No, we Jews aren’t about to go the way of the dodo bird. We’re not going extinct anytime soon. But almost all Jews agree there is a problem, a serious one. We’re losing Jews. Our synagogues, our Jewish federations, our fraternal organizations like the ADL, AJC and others are hemorrhaging members and their coffers are depleted. What worked in the past doesn’t work anymore. There was a time when Jews were satisfied with joining a synagogue, joining the ADL, giving to federation, giving to Israel. These were once meaningful expressions of Jewish identity.
But Jews have been ‘afflicted’ with success. The American Dream has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Assimilation and acculturation have had an impact too. We are accepted more than ever, alienated less than ever from the society around us. But as we are drawn ever more strongly into secular American society, we are pushed inexorably away from commitments our parents might’ve made. Where once there was no competition for our time and energy because the Jewish community was the be-all and end-all, now our universities, museums, symphony orchestras and professional careers beckon for us. Success may kill American Jewish life. Unless we do something. Something different than what we’ve tried till now.
What should we do? Virtually every Jew has an answer. And they’re all over the place. Naturally, the wealthiest Jews have the loudest voice because they can afford to put their vision into action. So Sheldon Adelson and Michael Steinhardt have invested $80 million in their answer, which is Birthright–the idea that if we only sent our young people to Israel in sufficient numbers and inculcated in them pro-Israel values, that they will come away with a renewed commitment to Jewish identity, including marrying Jewish spouses and having lots of Jewish babies. This is a view that largely replaces Judaism with Israel as the center of Jewish identity. It’s not only a view I reject, I don’t think it’s going to change the dynamic of acculturation.
This was the subject of my synagogue rabbi, Jill Borodin’s Yom Kippur sermon today. She asked what we could do to save Jews and ourselves. But the problem was, that she pitched a very narrow tent. One that only included those Jews she was addressing in shul. She focussed almost solely on how to improve their Jewish lives, how to make them more committed Jews. Except for a fleeting reference, she hardly addressed the millions of American Jews outside that tent, the ones who weren’t in shul listening to their rabbis’ sermons.
The problem with her focus is that it gives her an ever diminishing target. While I don’t deny the importance of making Jewish life better for those already committed. Why confine our efforts only to them? There are indeed many Jewish academics and leaders who believe that the uncommitted or unaffiliated are as good as lost. They say, address the ones you still have. They are and will be the “saving remnant.” But that won’t work. Eventually, they too will be swallowed up in the maw of American success.
We should be bold. Get outside our comfort zone. Do things we’ve never tried before. Even do things that scare us as Jews. More on this later.
What shouldn’t we do? Here are two small examples from Rabbi Borodin’s speech. She began by talking about supposed external threats which American Jews face (over which we don’t have much control). Among them she mentioned:
Iran wants to destroy Israel.
We all know about the horrible anti-Zionism on American campuses.
These are two commonly accepted ideas among affiliated American Jews…and they’re both wrong. First, whatever one may say about Iran’s attitudes toward Israel, the feelings of animosity are returned many fold by Israel toward Iran. Virtually all polls say that Israelis by a wide margin expect their country to attack Iran. Israeli generals and political leaders talk regularly about doing so and about overturning the current Iranian government.
The problem with the common consensus and common wisdom in the organized community is that it sees issues facing Jews in terms of sound bytes. But reality is far more complicated than a simple sound bite of the sort offered by the Rabbi. Things are complicated, not simple. Unaffiliated Jews understand that. And they’re turned off by the nostrums and the simple solutions.
Now, let’s turn to the supposed anti-Zionism running rife on our campuses. Are some of our young people concerned about this problem? Undoubtedly. But they’re the young people whose parents (and not all of them by any means) were sitting in shul today. They’re the kids Rabbi Borodin hears from. I doubt she spends a great deal of time herself on the University of Washington campus. I doubt even the many professors sitting in her audience would agree with her about the danger this phenomenon poses.
If you took a poll of all Jewish students on campus (affiliated and non-affiliated) and asked them what are the issues of most concern to them, what are the things that trouble them most about their campus experience–I doubt anti-Zionism would be very high on the list, if it appeared at all.
But again, the commonly accepted view in the “mainstream” community is that our kids are flooded with anti-Zionist propaganda. These are notions the organized community is fed a constant diet of by pro-Israel advocacy groups like Stand With Us and Aipac. It becomes part of their raison d’être. It proves their relevance.
But is this relevant to most Jewish young people? No. Young Jews, the ones who we don’t necessarily see on the High Holidays may not be able to articulate clearly why they’ve opted out. They may not be able to tell you what their view is of Israeli Occupation or Operation Cast Lead. They may say instead, the issues are too complicated for me. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a visceral feeling about it. That they don’t realize there is something deeply wrong with a community who bets the farm on a narrowly-focussed commitment to an Israel. They may not be able to tell you the Occupation is unjust. But they know there’s something wrong. And they’re simply not going to drive their father’s pro-Israel Oldsmobile just because dad did.
