A Personal View

A visit to the American military cemetery at Meuse-Argonne, France, 1979. (Photo: Marjorie Shostak)

B’ruchim ha-ba’im, Sholem aleichem, Byenvenídos, Akolyo, Ahlan wi-sahlan, Welcome!

Starting as a tiny tribal state , battered from the beginning by bullying empires, Jews emerged on the world scene with a book in their hands that brought a message of ethical law and a single God that trumped all others and that all could therefore believe in.

But it also held the history of a particular people, one whose destiny was now cast to the winds of worldwide hatred, mingled with an odd admiring resentment. Again and again, in far-off places with strange-sounding names, they were trusted with the treasuries of nations and the health of potentates, the cultivation of science, art, and literature and occasionally even the command of armies.

Yet they somehow also kept , or were kept, to themselves, and wherever they were they yearned toward Jerusalem. Even as their history of hatred culminated in the worst mass murder the world has known, they were restoring their tiny and, yes, still tribal state, still battered and buffeted by bullies.

But today, after so many centuries of leaning on God alone for protection, Jews came to believe that God helps those who help themselves. They may be as insecure in their homeland as in most other places, but they belong there. Their enemies are as strong as ever, but now the Jews are strong too. Their sentiment is I am home, and their watchword, Never again.

America’s Jews have a different problem. The Jews in their history have weathered every human storm, survived all natural and unnatural disasters. But there is one challenge they have never before faced: Complete acceptance. The American Jewish community, rich, vital, politically strong, and very Jewish at the core, is hemorrhaging at the margins, and no one has yet figured out what to do.

This site is intended to help. But even more than that it is meant as a celebration of Jewishness. The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor, says the Havdala prayer at the end of the Sabbath, so let it be with us . I believe that this dream is best realized in a paradox: Be Jewish, and be with others. This site may not resolve the paradox, but there is light, gladness, joy, and honor in trying.

–Melvin Konner

Melvin Konner is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor at Emory University, where he teaches Anthropology, Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, and Jewish Studies. His MD and PhD are from Harvard University, where he taught before coming to Emory. He did two years of research on infancy among San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers of Botswana. In addition to Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews and the just-published The Jewish Body , he wrote The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit ; Becoming a Doctor ; and Childhood , among other titles. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation, and has written for The New York Times and Newsweek as well as Nature , Science and The New England Journal of Medicine . He has testified at U.S. Senate hearings on health reform and end-of-life issues. He was a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology in Media Award. He was named “Best Local Intellectual” in Creative Loafing ’s annual “Best of Atlanta” edition for 2004. For a more personal view, see his autobiographical essay on this website.

If you are interested in anthropology and human nature, you may also want to visit www.melvinkonner.com

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