I possibly embrace the thrill of entering a new decade when the previous one was ending with such bitter tragedy?
Three Jewish people had just been shot and killed less than 30 minutes from my house. Five more had been stabbed an hour away at a Hanukkah party. The progressive and prosperous era of the 1920s had never felt so far away.
I grew up in a small town with a large Jewish population. Jewish heritage and culture were both a major part of my identity. For my family, our traditions were more than just annual obligations; they were part of us, our identity, our day-to-day lives. My parents, both Jewish and both followers of Jesus as Messiah, instilled in my sisters and me a deep sense of obligation to identify as Jews. After what our people had been through for thousands of years, we had an obligation to stand together and protect one another.
Most of the time, I’m classified as “white” by my peers. They don’t understand that being Jewish is different.
As I became an adult, I realized the strangest thing: many people don’t even realize that being Jewish is part of a cultural identity. Most of the time, I’m classified as “white” by my peers. They don’t understand that being Jewish is different. It’s easy to categorize me as another Caucasian monotheist. And sometimes I start to feel as if the line there is blurred. But then something happens – like the three murders just down the freeway in Jersey City – that reminds me that my people will always be separate. Because we’re Jewish.
For those unaware, an anti-Semitic attack in a kosher market claimed the lives of three people in the middle of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This second desecration of the holiday feels like a double wound – Hanukkah is a celebration of miracles, a time when we remember the persecution we have endured and how we’ve overcome against all odds. It’s an ancient story, but the persecution is current. Jersey City is a diverse, bustling city that neighbors New York City, but the events that unfolded there this last Hanukkah seemed out of another era. I’m left asking the same question King David asked thousands of years ago when he wrote Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage?”
I don’t know what it’s like to be living in New Jersey or New York City right now and not be Jewish. I wonder if others around me know what it’s like to buy books like “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” and then not be able to read them because they feel too close to home. I think about the numbers my grandmother could never wash away, and my heart hurts. And I wonder if anyone who’s not Jewish knows what it’s like to sit down with other people of similar culture, in a miserable silence over this past we remember but still repeat, because, really, what can you say?
The last time it was “the ’20s,” the Great Depression and the Holocaust were just around the bend. But those soon-approaching horrors were hidden from view by an era of creativity and materialism. Sophistication and open-mindedness didn’t lead the world to peace like they were supposed to.
At the beginning of this new decade, I’ve never been more thankful that my hope for peace and security is not rooted in technology or education or economics.
I’ve always believed that peace has to be a personal choice that starts in the heart of each individual, and that the only real security we can count on in this world comes from knowing God personally. And I know this peace and security were only made possible by Messiah’s willing sacrifice in the face of unfathomable rejection.
So I will mourn for my people. But I won’t forget who I am or lose my sense of self. I will stand as a proud Jewish person, because that’s who God made me to be.
So I will mourn for my people. But I won’t forget who I am or lose my sense of self. I will stand as a proud Jewish person, because that’s who God made me to be. I will seek peace and pursue it as the Scriptures instruct us to do. And I will cling to God’s call to “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation;… my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples” (Isaiah 51:4-5).