It does not matter whether or not you know who Aaron Finkelkraut is, his name tells you what he is, even more so than my own. A passionate left-wing radical in his youth, Finkelkraut one day, in his later years [let's say middle-age so we can have a point of reference in his life] looked at himself and laughed as he recognized how falsely idealistic, how naive, how sentimental, how romantic he had been during his revolutionary days, as he used to call that period of his life when he practiced with fervor and devotion what was then known as Self-Lobotomism.
It is that day, that day of derisive self-recognition, after he stopped laughing, and then burst into tears, that Finkelkraut wondered if he was an authentic or an inauthentic Jew, suddenly remembering the distinction Jean-Paul Sartre once made, a his little [not so kosher] book entitled La Question Juive, between authenticity and inauthenticity, a book which Finkelkraut, when he was younger and easily seduced by intellectual flamboyance, read with great interest and admiration, as he then considered himself a faithful Existentialist, before he converted to Self-Lobotomism.
Like Finkelkraut, I was saying, I too have been wondering lately if I am an authentic or inauthentic Jew. And like Finkelkraut, whom I have never met, but with whom I feel a strong brotherly osmosis, if I may permit myself the misuse of this term, I too reached the conclusion that I am merely an imaginary Jew.
Like Finkelkraut, I often feel the lack of authentic Jewishness in me, I feel it like an absence, and I regret that my parents, who I assume were authentic Jews [authentic Jews know Yiddish, and my parents often spoke that language that seemed so mysterious to me. Yes, my parents had that linguistic knowledge, among all the other knowledge Jews carry with them in their wandering], I often regret that my parents did not pass on to me [biologically and intellectually] this authenticity.
However, I do not feel inauthentic either since I have no fear of proclaiming my Jewishness, no fear of making my presence felt as a Jew wherever I go. It is in this sense that I share with Finkelkraut the notion that the two of us are neither authentic nor inauthentic Jews, but imaginary Jews.
Still, the question remains, a question wrapped in anguish, bitterness, frustration, humiliation: Can a Jew really be an imaginary Jew? Can one spend one's entire existence in an imaginary condition, in the no man's land of un-knowledge, without ever knowing true authenticity or true inauthenticity?
Of course, I am not ready to plunge into Talmudic Studies [as many disillusioned left-wing radical Jews have done when they confronted their Jewish inauthenticity in the mirror of their guilt], to provide an answer to that question. Nor am I ready to lie on the couch of some over-payed shrink in disgrace in order to let him hear, let him see the lack, the emptiness, the hole inside of me.
Perhaps the only solution to that question is to formulate not an answer, but another question that will cancel the original question. The new question is: Can an imaginary Jew ever become an authentic Jew?
I don't know how Aaron Finkelkraut would answer that question, but in my case it can only be answered with yet another question: How can one make a distinction between what one is, and what one imagines one is?