My first published short story, "Silent Saint", is about a Jewish superhero, inspired by the tzaddikim, the silent saints who support the world. The idea of the tzaddikim echoes many of the ideas of the bodhisattva: "The judge is urged, “Tzedek, tzedek you shall pursue!” Meaning: that which was wronged should be righted, that which was stolen should be returned to its owner, the innocent should not suffer, and those who have caused harm shall be corrected so that they will return to doing good. Tzedek is making everything the way it should be".
The Jewish people and Jewish culture produced Spinoza, Maimonides, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Buber, Derrida, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Born and Feynman. The worlds of philosophy, science and art would be palpably less rich without Jewish culture.
Moreover, Jews have enriched my life in ways that are immeasurable. Siegel and Shuster created Superman; Lee and Kirby created Marvel's universe (and, thanks to Kirby's later work at DC, much of their universe as well). We've had stories of men and gods, gamma-irradiated monsters and masters of technology, devils and healers, thanks to Lee and Kirby. Without them, we wouldn't have Days of Future Past, one of my favorite films; or Watchmen; or Power Rangers and the entire sentai genre derived from Spiderman; or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Tens of millions of adults today would have fewer role models and fewer stories to tell without the way that these men pioneered an entire genre. And while it's easy to dismiss comics as pulp nonsense, they're in fact modern mythology, and they're a way for us to tell stories of heroism that get everyone on the globe working together.
Now, are there things to be critical about, in either Judaism or among all people who are Jewish? Absolutely.
Israel's politics are unpleasant. The fact that they are explicitly an ethnic state is quite ugly and ironically evokes some of the worst of European history. Their treatment of Palestinians has been deplorable. But no group, no culture or nation, is free from having ugly parts of their past. We're a species that creates as well as destroys, wages war as well as peace. That doesn't make Jews in general bad: it makes some leaders bad and it saddles the people of Israel with a great culpability. Similarly, Jews abroad can do a lot of good if they speak out, and those (like those at AIPAC) who do not contribute to a world where violence, torture and brutal treatment is accepted. Some Jewish organizations make my efforts to raise consciousness, give people hope and spread peace and tolerance harder: the ADL, and other organizations like it, has so often used anti-Semitism as a brush to tar those critical of the state of Israel, that it gives credence to those who claim that all claims of racism or sexism or homophobia are just cynical realpolitik.
Similarly, there's a lot of ugly stuff in the Torah and the Talmud. The treatment of women is pretty deplorable; homophobic passages in the Old Testament continue to be evoked today to hurt people; and there's a lot of defense of tyranny, monarchy, genocide and conquest.
But, again, that's like all religions, all ideologies and all peoples: a mix of good and bad. There's incredibly beautiful ideas in the Jewish tradition. The kabbalah is a beautiful celebration of the fundamentally pure, divine nature of humanity, a welcome corrective to the excesses of the original sin narrative.
Ultimately, though, I find myself defending Jews a lot, because they are used as an all-purpose boogeyman by awful, awful people. Neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, white supremacists and others like to pretend that all the bad behavior of white-majority societies is just the Jewish conspiracy. It lets them think that there's nothing really that wrong with imperialism, or statism, or capitalism: It'd be okay if it was just true Europeans in charge!
As I point out to those people: If they're right that Jews are secretly in charge, then Jews are the best people ever. They endured a Holocaust. They endured Kristallnacht. They endured blood libel, pogroms, ghettos, and anti-Semitic myths of all types. And yet Germany isn't a crater. If Nazis were honest, they'd have to admit that Jews are cool dudes who want to trade, make money and enrich everyone.
My debate coach was of Jewish descent. He was a civil rights attorney, making very little money working for an NGO, and then spent a lot of time volunteering to enrich multiple schools by helping their speech and forensics programs work. He helped me direct my energy, learn about politics, and get into college by doing so. I've met dozens of Jewish people in my life. They were very different people, but they were as good as anyone else I've met, as basically decent. Sure, I've met Jews who were horrible racists; but I've met black racists, white racists, French racists, American racists... Bigotry, fear and prejudice regrettably knows no nation or creed.
So, yes, I respect Jews as much as I respect any other human being. I respect the tenacity of a small group that has survived so much and has enriched so much as a result. I respect a group that loved learning so much that they produced Nobel laureates. Most importantly, I respect any human being who does not give me cause to disrespect them.