Most people believe that being Jewish is believing in Judaism: a religion. But this is not always the case. I am a Jew and I am non religious and there are many of us. So if I don´t believe in religion how can I be Jewish? I think the explanation lies unfortunately in that it is not only Jews who define Judaism, in my case, and in the case of many other Jews, Judaism was not only defined by sharing a common culture and history with other Jews but by the attacks of anti semites. In the case of Argentine Jews as myself there were three waves of attacks: the nazis, the Argentine military neo nazis and Hezbollah that greatly defined our identity.
I was born in Buenos Aires in 1960, only 15 years after the Holocaust claimed the lives of over a third of the Jews in the world. A large part of my Jewish identity is linked to this event, and the certainty that had the Nazis succeeded in conquering the world and hunting down all of the Jews, I would not be alive. I grew up listening to my grandparents telling me about the horrors of the holocaust and how they lived in fear in Argentina that the Nazis were going to win WWII. When I was sixteen and convinced that anti Semitism was history much to my surprise a group of neo nazis took over the government of Argentina (the Videla dictatorship) and started the called Dirty War against democratic intellectuals, socialists, communists and Jews murdering 30,000 people. One of them was my dear cousin David Horacio Varsavsky whose kidnapping forced my family to emigrate overnight in fear to the United States. David was only seventeen years old. His remains were never found. Today, in Madrid there is a sport’s facility dedicated to his memory that my foundation buit. This is a monument in the memory of David; a child who was a victim of the infamous “vuelos de la muerte” death flights in which passengers were flown into the ocean and thrown from high altitudes never to be found again. David was not an activist of any kind. He was a Jewish child. During the Dirty War not only Jews were killed of course but 9% of the victims of the massacres were Jewish in a country with a Jewish population of less than 1%. This war went on from 1976 to 1982. And again in the 90s, when Argentina´s democracy was well established and it seemed that random killings of Jewish people would never happened again, “nunca mas” (never again) as the famous book on the Dirty War was called… “nunca mas” proved to be wrong: and Argentina for unknown reasons was chosen as a primary target of Hezbollah war on Jews (Hezbollah confuses all Jews with citizens of Israel). The AMIA bombing resulted in 85 people dead and 300 wounded.
Having argued the case for antisemitism as a Jew I also know that the State of Israel has also evolved from defending itself in the 60s and 70s to being especially aggressive in the later decades adopting a self defence formula that in my view has greatly backfired and made Israel less safe. I have condemned the invasion of Lebanon of this summer as both a disproportionate response to the kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers and inneffective as strategy in the fight of Israel´s real enemy Hezbollah and its backers in Syria and Iran. Hezbollah is not Lebanon as a whole, nor was it supported by the majority of the Lebanese before the war. Now thanks to the excessive violence used by Israel, it is, and anti semitism as a global phenomenom is growng again. At my own modest level I did what I could to help the people of Lebanon and created Jews for Lebanon donating some of my own funds for the reconstruction of the beautiful and special country of Lebanon and asking fellow Jews who feel that indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations when fighting terrorism are wrong and counterproductive and who feel sorry about the Israeli invasion of this summer to do the same. I am Jewish but I am greatly opposed to the policies of the current Israeli government. Having said this I still believe that there is a significant difference between the violence of the State of Israel and the violence of Hezbollah. Hezbollah wants Jews dead, in Israel or in Buenos Aires. Hezbollah sees me as a target because I am Jewish. Israel however sees Hezbollah as a target because it is in a self declared war with Israel and Jews. Israel will seek a way to make peace with Hezbollah as it did in the past with many former enemies of Israel including Egypt and Jordan.
So can we be Jews without religion? Yes we can, partly because of a common cultural and historical bond to the other 13 million Jews on the planet but mostly because of anti semitism that is still alive among many groups and organizations who still want us dead wherever we are. And because we are only 13 million Jews all over the world the math of antisemitism is always against us because even if only 10% of the Muslims agree with Hezbollah´s call for the destruction of Israel and Jews or even if only 1% of the Christians are still neonazis a reasonable estimate that is still close to 200 million in the planet want us dead. It is for this reason that I believe that whether we like it or not as Jews antisemitism is one of the main forces that define us as a community regardless of our religious beliefs. Am I a Jew because many hate me? Unfortunately this is partly true as this hatred is only something that fellow Jews can truly feel.
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