You can’t insult the intelligence of the young unaffiliated Jew by expecting that what motivated their parents will motivate them. It won’t work. You might have been able to scare the older generation with the threats of anti-Semitism and the vulnerability of Israel. That’s because there was genuine anti-Semitism in this country at one time and because one time, decades ago, Israel did face a threat. But what worked once, works no longer. We’re trying to sell these Jews a bill of goods and they’re not buying. And I don’t blame them.
Another example: the San Francisco Jewish federation is holding a Jewish Heroes online poll in which anyone can nominate someone for their important work in the community. A young rabbinic intern nominated the Jewish Voice for Peace’s Cecilie Surasky. She was very popular, in the top ten in terms of votes. One of her rivals was Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman, who I’ve written about here. He’s the one who told Moment Magazine during Cast Lead that Israel was justified in killing Palestinian civilians, including children. He added that he didn’t think democracy was everything it was cracked up to be either. This is a Jewish Hero.
But until yesterday, at least Cecilie and Rabbi Friedman were in competition and Jews could vote for their own respective visions of Jewish heroism. Then someone at the Federation got wind of Cecilie’s nomination and the next thing you know, Cecilie was disappeared. Phht, she was gone. No word about why. No explanation. Just gone. What did she do wrong? Was she not Jewish enough? Not pro-Israel enough? Do our heroes all have to be pro-Israel in the way WE determine it? Or is there room in the community for Jewish heroes who offer an alternative vision?
If there isn’t, that doesn’t mean that a Federation apparatchik pressing the Delete button gets to decide for all Jews who are and are not proper heroes. No more than a Jewish community nowadays can get away with doing what the Amsterdam community did in the 16th century when it put Baruch Spinoza in cherem. We Jews don’t do cherem anymore. Oh yes, sure there are some crazy rabbis who do. They’re the same ones who incited the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by invoking a pulsa di nura against him, which made his killing halachically kosher (in a bizarre sort of way).
But do we really think unaffiliated Jews will be drawn to the ranks of the organized community by such nonsense? Do we really think that making the tent smaller will make Judaism more attractive?
Now, let’s return to my statement above about what prescriptions might work, if the ones outlined above won’t. In a Jewish world in which we increasingly focus inward, our unaffiliated realize the world is facing outward. The world is becoming more and more global. People are more interconnected, whether they want to be or not. What may’ve frightened us (and rightfully so) in the past doesn’t frighten us any longer. Old fights, old enmities arouse less and less interest.
So why shouldn’t Jews interested in reaching out to the unaffiliated try to address some of the thorny issues that have divided us from the rest of the world? Why not reach out to historic enemies and search for common ground? This is what I’ve done in speaking at the Islamophobia conference organized at St. Mark’s Cathedral. It was what I hoped to do with Rabbi Borodin and my synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom and the Muslim Association of the Puget Sound (MAPS) a few years ago, when we planned to twin our institutions. But I believe that Stand With Us members of the congregation persuaded the rabbi to back off her commitment and this exploration never happened.
This is precisely the sort of bold stroke which will arouse interest in our synagogues and draw new people to them. It is the kind of rule-breaking, ground-breaking project that fires up the imagination. In this world, we need to break barriers, not allow them to paralyze us. Hillel said: “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Those Jews who are alienated from the community would be inspired by an outward-looking Judaism.
That doesn’t mean forgetting our traditions, forgetting what makes us unique and special to the world. But it does mean that we can’t stop at this. That we must engage the world. We must engage our old fears. We must engage our old enemies whether they be Muslim or Palestinian. If we don’t, then we risk becoming irrelevant. And if we become irrelevant to our unaffiliated, we do risk disappearing. And if that happens, it will be our own fault.
- For Yom Kippur, Jewish Federation Tries To Muzzle Muzzlewatch (mitchellplitnick.com)
You ultra leftist, we jewish, get out of our synagogues, go into your post mosque
Richard Silverstein says
You’re not going to hijack my religion fr me you Jewish pretty tyrant. Why don’t you go back to Yitzhar where you belong!!
Richard….methinks ‘elie’s’ post underscores your heartfelt statement. this is exactly and precisely why there is much movement AWAY…..since most sane people do not want to be a part of such hostile belligerence in lieu of a humane spiritual journey.
Walter Ballin says
Excellent blog Richard!!! I’m an Agnostic but culturally and ethnically Jewish. I’m a member of the Jewish congregation, the Chico Havurah here in Chico California. While the Chico Havurah doesn’t have an official stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict, most of us are pretty liberal and many oppose the Israeli occupation, the settlements with our government’s unconditional support. We believe in social justice and Tikkun Olam. We attract a lot of Jews and even other people in our community who wouldn’t go to any other synagogue.
