How I Stopped Being a Jew
Shlomo Sand was born in 1946, in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, to Jewish parents; the family later migrated to Palestine. As a young man, Sand came to question his Jewish identity, even that of a “secular Jew.” With this meditative and thoughtful mixture of essay and personal recollection, he articulates the problems at the center of modern Jewish identity.
How I Stopped Being a Jew discusses the negative effects of the Israeli exploitation of the “chosen people” myth and its “holocaust industry.” Sand criticizes the fact that, in the current context, what “Jewish” means is, above all, not being Arab and reflects on the possibility of a secular, non-exclusive Israeli identity, beyond the legends of Zionism.
‘secular’ everyday life. They ate kosher food but also developed culinary habits different from those of their non-Jewish neighbours. They wore the kippah but also fur hats, and dressed in a fashion distinct from that adopted by the surrounding mass of peasants. They hardly spoke the language of their neighbours; instead, in their working life and in their function as intermediaries, they preferred to resort to the Germanic dialects widely used in economic transactions. The arrival of learned
triggered in France, the United States, Italy, Germany or any other liberal democracy, if the authorities required that individuals who identified themselves as Jews have this attribute marked on their identity papers or that they be categorized as such in the official census of the population. Following the Judeocide of the Second World War, the UN partition resolution of 1947 referred to the creation of a ‘Jewish state’, along with an adjacent ‘Arab state’ that never saw the light of day. It
political anti-Semitism and the devalorizing of utopia in the Western spiritual universe, that phenomenon underwent rapid changes. As revolutionary universalism lost prestige in the wake of revelations of the atrocious crimes committed by Communist regimes, this was sadly accompanied by a dissolution of the principles of general human solidarity, even if other factors were also involved. The ranks of intellectuals inspired by a universalistic consciousness – sons or daughters of immigrant Jews,
attending, fairly liberal and left, indicate their agreement. In the course of the friendly exchange that follows, I ask him what constitutes the popular culture of secular Jews, and what Jewish education he can transmit to his children. He finds it hard to reply. An elderly lady stands up and, somewhat indignant, declares that if my argument deprives her of her Jewish identity, she has nothing left. I am surprised; I seek to reassure her. It is clearly not my role to suppress people’s
removal of this ‘impurity’ is irrational and, above all, an infringement on the fundamental right of any person to bodily integrity. However, if in the name of maintaining an imagined Jewish identity, secular parents prevent their children from loving a partner designated as non-Jewish, afraid that they will ‘marry out’, this must be stigmatized as ordinary racism. ‘Ethnic Jews’ have good reason for concern. More than 50 per cent of Jewish American descendants marry non-Jews, and likewise in