Years ago, on a flight to Louisville, Ky., the woman seated next to me asked what brought me from Los Angeles to Louisville.
"I will be giving a lecture," I responded.
"To whom?" the personable middle-aged woman asked.
"To the Jewish community," I responded.
She then proceeded to engage me in a discussion about Jews, and it became apparent that she believed Jews wielded great influence in society. So I decided to ask her a question:
"There are almost 300 million Americans. How many of them do you think are Jews?"
"Fifty million," she replied.
When I told her there are 6 million Jews in America, she thought for a moment and said, "Hum . . . they must all live in Kentucky."
Love them or hate them, respect them or loathe them -- and most people have at least one of these reactions -- of all the world's groups, none receives as much attention, including hatred, as the Jews. And this has been true for thousands of years.
Yet, for all their fame and notoriety, Jews are little understood. In fact, it may be said that those who do not understand Jews fall into two groups: non-Jews and Jews.
So, after a lifetime immersed in Jewish life -- an involvement that includes nearly every aspect of Jewish life from the religious (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) to the secular (Jewish federations, Israel and Soviet Jewry activism) -- and after 25 years of speaking to people of all backgrounds on the radio and in lectures, I feel ready to attempt the daunting but significant task of explaining Jews.
With this first column of the year, I inaugurate a series of columns titled "Explaining Jews." Last year, 25 of my 50 weekly columns were devoted to "The Case for Judeo-Christian Values," and I came to realize the significance of exploring one topic in depth alongside columns on the immediate issues of the day.
Subjects to be addressed will include:
Why are Jews overwhelmingly to the left of center?
Are Jews a nation, a religion, a race, an ethnicity?
Why have Jews been so hated?
What is Zionism? Is anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism?
Are any stereotypes about Jews true?
Why are most Jews irreligious? And how can there be a secular Jew when there is no such thing as a secular Christian?
Why do Jews oppose intermarriage?
Does Judaism believe in an afterlife?
Why don't Jews seek converts?
Is the doctrine of "Chosen People" racist?
How do Jews view Christians?
Do Jews control Hollywood?