When someone talks nonsense about my country, my first question is: are you Hungarian? The next one would be either: Have you lived there? Or, do you speak the language? These are interchangeable. But the first question is always the same.
Why? Because it matters.
Of course, many would attack back saying that they read enough, they know enough, they visited the country enough, their grandmother was Hungarian, and so on. And while I never doubt the intellectual capabilities of no one, I for one, remain firm on my stand: when you talk about my country, the fact whether you are Hungarian or not, matters. Big time.
I have the exact same approach towards pro-Israel advocacy as well. I’ve been working and breathing in this niche for the last five years. It’s been a journey. But I often question my role in the big picture. I am a non-Jew. I’ve never actually lived in Israel. I don’t speak fluent Hebrew. So where are the boundaries I set for myself? Or where are the boundaries the community sets for me?
Because there are boundaries; and there have to be boundaries.
To overcome the easy-came emotional excitement to stand with Israel – that rose after my first visit to Israel, – I went beyond the easy and moved to NYC to study Judaism in a graduate program. I’m the only non-Jew in the classroom. But I’m also the only one who knows about all the pro-Israeli events in the city. And while my classmates take me out of my comfort zone and indirectly teach me how to be in a more Orthodox community, I challenge them with my outsider’s perspectives each day. Most of them know very little about Europe and its history. It’s not their fault, but the system’s. Most of them also know very little about Israel and Israeli culture unless we are talking about the Orthodox world. So at the end of the day, we certainly challenge each other, but we also respect our estrangements.
But let’s come out more to the macro level of pro-Israel advocacy, and how far we, non-Jews can go with our involvement and comments. And I’m not talking about not having an opinion, or even more, not to contradict Jews just because we are not Jews. Those are the exact things we need to do – after all, we signed up to stand with you, and sometimes you do need a good friend who sees you from the outside. But – and this is something a Holocaust survivor taught me by looking into my eyes and telling me that all the Hungarians are anti-Semites – let’s be frank, there are things that only Jews can fully understand. And that is a fact.
I can feel antisemitism on my skin as an Israel supporter, but I will never truly feel what it means to hear: ‘you dirty Jew.’ I can hug a survivor or talk with his grandchild, but I’ll never understand what it meant to grow up in a family with survivors. I can try to tell you that you should not be so paranoid about everyone hating you, but it is you who grew up with the infused DNA to always look out for threat.
I’m not the only non-Jew who supports Israel. There are some big shot names out there working hard to make sure Israel isn’t bashed all the time. We all do this by choice. And then there are the Jewish pro-Israel advocates who breathe and live advocacy. They do this for their daily survival.
But this big bubble of incredible people safeguarding Israel isn’t always a shiny one. I see religious organizations fight with each other over gibberish, religious Jews fight with secular ones over nonsense, the secular fight with each other over nuances, and I see pro-Israel personas going against each other – sometimes in a nasty style. And this is too bad.
My point here will make sense without giving concrete examples or name-calling anyone because this latter one is just beyond the point. The point is, we all are in the same boat, but – and this but is a crucial one – some of us are in the boat and can get out at any time, others live on this boat every day of their lives.
And yes, we, the non-Jewish Israel advocates can educate ourselves, and let’s be blunt, we often educate ourselves more than Jews do, knowing that this is how we can be taken seriously. Yet, there are things that we simply can’t and shouldn’t argue about. The Holocaust, without a doubt, is one of these.
We can have an opinion, but we need to have boundaries. I can think that the Holocaust survivor who told me we were all antisemites is wrong on so many levels, but I understood that I simply couldn’t tell him that because I have no damn right to do so. I can tell my Jewish friends to stop acting as victims all the time or hide behind the past, but I would use my words carefully, as what do I know what it means to grow up Jewish.
I love when people stand with my country. When people get why Hungary is doing what she is doing. I love when people take the time to pose arguments, or when they genuinely want to know more. Well, I assume this is how Jews feel about me, and us, the non-Jewish pro-Israel people. They appreciate all that we do (and boy, they really do!), they will support us throughout our journeys, they will argue with us, they will guide us, and they will also listen to us. But what they won’t do and shouldn’t do is letting us treat them as kids who need parenting. What they won’t do and shouldn’t do is letting us pretend that we grew above them.
So I, for one, won’t tip-toe around Jews because I am a non-Jew, but I will always try to stay within my set boundaries, because seriously: what do I know?
Virag is a digital communications strategist and personal branding consultant, who is helping individuals and brand owners building a successful online media presence that is authentic, sustainable, and recognizable. She is also a loud pro-Israel advocate, the founder of Almost Jewish, a pro-Israel movement that aims to change the stereotypes about Israel and the Jewish people one day at a time. Currently a Judaism graduate student at Touro College in Manhattan.