How I Stopped Being a Jew by Shlomo Sand

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

This book by Shlomo Sand was first published in 2013 and translated into English in 2014. It has now been republished in 2023. Unfortunately, there has been no real explanation as to why this has happened. Even so, Sand touches on a very important topic that affects not only him but others around the world.

Sand has found himself in a dilemma. Born into a non-practising Jewish household he found, as he reached adulthood, that he could not escape being classed or described as a Jew even though he was a believing atheist and therefore did not keep or observe any religious holidays. Sand is not alone in this dilemma. There are many around the world who are described as being Jewish rather than being French or Australian even though they want nothing to do with the Jewish faith but prefer to live a secular lifestyle.

Sand’s exploration is this slim volume looks then at the meaning of identity. While he would like to be described as an Israeli because he lives, works and is a citizen of that country, he finds that the government of Israel prefers to divide its citizens into two classes – Jews and non-Jews. These designations of its citizens not only divide the nation but also give the government of the day the ability to control who will be allowed to buy land or whom they can marry.

Rather than being able to choose his identity as a secular person who lives and works in Israel, Sand has had to live with the realization that his identity has been chosen by others because of his birth rather than recognising the person he has become. Though he is free, like many in Israel in the same situation, to live his life as he wants to but he has to cope with being described by the State as a Jew which, of course, he would like to reject and escape from.

This raises a question or two about the meaning of identity. Who chooses it, the person or outside influences? Are we free to identify ourselves in a way that authentically describes us? In Australia as in many parts of the world people can choose whom they wish to be seen and regarded as. This includes being able to change designations on various official documents including birth certificates and passports. It may come as a shock to some that there are people like Shlomo Sand who cannot do this but would like to.

Republishing How I Stopped Being A Jew reminds us of the importance identity has in defining who we are. Though Sand comes across as very opiniated, he shows that while he can change some things in his life there are other elements that cannot change or be changed. While he stops being a Jew in one way the fact that he is constantly designated as being one is something, he admits, he will never escape.

Shlomo Sand currently teaches contemporary history at the University of Tel Aviv. His books include The Invention of the Jewish People, On the Nation and the Jewish People, The Invention of the Land of Israel and The Twilight of History.

How I Stopped Being a Jew

by Shlomo Sand

English Translation by David Fernbach



ISBN 978 178478 200 9

$19.99; 102pp

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