I opened the e-mail from my daughter Lauren, who has been living in Guatemala for almost a year. I cherish the “conversations” we have in cyberspace because they give us a chance to share differently than we do in our phone calls, where we tend to discuss more immediate concerns like college papers and bank overdrafts. Her e-mail hooked me with the first sentence and the question she raised has been on my mind ever since.
“I just talked with a friend, mom, who asked me: ‘What drives the Jews?’” she wrote.
Lauren, confused, asked what her friend meant.
“Well,” he explained, “fear and guilt is pretty much what drove me growing up as a Roman Catholic. What drives the Jews — you know, to act, behave and live in certain ways?”
Lauren ended her e-mail with these words: “I have my own answer, mom, but I’d love to hear yours.”
Wow, I thought. That is one great question.
I barely had time to think of an answer before my cell phone rang. The words MOM lit up the screen.
“Oh hi, Mom. Hey, listen, I have a question for you. What do you think drives the Jews?”
Her answer made me laugh out loud.
No, this isn’t a joke. I told her about Lauren’s e-mail and that I really wanted to know what she thought.
Her answer this time wasn’t funny and in some ways, it bothered me. But for a woman born in 1925 who was orphaned at two and raised by her Turkish grandmother, it made sense.
“Success and money because it gives them a certain security,” she replied. The word “them” struck me as odd. Her answer assumed a certain distinction between herself and other Jews.
Then, without missing a beat, she called out to my father and asked him to pick up the phone.
As a Depression boy, Dad has always been aware that you can lose everything overnight, as his family did.
“Personal insecurity drives the Jews and motivates them to achieve and become educated,” he answered in a quasi Freud-like tone.
Since this was becoming a real family affair, I hung up and called my brother, the true intellect in our family.
“Hey, Jeff. Got a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I have a question for you. What do you think drives the Jews?”
I heard him laugh on the other end. “One thing about you, sis, there’s not a lot of time spent in idle chatter.”
But he answered my question in a traditionally Jewish manner, by asking other questions.
“What do you mean: What drives the Jews? Do you mean what do I think drives Jews in the past or are you talking about Jews today? Or are you asking me what drives me as a Jew? And when you say Jews, are you talking about all Jews, or Israeli Jews as opposed to those in the Diaspora?” And the questions continued …
What drives the Jews? The answers are as broad and diverse as the Jewish people themselves and can hardly be limited to a single column. So I would like to offer an invitation to you, my readers, to help me uncover and explore what you think drives the Jews.
For the next three months, the Arizona Jewish Post will welcome your answers to “What drives the Jews?” Selected responses may be printed in a future issue of the AJP. Who knows? Your responses may even become a book!
Submissions should be 250 words or less. E-mail to [email protected], submit online at azjewishpost.com (look under “Contacts” at top right for “What drives the Jews?”), or mail to AJP, 3822 E. River Road, Suite 300, Tucson, AZ 85718. Please include your photo. One online participant, selected at random, will win a copy of “Saul Bellow: Letters” edited by Benjamin Taylor.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an author, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney who lives in Tucson. Her columns in the AJP have won awards from the American Jewish Press Association, the Arizona Newspapers Association and the Arizona Press Club for excellence in commentary. Visit her website at amyhirshberglederman.com.