You can be jewish and leftist but you can t be ultra leftist and jewish. There is a point where you are not jewish at all. You can t say “i m jew but palestinians are more jews “i m jew but Jérusalem is arab” “i m jew but there is no God other than Marx”… When you put too much water in wine it is no more wine but water. I think than Richard define Judaism with so much water than it is not judaism at all. I tell him that in a provocative way but really i think it is better a little jew than no jew. I m verry happy to see that Richard is a yom kippour jew and i hope he will be more jew in the future.
Richard Silverstein says
I hope you’re reading comprehension of English is greater than your writing ability. Based on the latter, I’m sure you’re capable of judging what I wrote. And I would urge you to post future comments after getting some editing help fr someone who knows English better than you.
I don’t know what “ultra leftist” means except that it’s meant as an insult. And I certainly don’t know where Karl Marx comes in except that it seems to be an implicit claim that I’m a Marxist, which I’m not. So you’ve violated two comment rules. First, you’re veering into off topic territory; and second you’re lying about my views. So consider yrself warned. Future comment violations may result in losing yr privileges. Read the comment rules.
As you are a liberal jew I m a liberal writer of english. As you say free jews of occupation, i say free english of grammar and syntaxis.
Richard Silverstein says
When you know how to speak and write English you may talk of freeing it of grammar & syntax. Till then, I urge you to study the language, learn its rules & communicate better so you can be understood. If I tried to write in French & did it as badly as you do English you’d criticize me as harshly as you do my politics. BTW, being “liberal” doesn’t mean you cancel rules of language or rights or justice. This comment is a marked improvement over yr past ones for which I commend you.
I don’t understand Walter:
You’re agnostic, so why to go to a synagogue ?!
Typical of old lazy rich americans with their community hysteria.
Richard Silverstein says
What a snot. Did they teach you such chauvinism in France. If u knew anything about American geography you’d know that Chico is quite a poor community & Walter is in fact someone of modest means. And totally honorable to boot.
Walter Ballin says
Thank you Richard, I can’t find the comment you replied to. Someone thinks that I’m loaded with money. I wish that were true. 🙂 In fact as you said, there are a lot of poor people living here.
Public opinion polls show that the majority of American Jews oppose the settlements and Israel’s actions, and that they want the U.S. to put more pressure on Israel. Click here http://jstreet.org/new-poll-of-american-jews-views-israel/ AND here http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/09/14/318969/despite-ny-election-most-americans-and-jewish-americans-want-balanced-approach-to-is. I think that more of the Jews who think like us don’t regularly attend synagogue, while in the synagogues one will find more of those Jews who blindly support and won’t criticize Israel.
This is a fascinating blog post Mr. Silverstein. It is fascinating for me because being a first generation Canadian whose parents originated from England, it is very difficult to identify. I do not think of Canadians as “my” people. Nor of the English. No religious affiliation either. What’s so intriguing to me is that it isn’t exactly clear what identity is at risk even as the idea of Jewish identity is discussed as something that risks being overtaken by assimilation. Your examples above illustrate the vast differences amongst the Jewish in terms of identity – ideas and beliefs, gate-keeping, inclusion, exclusion etc.. And yet, there is this wanting to keep “it”, whatever precisely “it” is. This is something I need to understand better. Great post.
Outraged yet again at some insidious lie of the Israeli government and its many defenders in cyberspace, I thought of taking down any memorabilia (and that’s what it is) of my Jewish background and storing it all away: I was so painfully ashamed of what Jews are doing to another people! I apologized to my son for sending him to the Jewish school that preached right wing Israel every day. It turns out that he didn’t fall for any of it!
I haven’t put anything away, the menorah, the prayer books, Tankh. I was once proud of my heritage and my people but I am truly alienated now and cannot envision being more involved in Jewish life rather than less. I don’t push my children in any direction other than the dictates of their own conscience.
Good blog, yet again. I hope you spark useful discussion even if I’m not up to it.
Just because you are Jewish doesn’t make you any less wrong for holding Israel to double standards. How can you expect Israel to change when you alienate them like this? What happens to the most important people on earth, is utterly up to the Israelis, so you can forget about things getting better for them through Israel’s annihilation. Maybe an Israel that didn’t fear its destruction would be more open to compromise, recognition would be nice.As for pushing your children, I’m sure you fill their head with just as much hate for Israel as you have. I swear am I the only liberal Jew who holds Israel to the same standards as everyone else? Is that such a crime? I just want a better world for Palestinians and Israelis, that can’t be achieved by attacking Israel alone, easy as it is to jump on the bandwagon of our leftist brethren.
Richard Silverstein says
That must mean that you give a flying fig for the morals or ethics of any country in the world since you seem to care little for Israel’s.
