November 15, 2023

Why I Am No Longer a Jew

By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

[Dear Friends.  I had inadvertently omitted a passage toward the end of my blog about Israel yesterday.  So here is the complete version.  If you already read the blog, all you have to do is scroll down to the last few paragraphs to see the addition. If you haven’t read the blog, it is now complete, so you can read it straight through to the end. My apologies for my oversight.]

I am Jewish and according to what I have been told, am descended from a long line of Lithuanian rabbis.  However, in my family, my mother and all her siblings rejected Judaism, and some of them were outright atheists.  One of these was my Uncle Bill, and it was from him that I received my first lessons and indoctrination into the world of freethinkers and radical politics.  So I never had any religious training, never had a bar mitzvah, and, indeed, hardly knew any Jews outside my own family until I got to graduate school at the University of Minnesota.

Still, although I had an aversion to Jewish orthodoxy and was completely secular in my approach to Judaism, I was always proud to be a Jew.  I loved Jewish comics growing up, Woody Allen films, lox and bagels, and always felt comfortable with Jews.  They were, after all, “my people.”  Indeed, several of my wives were Jewish.  I even spent a couple of years in my late sixties reading a great deal of Jewish history. That deep immersion into Jewish history, which of course included many accounts of the Holocaust, just served to reinforce my sense of Jewish identity.  

Nevertheless, some years ago, when I was in my early seventies, quite by chance, I became aware of how badly Israeli Jews were treating Palestinians.  Actually, I had been aware of this, but had never felt drawn to learn more. Once I did, I determined to travel to Israel and the West Bank to see things for myself.  Doing so changed my life and my feelings about being Jewish, as I will recount in what follows.

Those of you who read my recently reposted blog about Israel I wrote last year will know I have become very critical of Israel, particularly in regard to its treatment of Palestinians.  Here, I want to tell you what has led me, within the past few days, to make a radical rupture in my life.  I now mean to disavow my Jewish heritage and identity.  Here’s why.

In 2008, I traveled with then girlfriend, Anna, with a peace delegation to Israel and the West Bank. We were there for two weeks.  For a good part of our time there, Anna and I traveled throughout the West Bank and were able to stay with or otherwise talk to many Palestinians.

Although we had seen any number of documentaries about life in Palestine and read several books on the occupation before leaving on our trip, nothing could have prepared us for what we were able to witness with our own eyes and learn from talking to Palestinians.

We saw mounds of rubble and destruction everywhere.  We saw many signs saying, in both English and Arabic (as we were told), “Death to the Arabs.” We saw how they were treated roughly and humiliated by young Israeli solders manning the innumerable checkpoints, as we walked through the tunnels and turnstiles with them.  We saw the conditions under which they were living, their lack of water and other necessities, the roads they were forced to take, the roads they were forbidden to use. 

We saw many things that opened our eyes to the myriad ways in which Israel was determined to make life as miserable as possible for Palestinians and to encourage or compel them to leave the country.  Israeli soldiers and vicious, hateful “settlers,” illegally occupying Palestinian lands, would routinely cut down their olive trees, harass or beat Palestinians, and confiscate their lands.

Anna and I were shocked, dismayed, disheartened and appalled.  We kept asking ourselves, “How could Jews, of all people, act like this?”

In Israel and the West Bank, we met any number of “good” Israelis – peace activists who were also strongly opposed to the horrors or the occupation, and who were doing their best to curb the worst of its egregious abuses. 

We learned so much from them.  But Anna and I were also struck by the kindness and generosity of the Palestinians we met who opened their houses and hearts to us, who treated us with such courtesy and warmth, when they had so little to spare (including their precious water). Yet, they could not have made us feel more welcomed. We learned a lot from hearing their stories, too.

We visited them in some of the main towns in the West Bank to see how they processed their olive oils, we visited their theaters and cafes, we saw how they lived and also the deprivations under which they suffered.  Here’s a photo of me talking to a couple of Palestinian kids (that’s Anna to my right) in Jenin.

While we were there, we also met with a number of Palestinian professional people, including journalists and writers.  I became fast friends with one of them, Ghassan Abdullah, and after I got back home, we collaborated on a book about the lives of contemporary Palestinians, some of whom I had met on our travels.  The book, which we called Letters from Palestine, was published in 2010.  Afterward, Anna, especially, became an ardent activist for Palestinian rights, and together we sponsored and helped to support a deaf Gazan girl.  (Many Palestinian children in Gaza have suffered extreme hearing loss or deafness because of the constant noise from drones and jets flying overhead, day after day, even when Gaza isn’t being attacked.)

