By Mark Nagurka
Thank you for inviting me, a Jewish engineering professor at a Catholic Jesuit University, to share my thoughts on "Faith" as a member of our Marquette community.
My standing here before you is almost a miracle. Over 3,600 years ago (1671 BCE) Abraham, my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, the first Jew, my grandfather's namesake, entered into a covenant with G-d. Over 3,300 years ago Moses, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt, my namesake in Hebrew, received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
I stand before you as a link to Abraham and to Moses and to those monumental events. Given that so much of history tried to eliminate my ancestors, links to those events, I am living proof of Jewish faith. My parents were one link closer, my grandparents a link even closer. In contrast to the Darwinian view that children are an updated model of the previous generation (as evolution improves on itself) I was raised with the consciousness that my grandparents were two generations closer to those Divine events. We respect the elderly, for they were closer to those miracles.
My parents instilled in me deep respect for our tradition, that Judaism is my most valuable possessions, that to live a righteous life is the greatest blessing, and that we are divinely directed to make the world a better place, by seeking justice, being righteous, helping others and studying Torah. We aspire to make the world a better place, to bring us back to the Garden of Eden. This is our mission, in a world that doesn't much like us - to say it mildly.
Given our treatment in history, that I am alive is utterly amazing. The world may kill a Jew, the messenger, but it cannot kill the message.
Even as we speak, people are working to destroy us. Hatred of Israel is most often, just a cover for anti-Semitism. Are the recent political events of the Middle East a local political problem? Listen and you will hear. This religious war blatantly shouts "Kill the Jews."
Jews are attacked, not just in Israel, but in England and France and Germany. Synagogues are destroyed, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated in England and France and Germany. Closer to home we have had problems locally in Milwaukee. I have no delusions. We have enemies. Yet the world passively watches events with an established armchair apathy.
"A Jew without hope is not a Jew." That, too, is faith, that all will work out in the end. That we will not be destroyed, that we will continue praying to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, continue following G-d's commandments, and continue working to improve our world.
Given all the media attention focused on us, people assume there are hundreds of million of Jews in the world today. We are actually less than one-quarter of one percent of the world population. Milton Himmelfarb once quipped, "The Jews are less in number than a small statistical error in the Chinese national census, yet the world is fixated on everything they say and do."
We are small in number, but not in contribution. We provided the world with the bedrock of civilization. We gave the world the idea of one G-d.
The Torah teaches the concept that all men are created equal in G-d's image. Today it is called democracy. The idea of a brotherhood of nations and peace was first mooted in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Now it goes by the name United Nations. 'Love one's fellow man as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18) was restyled into the Golden Rule. Life must be dedicated to the pursuit of justice, goodness, and ethics, so Judaism says. Today it is known as secular humanism.
Mark Twain wrote (Concerning the Jews): "If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, [and] has always been heard of. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, and then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
Writing in the NYT Book Review, historian Gary Wills considers various explanations for the anomaly of Jewish history. Was it good genes, he asks? Was it moral sensitivity, social solidarity, or ancestral loyalties? Was it self-fulfilling prophecy? All explanations, he concludes, are inadequate, save one: "Something very strange did indeed happen to the Jews in history. It was G-d."
Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University, Mark Nagurka, Ph.D. (MIT) resides in Glendale, Wisconsin, while his heart and soul are in Jerusalem.