That’s no true, some of the things Israel does sickens me as a human being and a Jew. I am equally disgusted by the Islamophobia of some of Israels supporters as well as its opponents in Europe. Hate and fear-mongering will get the world nowhere. What i don’t understand is what demonizing Israel alone will accomplish, as you seem to be doing. Do you perhaps believe that it is our duty as Jews to focus so much criticism on our brethren?
Richard Silverstein says
I believe in justice and I believe justice is a JEWISH imperative. So I criticize both sides when they fall short. Israel falls short far more often and has far more capability of inflicting lethal harm on Palestinians than the other way around. So Israeli policy comes in for its fair share of criticism.
When you make yourself out to be better than others – “We’re the only democracy in the Middle East”, “The IDF is the most moral army in the world”, etc. – you should expect to be held to a higher standard and subjected to a greater level of scrutiny. That’s how life goes, dah-ling.
Richard Silverstein says
Don’t give up on Judaism. Don’t give those right wingers the satisfaction. It’s your religion as much as theirs.
Walter Ballin says
In my last comment one of the polls which shows a majority of American Jews supporting more U.S. pressure on Israel, is a J Street poll. It’s unfortunate that J Street by supporting Obama’s planned veto of the UN Security Council resolution for Palestinian recognition and admittance to the UN, is in conflict with the majority of American Jews. J Street claims to be “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” I think that they are more pro-Obama instead.
Walter Ballin says
“Maybe an Israel that didn’t fear its destruction would be more open to compromise.”
Libby, I’m sorry to say but you must have not been keeping up with the news. Palestinian President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are for 2 states. The PA is not for the destruction of Israel. While I don’t think highly of Hamas, even Hamas recognizes an Israel that would exist within the pre-June 1967 borders. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the members of his governing coalition keep on expanding settlements and don’t want to compromise, because they believe that God said that all of Palestine(if not more land) belongs to the Jews. If your god tells you not to compromise or negotiate land or if you believe that is what God is telling you, then you will not do it.
You’re right, I am a bit fuzzy with the news, but you must be rather ignorant if you truly believe that the PA has given up on its goal to obtain all of Israel. Please show me a quote from that government that shows any acceptance of Israel’s existence, the only thing I’ve been able to find were things along these lines http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyhuqthF2UM&feature=player_embedded. And if I remember correctly, most of Israel wants a 2 state solution, just not another militant controlled Gaza, which happened the last time they gave the Palestinians some independence. Hasn’t Israel offered such a solution to the Palestinians multiple times or is that propaganda.
The one time it looked like Israel might be ready to make peace was Oslo and then the true believers and their rabbis murdered Rabin and it’s been stall and pretend-you-want-peace every since.
It is interesting to me that your comments are not very well informed and this allows one to see underlying bias and grunt beliefs driving your discussion. It takes a lot of courage and resolve to question everything one believes and that might be a starting point for you. It was for me.
Question everything one believes? What is wrong will holding Israel to the same standard as other countries? Why must i be biased one way or the other? I’ve given you evidence that Israel wants peace and you’ve yet to give me evidence that Palestine does. Present the evidence, I’m totally an open minded person, I just don’t think that holding one side to a higher standard then the other solves anything. I probably care more about the Palestinians then you do.
Israel IS held to a separate standard by its friends, namely the US. Israel lie to US Presidents, one after another, spy on the US, attack American vessels and kill American servicemen, sell US secrets, control US foreign policy, threaten war, do aggressive war for the purpose of expansion, create “ghettos” for other people in the West Bank and Gaza, deny them basic rights not to mention water and published materials, periodically assault civilians with a modern army, dispossess them of their property (decades of this), steal their property, and settle their land, kill Turks with impunity, violate international boundaries at will….and nothing happens! The US still sends $billions, the world looks the other way, and…nothing happens. Any other country would have a lot of explaining to do: Israel composed of the “most important people” brags about its unique treatment and plans its attack on yet another country. Frankly, I don’t think you are a real interlocutor at all, but some kind of shill for a pro-Israel organization. Israel could never be demonized but for its policies, government, international behavior, bottomless lies, racism, crimes and wanton militarism. These aside, Israel is just another state.
Richard Silverstein says
Thank God you admitted you’re a “bit fuzzy” with the news. You’re a bit fuzzy with the facts as well. The PLO (which runs the PA) accepted a 2 state solution in 1988 and has never diverged from this position. Hamas does not explicitly support a 2 state solution though implicitly it does. Anything other than this is either ignorance or a lie. Just because you can’t find statements online confirming Walter’s view (which is the truth) doesn’t mean you get to state falsehoods here. Read the comment rules. If you insist on continuing to do so your comment privileges may be restricted.
Walter Ballin says
Thank you David. Your comments to Libby say it all, because I don’t have time to argue with ignoramuses and shills for the Israel Lobby.
Pamela Villars says
I agree. Recently, I met with several young adults to plan for some J Street activities. Their burning question? Why aren’t we engaging the entire local community in our events? What we decided to do was plan a Hanukkah event that was open to all – with special invitations to our Muslim community.
