A while ago I’ve read a post by a well-known physicist. With the bluntness of a scientist, he asked the title question. What made this post memorable was how it ended. “My grand-grand-father was an observant Jew... My grandfather... My father... I am completely secular... Who am I?” An abstract question (“where anti-Semitism is from?”) had been reduced to the essential one (“who am I?”).
Who am I? I know who I am. I am the tip of a spreading cone. First it is my children, and then it will be my grandchildren, and so forth. My great ancestor died 200 years ago. By official count, he has 6,000 descendants; my own minor line did not even make it into this list; the true number of his descendants must be staggering.This spreading cone intersects with many other such cones; each one of us can potentially become the ancestor of the entire people.
This is what makes assimilation such a ghastly business. The first few generations still feel Jewish, and I am not to belittle this affinity; had it not been genuine, there wouldn’t be tragedy. Time flows. The feeling recedes in every generation. Children intermarry, memories fade. The connection gradually weakens; then it disappears. Two hundred years later it will be thousands of descendants.
How many anti-Semites will be among these descendants? Optimistically, it would be a few percent. That’s a lot of anti-Semites. And that’s just the beginning.