by Jake Levine
Of all the articles I’ve written at The Drew Acorn, “We Are Still Here” is the last one I expected to get a response from. It was a serious attempt at conveying the deep-seated and normalized nature of anti-Semitism in America based on my experiences as an American Jew. I felt that my article accurately expressed my feelings on the matter and what I feel it means to be Jewish in America. That being said, I was quite surprised to find a letter anonymously addressed to me resting in my mailbox here at Drew. The letter says nothing except “Jake Levine, Student” and has my mailbox number written on it in red ink, presumably placed there by a staff member at Drew befuddled by the stark and vague envelope.
The contents of the letter include a cut-out copy of my article “We Are Still Here,” an article from Judaism Today titled “Why Are So Many Jews Liberal?” and a typed letter from my mysterious correspondent(s) that reads in a Courier-esque font (I believe it is from a typewriter): “Dear Jake/A Jewish friend passed your essay to me, which prompted me to send this article from a Rabbi, although dated. I hope you will read it carefully and share it with friends/ Sincerely/ Another student.” Due to the nature of the article attached and The Acorn’s recent incidents with “student correspondents,” I have severe doubts that this was sent to me by another student here at Drew. Having been in London for the last semester and unaware that I had such a letter awaiting me upon my return, I want to respond to this mail and specifically, the article I received.
“Why Are So Many Jews Liberal?” is written by Daniel Lapin, a right-wing Rabbi whose recent works have included articles detailing the “war” on Christianity in America as well as an egregiously Islamophobia article about “Liberals [falling] in love with the masculinity of Islam.” The pitfalls of Liberalism seem to be a popular topic for Lapin, who focuses on it in the article I received. In a largely inflammatory manner, Lapin labels liberalism as “an escape from having to accept Jewish law” and “a way out of [the] covenant.” Within that classification, he draws a distinction between “irreligious” and “observant” Jews, with the former being liberal and the latter being conservative. For Lapin, “observant-conservative” Jews constitute “real” Jews while “irreligious-liberal” are deemed lesser.
Lapin goes on to declare that Liberal Jews’ identification with the “underdog” stems from a history of “oppression” and that their support of abortion and gay rights – which he proclaims is antithetical to “true” Judaism – is a selective projection of sympathy with groups that “[come] closest to opposing traditional Judeo-Christian values.” He states that Liberal Jews are placing themselves above God and that a recognition of our “authentic heritage” will allow American Jews to positively contribute to American society.
Upon reading this, I saw a very subtle and indirect attack on my stance as a secular Jew. As someone who views himself as American and then Jewish, I fall under Lapin’s label of “Liberal Jew” and am somehow deemed less of a Jew. Whoever sent me this article had the intention of distorting my sense of tradition and making me feel as if I have somehow transgressed Jewish custom and am a bad Jew who should reconsider their identity and political considerations.
Receiving this article had the opposite effect for me: rather than making me ashamed, it seemed to affirm my beliefs and attitudes. I am proud to be a Reform Jew, and more so, I am proud to be an atheist. The Judaism that I was raised with always encouraged questioning and independence. I have had wonderful rabbis throughout my life who not only espoused Jewish wisdom, but also discussed their secular interests. One of my rabbis is a huge Yankees fan and we have had discussions about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Another has a Bill Maher “New Rules” book in his office. My grandfather was a devout rabbi who also happened to have an affinity to Games of Thrones – before it was cool. That being said, I still affirm that being Jewish can be irreligious or secular. In Judaism, religious devotion does not constitute being good; rather, it is the manner in which we regard fellow people, even if we disagree with them. That is our “authentic heritage,” not some dogmatic adherence to doctrine that divides and excludes and deems some as lesser.
To whoever sent me this letter, I want to say that your views are skewed and archaic. I wonder if perhaps you had a better way to spend your time other than mailing me an outdated and quite offensive article. Moreover, if you want to address me again, have the decency and courage to add your name. Shalom.
Jake is a junior History major with a double minor in Art History and French.