We have to respond to the global concerns of our youth or, as you said, we will lose them.
Walter Ballin says
Elie said: “You can be jewish and leftist but you can t be ultra leftist and jewish. There is a point where you are not jewish at all. You can t say “i m jew but palestinians are more jews “i m jew but Jérusalem is arab” “i m jew but there is no God other than Marx”… When you put too much water in wine it is no more wine but water. I think than Richard define Judaism with so much water than it is not judaism at all. I tell him that in a provocative way but really i think it is better a little jew than no jew. I m verry happy to see that Richard is a yom kippour jew and i hope he will be more jew in the future.”
Anyone who is a Jew should know that Jews don’t worship idols. Worshiping or idolizing Israel or a piece of land is a sin. One doesn’t have to worship or idolize Israel to be a Jew and who the heck is Elie to judge people? Now as for myself, I am a Jew but first I am a citizen of the world as I care about all people and not just Jewish people. Second, I am an American as I live in this country. It is to America that my family came to in order to escape Nazi Germany. As a child I was taught to stand up against oppression against ALL people, and oppose oppression by whomever commits it. That doesn’t mean except when Jewish people oppress other people. I am opposed to our tax dollars being given to Israel while Israel constructs settlements and oppresses the Palestinian people. Why don’t those of you who love Israel so much and unconditionally, leave America and move over there? But don’t expect our money.
well said, David….and Walter.
To reiterate – the issue of the “golden calf” of Israel….has replaced any of what I used to believe were humanist values I grew up believing as Jewish/universalist values. That “if I am only for me” & that “never again” was NOT addressed ONLY to Jews, but was expressed to not make a mockery of those who were killed during WW2.
Never again …in my soul includes all/any people under threat of genocide and oppression.
To Walter’s list let us not forget the collusion of Zionist/Stern gang terrorists and other who dealt with Nazis in the Haavera/Transfer agreement to sell Nazi made goods in Palestine during a time of global BOYCOTT against Nazi goods. Trading off thousands of Hungarian peasants for hundreds of wealthy young Hebrew speaking German males to be transferred to Palestine.
The assassinations of men of honor by Zionist terrorists like UN amb Count Folke Bernadotte, Lord Moyne..and others. Those 2 Lehi assassins were eventually buried at Mt Herzl with “honor”.
I’d say that Libby is one more voice of the uninformed propagandized thousands and THAT is why there has been nothing but demonization of Palestinians and all the Arab/Muslim world. I’ve been deprogramming myself reading the often “disappeared” and obscured historic records.
As David stated : it take courage (and commitment) to justice to study /learn the Truth on your own because it cannot come from aipac, j street, adl, or any other organization that make huge incomes thru propaganda/ hasbara & constant “stirring the pot”.
Before any more military aggression, before one more torture, one more imprisonment, one more maiming, one more murder of one more Palestinian or one more “neighbor”…wake up before any more brutality is done in YOUR name, Libby, elie… others.
THIS is not Judaism…this is blasphemy.
Better no religion than this Golden Calf. shenganug.
Walter Ballin says
Right on Miriam and so very well said!!!
When and how did Judaism get conflated with Zionism. For two thousand years, Jews managed without the land or Jerusalem. Not many succumbed to the need for the land and the Temple is all that time. Yet in an historical “instant”, the central identity of a Jew became the land!
Now, you are not a Jew by following the law and studying Torah, or science or letters, but only if you are for the land and the politicians who are for the land, and the state that was formed for the land, taken from others. It is absolute humbug for “elie” or anyone to stand in judgment on what constitutes a Jew and the proper weightings of water and wine to make a Jew. It is self-righteous hocus pocus. It is self-appointed nonsense. Again, I think anyone supporting Israel’s outrageous policies because they are Jewish is wrong and that doing so is not consistent with Judaism. Israel is a particular thing in a particular time and aims at regional hegemony in its own interests entirely and not the interests of Jews worldwide, and clearly not anyone else’s interests. One does not become a Jew by stealing land, oppressing and humiliating others, perpetrating war and living on US handouts. It’s good training for criminal aspirations but not Judaism.
Richard Silverstein says
For 2,000 yrs. they managed without a PHYSICAL land or PHYSICAL Jerusalem, but these things were concepts & values held deep in their hearts, prayers and religious ceremonies. Zionism was an attempt to translate those values which had had no physical embodiment for all that time into reality. As such, it failed on many counts and succeeded on some. We can debate how many successes or failures there were, and how grave were the failures and how positive the successes. But we can’t divorce the concepts of Israel & Jerusalem from Judaism because they’re there & have always been there.
