What does Judaism mean to non-Jews?

Our student blogger Jamie Rodney was surprised by the results of his Facebook survey

June 21, 2018 15:25

So, originally, I was planning to write this article about the recent (and disturbing) attacks on a Jewish cemetery in Manchester. To be honest, it still feels like I’m letting the side down by not addressing the issue directly, but there are people who can write much better than me about what this incident represents. So instead, I thought I’d approach the issue a different way. As I’ve said in previous articles, a big part of being Jewish for me has always been being paranoid about antisemitism. However, as I’ve also said, the vast majority of my friends are non-Jewish. So I decided to ask my Facebook friends what their first impressions of Judaism were, and see how that fitted with the context of rising antisemitism in this country.

Before I go into detail about the results, I suppose I should, like a good statistician, account for potential sampling errors. My responders were largely (but not exclusively) middle class, mainly undergraduate students (although there was one postgrad and one person with an actual grownup job among them), and I have no idea about the religious views of most of them, but I know it included Muslims, Catholics and one Evangelical Christian.

Still, I was pretty surprised with the responses I got. Some responses touched on antisemitism, like I’d expected (with one of my friends managing to sum up the essence of over 4000 years of history and tradition as “persecution and Rabbis.”) But most responses were less political: menorahs and Passover both got frequent mentions, as did various rituals and ceremonies, in varying amounts of detail. (One person answered the question with a better analysis of the meaning of the Four Questions than I’ve ever been able to manage, someone else’s immediate reaction was “oh Christ” and then, after a moment’s thought “Or actually, lack thereof.”) There were also a few people for whom the answer was Jewish friends of theirs. I’m not sure what to take away from this, other than that it’s a massive ego boost to know that there might be someone out there whose entire conception of Judaism is represented by me.

So, with the methodology and results discussed, we move on to conclusions. I suppose it would be easy to say that this is evidence that gentiles Just Don’t Care about antisemitism, but that’s probably unfair. On the other end of the scale, it would be possible to pull a Jackie Walker and claim this as evidence that antisemitism doesn’t exist outside of the minds of Zionist conspirators, but I can’t find my tinfoil hat today. And besides, both of those conclusions bring me back to the problem I had at the start of this article, of not being able to say anything that other people couldn’t say better.

Unless, of course, the problem is not with my friends providing the wrong answers, but with me framing the wrong questions. I was approaching Judaism as being purely political. But there’s more to it than that. Judaism is more than a thing antisemites don’t like. It’s a religion, brimming with spiritual and moral significance. It’s a culture, more ancient and diverse than most others around today. It’s the sum of the achievements and struggles and everything else of every Jew who has ever lived.  I’m not sure what it says about me that it took a group of millennial non-Jews to remind me of that.


June 21, 2018 15:25

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