We were not allowed into Gaza while we were there, though I came to know many Gazans through the email messages they were able to send to me in connection with the book I co-edited with Ghassan.  Most of these Gazans, mainly young people, were soon to suffer grievously when Israel launched one of its periodic assaults on Gaza.  The school of one very bright Gazan engineering student was destroyed, preventing him from completing his education.  Others suffered the destruction of their homes.  Some, I’m afraid, were killed since I never heard from them again.  Many of their stories, written while they were being attacked, are featured in the last portion of our book.

Which brings me, finally, to the unconscionable obscenity of what Israel is now doing to the long-suffering inhabitants of Gaza, who continue to be penned into their tiny enclave where they live, if they manage to survive this heinous onslaught, like prisoners in an open-air prison, with nowhere to go and no sense of what kind of future they will have.  The lucky ones will be killed.  Those who survive, whether wounded or not, will be traumatized for life.

You’ve seen the photos and videos. You’ve seen what has been happening at the hospitals. The lack of food, water, fuel and shelter, and so on.  The relentless bombing day after day.

As terrible as what Hamas did to the citizens of Israel (and I hate Hamas, too), who have also suffered horribly and who still wait, with fear in their hearts, for the release of their hostages, hoping they are somehow still alive, nothing can justify the continuing barbaric assault on Gaza, effectively making the innocent Gazans, most of whom do NOT support Hamas, the victims of collective punishment, which is itself a war crime.

As a result of Israel’s actions, there has been a steep rise in anti-Semitism throughout much of the Western world.  And in the United States, as of the other day, there had been close to a 400% increase in anti-Semitism since Oct 7th.  It is the action of Israel that is making the lives of Jews throughout the world at risk now.  It has never been safe to be a Jew, the perennial, often despised, outsider. Now, they are less safe and secure than they have been for many years.  Who knows how much worse their situation will become in the years to come.

I personally am not afraid, but given all that I’ve written and all that I have witnessed, I am now – because of Israel – ashamed to be a Jew. 

Do you remember when, a few years ago, the great scandal of the modern Catholic Church erupted with the disclosure that so many Catholic priests had actually been pedophiles, and that the Church hierarchy had done all it could to conceal this terrible, devastating discovery? At that time, many Catholics, appalled by what they had learned, left the Church in disgust.

The same thing has been true for me because of Israel’s reprehensible and heartless slaughter of so many innocents in Gaza.  So I feel compelled, as an act of protest, to renounce my heritage and identity as a Jew.  There are many Jews I still love, of course, and always will.  But I no longer wish to be one.


  1. Right on; what Israel is doing is approaching a war crime. Rudy G

  2. I'm glad you wrote this blog, Ken. I believe words are stronger than bombs - in the big picture and in the long term - even if the terrible news seems to say otherwise. Sadly, the war crimes of the IDF and Netanyahu will fuel hatred against Israël (and the Jews) for generations to come.

  3. Ken, I've been meaning to write you since I read your last piece as the slaughter of Palestinians first began. I have never been so angry in my entire life, but I have been educating myself on the history of Israeli barbarism, reading Finkelstein, Chomsky, and countless others on the mass murder of thousands of women. children, and other innocent civilians. From admiration I have shifted to loathing Biden who is destroying his chances of re-election, and thus turning the country over to a psychopathic imbecile, Trump. Love from your old and steadfast friend, Michael G.

  4. I strongly suggest you check out Universalism. The book is free. You might really like it. I am strongly influenced by the work of Kevin Williams.

  5. Brian Anthony KraemerNovember 15, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    What a crazy world we live in! Six words of your piece stood out louder than any others to me, "The lucky ones will be killed." I've always wondered how inspired the writer of Ecclesiastes when he says, "...the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth." The older I get (I'm sixty now), the more I believe these words to be true. Life has certainly been an adventure, mostly filled with beauty and good health and pleasure, but I'm fairly confident that my very last words will be, "I'm glad it's over." I don't mean to be ungrateful. I just know that I can imagine a much better reality than the one I've lived and am living.