I understand that the ideas of Jerusalem and the land were always there. There has always been this local or regional characater to Judaism different I think from places as memorials in other faiths, but I intended to draw attention to the evidence that, in all that time, not many Jews thought it all that important to pick up and resettle in that land, to translate a value or idea into reality, in your terms. I think in times before nationalism, resettlement would have been politically easy (if transport and the rugged life, a bit hard.) That did not happen. You do not arrive at the Zionist era with a multitude of Jews residing in the land, at the very doorsteps, awaiting self-determination. And I simply want to know why not?
The Zionist program has been so evidently successful in its basic mission that this is a natural question. With so much evident fervor, money and energy ultimately thrown into the project, why was it warehoused for 2000 years? I am not judging anyone or any era: It was probably the height of good sense and good economics to stay put even in Tsarist Russia, whatever.
Now, however, we are asked to accept the specific political dimensions of Zionism because these activists happen to be Jewish doing a much-needed Jewish thing there in Palestine however belatedly. Can’t we conclude that the absence of large immigration prior to modern Zionism was a tacit “no” to this project by perfectly reasonable people and good Jews worldwide? I think this is fair reasoning and it lets us identify the Zionism of our time by its particular characteristics, its particular time, and its place in our modern history rather than lapsing into generalities about who is a Jew, Jewishness and loyalty to one’s people. I guess I am saying that Jews, at different times and places, have had varying ideas about what is paramount to their Judaism and we needn’t get so caught up in the very specific notion of Jewishness that the Israeli government promulgates in its own self-interest, i.e. political possession of the land and Jerusalem.
Richard Silverstein says
2 reasons, European anti-Semitism (specifically Russian anti Semitism which led to the pogroms which aroused the first wave of Zionist sentiment) and European nationalism (Jews felt if all other European peoples are getting nations of their own, why not us?). This turned the issue of Israel fr a purely religious one (there were Jews who lived in Israel throughout that 2,000 yr period & moved there throughout that time, but the numbers were relatively small) into a political one.
So, Zionism was a response to nationalism. It was a national, political movement. But, at some point, it became imbued with a religious and fanatical character which defies civil authority and the humanity of others. In my reading, it appears that religious sentimentality was the soft underbelly of political Zionism and even of the Labor government that planted the first settlement. Someone should examine this sentimental aspect of Israeli society that apparently has tolerated the extremist religious settlers and has been subsumed by it to some extent.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, there always was a religious/mystical connection to the land of Israel even during the period called the Exile. Then it became imbued with a nationalist/political character. Those 2 elements whether they happen regarding Jews or any other people can be very combustible & dangerous.
I know this is off the subject, but it interests me very much. Having drilled down a bit on this matter of Jewish preferences during the “Exile”, I’d like to go one more step. Don’t post this — but I am interested in your thoughts.
It is unequivocal that the land and Jerusalem were always present and adored in Jewish life. If I understand you correctly, you suggest that Zionism was a Jewish expression of nationalism and self-determination and I think that is right. I raise the specter of religious zealotry because at some point in time the love or Jerusalem and the land became politicized and was no longer idea but now meant actual physical ownership and control of these places. It is somehow not sufficient to live in this land, it is necessary to own it and exclude others who might live there or want to live there.
At this point, the historical roots of Zionism were insufficient somehow and were superseded by a messianic concept expanding Israeli claims to territory. Zionism became something it had not foreseen or intended. Some writers blame Dayan and his six day war for this result.
What do you (and your readers) think?
Incidentally, I feel sure that some readers would not be happy with the term “Exile” to denote the Diaspora, just as so many were unhappy with my innocent use of the terms “Judea” and “Samaria” to denote the West Bank! “Exile” in a religious sense is fine by me. “Exile” in the historical sense is perhaps misleading.
Richard Silverstein says
Jews felt a sense of exile and it’s indicated in the prayers. The historical truth is more complicated. The Romans certainly rendered Palestine virtually uninhabitable & many Jews had to migrate. Is that exile? Yes. But Jews also remained. So that’s what I mean that it’s complicated.
Are you people listening to me? I said I condone all of the bad things Israel does, why do you make me out to be some kind of apologist? You people are extremists, only capable of seeing one side of the coin, I haven’t said a single good thing about Israel or Palestine and that makes me an ignorant person. You wont even acknowledge that, which does nothing but show that you are simply hateful and biased, making everything into an argument and an attack. You fail as both a Jew and as a lover of justice for all, and most importantly you are prejudice. You judge Israelis the same way right wingers judge Muslims, you’re not better. I honestly feel bad for you people, go on and chant with the rest of the anti-Zionists for the destruction of Israel, I’ll keep on chanting for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Will you not back me up Richard? What have I done wrong?
It is wrong to think that opposition to Israel amounts to the destruction of Israel. Israel has not been under any existential threat since 1948 and it was not that big a threat even then. Abbas says he seeks “relative” justice expressing his willingness to discuss fulfilling Palestinian aspirations on a mere 22% of mandated Palestine. This is strong conciliatory statement, this “relative” justice. It is a mature and wise proposal. What more would peaceniks like you say you are want? Bibi goes on with the “very existence” of Israel talk when it is the “very existence” of Palestinian life that is truly threatened again and again.
