From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Aug 14 11:30:07
From: Le Monde diplomatique <email@example.com>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: ‘I don't question my children's Jewishness’
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 15:39:04 +0200 (CEST)
Which aspects of Judaism will be passed on to their children was a question that affected all those whom we interviewed. Hélène and Alain Nahum, for example, have spent more time at political meetings than in synagogues. Their son Samuel recently had his bar mitzvah, the equivalent of a confirmation or first communion for Christians.
According to Hélène, the daughter of a Greek family, most of whom
perished at Auschwitz,
We're all Marranos (1). To defend
ourselves from globalisation we must preserve our sense of identity in
our relations with others. I can personally relate to the phenomena of
displacement and exile. I always feel distant from a farmer who's
rooted to his land and feel closer to one who finds himself
Her husband, Alain, is from a family of Egyptian Jews steeped in
communism and the French Revolution. He defines himself as a
wandering Jew, perhaps even an heirless one. Though he
understands and respects his son's quest for religious and
cultural identity, he sees it as reflecting
his need to rebel
against his parents. Samuel sees his faith in relative terms: he
expresses pro-Israel sentiments although he is unwilling to go to
fight for the country. He mentions hearing young Arabs make insulting
I feel as though I've inherited the
history of the Shoah and the Jews of Egypt, he says.
though I'm not observant, I still believe it's important to
hand down values and not become assimilated like some of my
friends. Alain feels positive:
I'm happy that my son has
shown his independence by getting bar mitzvahed. Hélène is more
Every generation has got to find its own way.
Valérie Zenati's family, originally from Algeria, left France for Israel after two anti-semitic incidents in Paris: an attack on the Copernic synagogue in 1980 and the 1982 bombing of a kosher restaurant in the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais district. The family ended its traumatic Israeli sojourn after the first Palestinian intifada in 1987.
Israel was no longer what we wanted it to be, says Valérie, who
is struck by
the anxiety that characterises many French
Jews. It's as though they're scared of the void. They no
longer base their sense of identity on anything tangible. They're
unfamiliar with the sacred texts of their religion. They feel
ultranationalistic about a country that's not even theirs. They
remember the dead but they know nothing of the lives those people led
before the Holocaust.
What will she bequeath to her son Lucas, now aged five and a half?
I had him circumcised so as not to break with tradition. I'll
teach him about the major Jewish holidays and our ancestors'
history. When Lucas is older she plans to teach him Hebrew so that
he can read the Bible. The Ten Commandments are the most important
consideration. That and the fight to ensure that no one is deemed
subhuman, whether in Israel or Palestine.
Nelly Hansson is wary of any suggestion that Judaism might become a
That would be awful, she says. But
when she thinks of her two sons—one of whom is very Jewish, the
other less so—she blames herself for
passing on an
individual, rather than a collective, sense of belonging.
For her the key issue is historical continuity and the
task of curing society's ills, incumbent on all Jews. She
points out that the Hebrew word tikkun means
a reparation that
completes God's work by making the world a better place.
But Annette Wieviorka, historian, says:
I don't question my
children's Jewishness. As a little girl she used to stay at a
holiday resort operated by Bund, an organisation of socialist Jewish
workers founded in 1897.
We always asked two questions: what does
it mean to be a socialist and what does it mean to be a Jew? The first
was easy: all we had to do was share our sweets. We never did come up
with an answer to the second question. Annette's daughter now
wears a star of David round her neck though she was indifferent to
things Jewish for many years. Her son married a non-Jew.
not so much our parents' children as we are children of our own
generation, she says.
Like many Jews born shortly after the second world war, she too felt
the wish to assimilate; the desire was also fuelled by her political
activism. As a Maoist, she even taught in Guangzhou in south
The story of my life, she explains,
includes how I
choose to express my Jewishness. It's very personal. I find
ghettos abhorrent. I have no interest in people who share the same
history, the same sensibility and the same paranoia.
Read also What does it mean to be Jewish?
(1) The Marranos were Spanish or Portuguese Jews of the late Middle Ages who converted to Christianity to avoid expulsion.