    If the near-death experiencers teach anything, it is that life transcends these earthly meat sacks we call our bodies and the entire drama is somewhat of a simulation. Many NDEers say, "I felt as if I was waking up from a dream and finally understood reality." I am an arrogant fool to even comment on such a nightmare of a reality for others while I live in abundance, heat, food, clothing, entertainment. There is no stopping an arrogant fool and thus I continue.

    We in the United States better take the violence we see in Ukraine and Palestine/Israel seriously the potential for violence is already here in our midst as every day there is another mass shooting involving assault weapons in the hands of wolves and mountain lions and alligators. We call them humans, but they are as much an animal species as any other, but armed to destroy. Two grown men in a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday were ready to physically attack each other and Bernie Sanders is pounding his gavel trying to get these two animals to calm down.

    At the same time, violence is crouching at the door, I see a spiritual hunger growing in people of all ages, but especially our young people. I see conversations about near-death experiences and telepathy and clairvoyance and mediums and life forms beyond our planet being discussed routinely in my circles. There are hundreds of videos on NDEs available on YouTube and people who were never interested are watching these testimonials. I believe that there are higher levels of consciousness in the universe and these higher levels are interested, not just interested but committed, to helping us fledgling humans to not only not destroy ourselves, but to become something more: more loving, more kind, more inclusive, more embracing, more...

    Ken, thank you again for another thoughtful commentary and providing us a space to respond and learn from each other. I'm glad to know you and I'm grateful that we are in this together. Love you!

    1. Ken, thank you for sharing. My experiences as a childhood polio survivor took me out of my body and taught me there is a place beyond this life for which religion is not the key for entry.

      “There is clearly a lot of dirty bath water surrounding the reality of God. Holy wars. Inquisitions. Animal sacrifice. Human sacrifice. Superstition. Stultification. Dogmatism. Ignorance. Hypocrisy. Self-righteousness. Rigidity. Cruelty. Book-burning. Witch-burning. Inhibition. Fear. Conformity. Morbid guilt. Insanity. The list is almost endless. But is all this what God has done to humans or what humans have done to God?”
      ― M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

      Susan L. Schoenbeck, MSN, RN

  6. Dear Kenneth, I'm a french woman. I wrote many years ago a newspaper report about you (INRESS magazine by Stéphane Alix) . I remember what you told then about Israel and Palestine. I'm not jewish but I've already been very touched by what happened to the jews during the war since I was young. I went many years to Poland, I learnt polish. I went to Warsaw, to Auschwitz and so on. I have the feeling of having been Jewish in another life. I cannot explain more. However I feel the same way you do: an immense and deep injustice towards the Palestinian people for so many years with complete impunity. And I'm revolted and disguted by the global and worldwide Omerta about what 's happening right now. We won't be able to say that we didn't know. 30 000 palestinians have died since October. Everybody know that and so few people to defend them in public opinion, among the politicians and especially in the french media (even satirical newspaper "Le Canard enchaîné" doesn't bring up the subject). It's why I'm so gratful about what you wrote. (I would have liked to read your book "Letters from Palestine" - what a pity it's not translated into french). Thanks a lot for your words. I feel less alone. Cécile

    1. In a way I too could add that I am no longer a Jew either...

    2. Chère Cécile

      Ne pouvant pas vous répondre directement, j'ai demandé à mon websmaster, Kevin Wiliams, de répondre à ma place. J'espère que vous recevrez ce message. Je veux juste vous remercier beaucoup pour ce que vous avez écrit sur la situation à Gaza. Oui, c’est tellement horrible et effrayant – aucun mot ne suffit. Mais il y a de nombreuses manifestations pro-palestiniennes à travers le monde et de nombreuses personnes sont très en colère et consternées par les actions d'Israël. J'aimerais pouvoir vous envoyer mon livre o Palestine, mais comme vous le savez, il n'est pas disponible en français. Cependant, il se vend toujours ici. Si vous souhaitez répondre, écrivez à mon webmaster qui vous donnera son adresse ici :

      Il se fera un plaisir de me transmettre vos messages. Je suis contente que tu ne te sentes pas si seul maintenant. Et merci beaucoup d'avoir écrit. Je suis également heureux que vous appréciiez le blog sur mon fils, David. Tous mes meilleurs vœux, Ken