Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Anu Ameycha

Posted on: October 11, 2022

As the sun begins to set on Yom Kippur, we sing the hymn,  Anu ameycha, ‘We are your people,’ to a melody which brings tears to the eyes of many in the congregation, weary now, anticipating the end of the fast, welcoming every opportunity to sit down rather than stand.

While the debate seems to go on for ever as to whether Jews are a race, a religion, an ethnicity or a nation, the word people is well supported by biblical and liturgical terminology.

In Tanakh, the name Jews is found in the book of Esther, written no earlier than the period of Achaemenid Persian rule and no later than the time of the Hasmoneans. The name Yehudah elsewhere in the bible refers to Judah the son of Jacob, or the tribe of Judah or the Yehudim, who dwelt in the territory of Judah, and are called Judahites rather than Jews.

עם, am, is the Hebrew word for people, cognate with the Arabic ummah. It occurs about five times as often in the Hebrew bible as גוי, goy, which means nation, a term also applied to the Israelites as well as other nations.

I happened to be at a shiva last night, a prayer service for a friend whose funeral had just taken place. I noticed the recurrence of the words am, amcha and ameycha – people and your people, inflected. I have never seen the expression ‘goyeycha,’ ‘your nation’. Goy is translated in the Latin vulgate as gens.

…et vos eritis mihi regnum sacerdotale et gens sancta

And you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:6

Moses  speaks to God on Sinai:

וּרְאֵ֕ה כִּ֥י עַמְּךָ֖ הַגּ֥וֹי הַזֶּֽה׃

Consider, too, that this nation is Your people.

Exodus 33:13

respice populum tuum gentem hanc.

The Greek Septuagint translates am/people as laos and goy/nation as ethnos. Laos can mean a military force as well as a people.

καὶ ἵνα γνῶ ὅτι λαός σου τὸ ἔθνος τὸ μέγα τοῦτο.

Consider too that this great nation is your people.

In fairly recent times, and in the milieu of social media, it is a daily occurrence to encounter a hostile questioning of Jewish identity. Most common is the hypothesis that Jews from Europe – the Ashkenazim – are not semitic but of a European or Turkic identity: the Khazars. This was suggested in the twentieth century by Arthur Koestler and developed frequently since by those who wish to deny a Jewish connection with Israel. The theory takes as its source the Kuzari of Judah Halevi, who wrote in the twelfth century of the conversion to Judaism of the Khazarian king and his court. When the Khazar hypothesis is put to antisemitic use, it is asserted that Jews are not Jews and therefore have no claim to Israelite history; indeed, it is said that the true Jews are the Palestinians or, as argued by Mr Farrakhan:

You are not real Jews, those of you that are not real Jews. You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell.

A Facebook group called PAIS, Palestinian and Irish Solidarity, defines its ethos thus:

PAIS is the Gaelic for the Passion, the suffering and persecution of the Palestinian carpenter Jesus. The religious element is not important here, but the location of the pain and suffering is. The suffering of the woodcarver from Nazareth has a strong association with the suffering of all Palestinian people.

The violent anti Israel posts of the PAIS group were almost invariably hostile to Jews and the group was much reported for hate speech. Eventually it became a private group on Facebook, visible only to established members. I have written about it here.

Ashkenaz in the bible is one of the territories inhabited by the descendants of Japheth and was the western extremity of the known world. In the Second World War, Jews living and dying under the Third Reich,  sometimes used the name Ashkenaz as a coded term for Germany, much as, in Rabbinic times, Rome was alluded to as Edom.

I often wonder if those who insist that Ashkenazi Jews are not Jewish recognize the Jewishness of Sephardim, Mizachim and Beta Israel. Do they recognize the Jewishness of those murdered for being Jews by the Nazis? I have seen the Shoah described as white on white hostility, a fearfully counter-intuitive description.

From the bible and the liturgy, we are accustomed to the name the children of Israel, Bnei Israel, literally the descendants of Jacob, who was renamed Israel by his divine wrestling partner. In the Mishnah and the Talmud, the name Israel designates the people, whether in the Land of Israel or the diaspora.

כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעלם הבא
All Israel have a share in the World to Come

Pirkei Avot

This saying is the header for all six chapters of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, the most philosophical and moralistic tractate of the Mishnah.

In France, Israelite is the word commonly used for a Jewish person while in Italy, the usual term is Ebreo, Hebrew. We know that in German the word is Jude and in North and East Europe, there are similar words, all cognate with Yehudim: Polish Zyd and Dutch Jood.

What are we to say to those who strive officiously to tell us who and what we are?

I am not one of the people who deny the Palestinian identity of Arabs from Israel and the territories. The name Palestinian during the British Mandate tended to refer to Jews born in the Holy Land and now obviously has acquired a different meaning, indicating a different identity and culture, the people who speak Arabic but associate themselves with the land, just as we do, the same land, a different claim, often a rival claim.

To say that a non-practising Jew is not Jewish is a misunderstanding, a common misunderstanding by those who have no acquaintance with Jewish environments. My own early environment was Anglo-Jewish, where the elders spoke Yiddish because they had come from Russia and Poland. They gave us British sounding names: Gillian, Howard, Angela, Melvyn. My Hebrew name, Gila, is a name I took for myself and, with the patronymic, it appears on Hebrew documents as Gila Bat Yaacov. During my childhood and long after, my parents were secular; less so in their old age, but the etz chayyim, the tree of life, had been planted among us in antiquity.

Our names are the names we call ourselves.

The Israeli poet Zelda Mishkovsky (1914 – 1984) wrote this poem, Each of us has a name, called in the original Hebrew Lecol ish yesh shem.

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

לכל איש יש שם

כָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ אֱלֹהִים וְנָתְנוּ לוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָּתְנוּ לוֹ קוֹמָתוֹ וְאֹפֶן חִיּוּכוֹ וְנָתַן לוֹ הָאָרִיג,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָתְנוּ לוֹ הֶהָרִים וְנָתְנוּ לוֹ כְּתָלָיו,
לכל איש יש שם שנתנו לו המזלות ונתנו לו שכניו,


לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָתְנוּ לוֹ חֲטָאָיו וְנָתְנָה לוֹ כְּמִיהָתוֹ,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָתְנוּ לו שׂונְאָיו וְנָתְנָה לוֹ אַהֲבָתוֹ,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָתְנוּ לוֹ חַגָּיו וְנָתְנָה לוֹ מְלַאכְתוֹ,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָתְנוּ לוֹ תְּקוּפוֹת הַשָּׁנָה וְנָתַן לוֹ עִוְרוֹנוֹ,
לְכָל אִישׁ יֵשׁ שֵׁם שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ הַיָּם וְנָתַן לוֹ מוֹתוֹ.

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1 Response to "Anu Ameycha"

That’s a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing. On a different note, as far as I’m concerned, the idea that PAIS is using Jesus as an excuse for their antisemitism is the ultimate insult to Jewish people. And who has the right, to decide whether someone is “truly” Jewish or not? Again, quite insulting.

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  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you for reading it Keith. As always, I value your opinion.
  • keithmarr: Gillian Thorough research as always. I always keep these posts and hit any challenge between the eyes. They represent a real armoury of evidence. Bl
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: I can never make up my mind whether it should be illegal and tend to think it shouldn't be. On the other hand, social media could do more to stop it p
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