And where were all these pious real Jews, pining for the land, for two thousand years? Hard-nosed Zionism is a scam, a confidence trick, played on well-intended but sentimenal American Jews. And you have either been scammed or are a scammer.
In weekend religious school in the 50’s we “planted trees in Israel” by purchasing leafs to stick on a paper tree. When it was flush with leaves, we dedicated our trees to deceased relatives and that was that. Some months ago I was talking about this with a friend and I joked that the trees were probably used to cover over destroyed Palestinian villages! I was ironic and joking. Recently, however, I found out that that this was precisely the program undertaken and that we kids planted pine trees to obscure the traces of Palestinian life in Israel. Does it get more cynical and devlish that this?
So, who is the good Jew? The child dutifully participating in a cover-up or the irate adult uncovering all the dirt of these land-loving Zionists? I was used, my parents were used, the US has been used and enough is enough.
1. I have reason to believe some of this “dirt” you uncover is biased and 2. You don’t agree on my point for peace between Israel and Palestine so I guess you wish for the alternative. Why don’t you take a trip to Israel and uncover the dirt for yourself? There are plenty of Israelis who are more critical of their government then you are. Otherwise you’re nothing more then a keyboard warrior. Mind telling me the evil Zionist plot behind evacuating the settlers from Gaza and then withdrawing? What about the evil Zionist plot behind the settlement freeze? I don’t cover up shit, I just use common sense and try to see things from multiple perspectives, something that you people seem to frown upon.
Walter Ballin says
Libby wrote: “Mind telling me the evil Zionist plot behind evacuating the settlers from Gaza and then withdrawing? What about the evil Zionist plot behind the settlement freeze?”
When Israel evacuated the settlements in Gaza, as we said above Israel blockaded Gaza. This was done even before Hamas won the election, and is an important factor why that happened. The taking down of the settlements in Gaza wasn’t done out of benevolence on Israel’s part. It was done to bolster the West Bank settlements. As for the settlement freeze, were you someone who kept up with the news(it’s in the mainstream media and all you have to do is google), you would know that Netanyahu won’t agree to a settlement freeze.Netanyahu just announced a few days ago the construction of more housing in East Jerusalem. That is why the Palestinian Authority won’t negotiate with Israel now. If the PA did while Israel keeps on building facts on the ground, what would there be left to negotiate? Even President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have criticized Israel’s settlements, even though they won’t back their words up since they instructed our UN Ambassador to veto the UN resolution for Palestinian recognition and admittance to the UN. Why? Because of the influence of the very shrill and moneyed Israel Lobby. As for shit, what you’re talking is shit!
Richard Silverstein says
Either that’s a typo and you meant “condemn” or a huge Freudian slip or else yr command of English isn’t strong (or all of the above). I don’t appreciate myself or any other reader/commenter being called an extremist. That’s another comment rule violation.
Such insults constitute another comment violation.
And another. You don’t get to determine who is a good Jew & who not.
You espouse ignorant views of the PA, insult other readers by making overly harsh insulting statements about them on practically yr first comment here, & you expect me to back you up? Humility is always a good principle esp. when you walk into someone else’s home whom you don’t know. Step back, read, learn, study. Then begin commenting when you have surer grasp of facts. That’s what I recommend.
I actually thought I might be able to promote some meaningful discussion between fellow Jews who did not have a biased view towards Israel, Jews who cared for all humanity. What I found was pure intolerance, distorted views, and vile lies. You are honestly no better then the Islamophobes, and dare is say it *shudder* the Muslim extremists. You enable violence all around the world, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I HATE Israeli occupation. I HATE Chinese occupation, I hate Turkey occupation! I hate Palestinian terrorism and I hate the multitude of America’s crimes. I feel bad that I am typing this while I sit on top of land that we STOLE from the Native Americans. You try to disassociate yourself from Israel as much as possible, that’s fine, no one wants to be judged by a country they don’t live in. But why must you join in with the hate, is it validating in some way? I bet you don’t give a damn about the Palestinians. If you actually do, get off the computer and go out there and help them, maybe you can help improve their visions of Jews, rather then bringing the rest of us down to your level.
Richard Silverstein says
That’s the last straw & yr last unmoderated comment. Multiple comment rule violations have caused me to moderate yr future comments. If they are reasonable, fair, and omit personal insults & claims not based in fact, they will be published. If not, they will not be.
the “rest of you” are either willing or seriously misinformed accomplices to crimes of unsurpassed arrogance and racism. You didn’t find anyone to say “Yeah, they’re both right and both wrong!” an even-handed statement that would make you comfortable. But, the ball is either red or it is yellow. It is not a moderated color.
