I met a young woman the other day who had only that afternoon found out she was Jewish. Adopted at birth, she had recently discovered her birth mother was Jewish. Knowing nothing about Judaism or Jewishness, she was startled to learn that having a Jewish mother makes one a Jew as well. Her shock was only compounded when she mentioned this to a friend and was accosted by an eavesdropper who said, “Oh, you don’t want to be a Jew, they’re going to hell!”
Imagine discovering you are a Jew one moment and that you are going to hell because of it the next moment. Many Jews experience Jew-hatred, and many more encounter popular ignorance about what it is to be a Jew, but most Jews have a few years of positive Jewish experience before the downside of being Jewish is dropped on them. This woman had none of that:
“Hey, guess what? I’m Jewish!”
“Yeah? Well, guess what? You’re going to hell!”
I asked her what she thought of all of this, and she really didn’t know what to make of it. Her adapted mother was an atheist and raised her without religion. She didn’t know what it means to be a Jew, and couldn’t fathom someone going to hell at all. Being chosen by God and damned by the God-fearing all in the same breath was just beyond her grasp.
I offered to be a resource if she wished to explore her newly discovered heritage, and then we parted company. I don’t know if I will ever see her again, but I am certain her story will stick with me.
Given where I live, prejudice against Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Catholics (unless they are pro-life and sitting on the US Supreme Court) is as indigenous as love of June and Johnny, Dolly, and Elvis. What bothers me is not that some stranger believes Jews are going to hell, but that he jumped on this young woman without giving her a moment to get to know her birth culture.
So please, all you Jew haters out there, if you have to scare Jews with hell at least wait until they know a little bit about Judaism first. Print up cards with your name and phone number on them and hand them out to Jews saying, “When you are ready to escape from the fires of eternal damnation for being a Jew, call me.” Or wear a button that says: “Ask me about Jews and Damnation” or design one with a picture of the Devil in the Uncle Sam pose saying, “Jew! I want you!” I promise when we need you we will find you.