Jewish-Identity Theft

Thursday, 14 August, 2014 - 1:28 am


“And it will be, because you have listened to my voice.”
If you will listen to my voice regarding the light (or simple) [mitzvot] that are trodden underfoot–then, “G-d will keep his promise…”
-- Deuteronomy, 7:12, Rashi ad loc in Italics

“Moshe was the most humble man on the face of the Earth” -- Bamidbar 12:3.
Moses prophetically saw the generation prior to the exile
[literally the generation of the Heels of Mashiach] and he was humbled.

--Likkutei Torah, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, First Chabad Rebbe

As usual, after the weekly Torah Studies class finished, we sat around shmoozing. The conversation turned to the hard realities of growing up Jewish in anti-semitic Soviet Russia.

One attendee clutched her Magen David proudly and said, “Growing up in Russia, I would always wear my Magen David. I never wanted anyone to make a mistake about who I really am…”

She could easily have passed for a gentile, yet she insisted that her Jewish Identity be clear to everyone--no matter the repercussions.

Another woman then told of her experience when she received her Russian passport. Soviet citizens would receive their passport at age 16, in which the holder’s nationality would be listed. Ethnic Russians (and ‘lucky’ Jews) were listed as Russki or Ruskaya –while Jewish citizens were listed as Yevrey, or Yevreyiskaya. The Russkaya stamp entitled the holder to ease of employment and academic access. Yevreyiskaya?–A permanent mark of hatred and scorn, and a life filled with challenge.

Arriving home with her new passport, she opened it up and was shocked to read that she was listed as RUSSKAYA – Russian!  

Rushing back to the government office, she said to the clerk. “I believe that you made a mistake! I’m JEWISH, not Russian. Please fix it for me.”

The stunned clerk replied, “You seemed like a nice person, I was only trying to do you a favor…”

What a display of heroism, pride and honor!

Listening to this conversation, I was silent and quite humbled.  Certainly, the Magen Dovid (a symbol) and a passport (Does G-d really care about what is written in my passport?!) don't fit in the category of important Mitzvot--or even 'Light-weight Mitzvot' that are 'trampled underfoot'. And yet—here were two people who unceremoniously risked so much to maintain these marks of Jewish Identity. 

Perhaps, these stories of simple, yet courageous displays of Jewish Pride—are what humbled Moses so many years ago. While Hitler tried to exterminate Jewish Life, and while Stalinist Russia attempted to steal Jewish Identity and Faith -- in a class 8,000 miles away and decades later, we sat listening to stories of courage and defiance, of people who fought to retain their identity and who thrust it proudly in the face of their oppressors.   

In a day and age in which ‘Identity Theft’ is a common issue – let’s protect our Jewish Identities. By proudly expressing our Judaism—we will protect our Jewish ID. In the world we live in—it may not be easy. Some may say that it is downright uncomfortable–but it sure seems easy compared to the struggles of two proud Jewish women in the USSR.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht 

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