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My family history explains Israel's importance

So much of my Jewish heritage is bound up not in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but in Central and Eastern Europe, writes Jamie Rodney

    This feels a little bit like copying a friend's homework, but this article is inspired, in part, by the one that my fellow student blogger Asha Sumroy wrote last week. I’d advise reading it anyway because it’s much better than this one, but Asha’s point was essentially about how, on Yom Hazikaron, she was made more aware of her diaspora identity, and especially her connection with our Jewish cousins in Israel. While I agree with everything Asha wrote, I’m going to use this article to focus on another part of that identity.

    While I am, and always have been, passionately Zionist, when I think about my Jewish roots, Israel’s never the first thing to come to mind. Instead, I fixate on my family history, wondering at the tortous route that my family took through pogroms in Poland and Lithuania, through salt mines in Czarist Russia, through the hell that was Central Europe in the 1940s, to end up in - of all places - the suburbs of Glasgow.

    Now, the reason for this could be that I’ve only been to Israel once for a cousin’s wedding, and spent most of my time there ill, but I don’t think it’s that. I’ve never been to Leipzig or Riga, but I could expound at great length on the significance of those places to my family history.

    A more likely explanation is that it’s just natural to be interested in where you come from. If my parents had made Aliyah before I was born, there’s every chance I’d be much more interested in Scotland and Glasgow than I am having grown up here. Who knows, maybe in some alternative reality I’m writing a blog post in Hebrew about my deep spiritual connection with Irn Bru and deep-fried Mars Bars. 

    But there’s something else, too. Talking about my family history makes me feel more interesting - exotic, even - but more importantly, it makes me feel proud. Proud of the fact that Tsarist millitias, Teutonic knights, Nazi soldiers and whatever other flavours of murderous antisemites that have existed in Europe over the centuries all tried to expunge my gene pool from existence, and yet here I am. I know I had literally nothing to do with it, and I don’t want to be glib about the scope of the human tragedy that my ancestors had to suffer through, but that’s pretty damn cool.

    That’s why so much of my Jewish heritage is bound up not in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but in places across Central and Eastern Europe that haven’t had sizeable Jewish populations since the 1940s.

    It’s also, conversely, the reason for my Zionism. Israel might not feature too heavily in my family history, but my family history - marked as it is by what happened when Jews were left without a state to defend them - has given me all the convincing I need about the importance of Israel.

    Jamie Rodney is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. He is studying English at St Andrews University

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