You get off your computer and start doing something valuable for Judaism, like talking with your Jewish friends, using your vote effectively to block Israel’s aggression, send humanitarian relief to Gaza instead of killing other humanitarians so engaged. Do something of value rather than wishing it were all even steven, the good liberal you are.
Thats where you’re wrong! Its NOT all black and white! Israel isn’t a single person and Palestine isn’t a single person! And for your information, I have sent humanitarian relief to Gaza, and I have stood up for Jews with blind support for Israel. You think you know everything but you honestly don’t, you a misinformed and insecure individual who thinks they know everything, you are the arrogant and racist one. You sound like a neo-con, I’m beginning to think you are one.
No. Israel is a racist state. I am not a racist. If so, what race do I “hate”? Now you are just stretching for words and there is nothing of substance.
So, Libby where were these land loving Jews for two thousand years?
“settlement freeze” — you must be joking. You mean after plotzing 500,000 settlers on Palestinian land, further expansion was “frozen” for a few months? That, like the “I’m for peace anytime, anywhere” are canards, things thrown out to demonstrate cooperation where no cooperation is intended. Everyone has had with Israel’s lies. Merkel says she can’t believe anything Netanyahu says. She is learning just like the rest of us.
This is not “hate”. In fact, your use of that word betrays your identity. It is SOP to conflate criticism of Israel with “hate” among “Stand With Us” and “AIPAC” when there is no such connection in a democratic environment. It is just cheap talk this “hate”. I don’t hate Israelis at all, I think that they too are just tools of right wing establishment and they will pay the price for allowing that government such excesses.
You think that I am wrong about the tree planting exercise? I have the citation ready if anyone insists.
I love how you ignore all the things that I have done against Israel and for Palestine. Oh no, I remember the tree planting exercise gig. That was the first piece of anti-Israeli propaganda I was fed, straight from my synagogue in fact. You can’t find any common ground with me no matter how hard I try so I’m not going to listen to you. I’m not going to even try anymore. You may have lost faith in cooperation, but I believe cooperation is the only solution. I know you will not acknowledge this at all, but I do think that the right wing government is horrible for Israel, especially since so many of them are secular. So why don’t you give me your own solution for the Zionist problem, since according to you only Israel is at fault. How can peace be achieved in the region?
Israel is at fault. Palestinians have made big mistakes but nothing commensurate with the pre-meditated destruction of Palestinian identity and life undertaken by the state of Israel. Nothing, not rockets, not civil disobedience, not even suicide bombers (none of which I support) is commensurate with Cast Lead, for example. Or Lebanon. This destruction is the sin that Israel will never bury no matter how many settlers plotz on the WEst Bank and no matter how many trees get planted.
About trees: Max Blumenthal, “The Carmel Wildfire is burning all illusions in Israel”
As for resolving the issues, let me give it a try: Israel should remove all the settlers from the West Bank, turn jurisdiction over to the Palestinians with a pledge to support the development of Palestine from Israeli economic growth, say 10% of Israeli GDP for a period of 20 years. In exchange, Palestinians give up the right of return and all assaults on Israel. Gee, that was easy!
First step is to convince you, which I am doing.
Gaza was the trade-off that allows the settlement of the West Bank. Sharon didn’t even work with the people in Gaza to do this right. Israel didn’t want the 1.4 million Gazans and it didn’t look like they could drive them off. On the other hand, the West Bank was ripe for such subterfuge. Nobody is impressed by the evacuation of Gaza and rightly so.
Neo-con? Wow, that’s pretty bizarre.
Restrict away, I’m done here. I thought I could find some compromise but all I found was intolerance. I agree with you on a lot of things Richard, but clearly your fans don’t seem to agree. I hope one day your vision of Israel comes true, I don’t know how its possible as long as people like your fans hold such polarized views.
What compromise would you like, Libby? Israel to freeze settlements for three months and Palestinians to give up the right of return? Is that fair? Is that balanced enough, even steven?
You want reinforcement that you are a good, reasonable person who cares about these things. I think you do and I think that you are, but that doesn’t get at the truth of the matter. It is rough going and I sympathize but, if you are serious, you have a long trip of discovery ahead.
I believed all of it for most of my lfie, the founding myths, the heroic wars, the fair-minded segregation of Palestinians. All of it. One day, a friend called and said she was marching in a pro-Israel parade and did I want to come along? She sent the content of the poster she would carry which said: “Support Israel. Don’t support Hate!” (sounds like you, eh?) I said that the poster was ridiculous and I couldn’t march around with that stupid idea, that not supporting Israel was tantamount to “hate”, the code word for anti-Semitism. I was actually stunned at the stupidity.
Later, I was re-reading one of the re-tellings of the six day war, that heroic battle of little Israel against the big bad arabs and I loved it yet again: Here, I could identify with my smart — and now, tough — people! What a pleasure! But, suddenly and out of nowhere I realized that something was very wrong with this telling. It didn’t make sense. How could Israel fear for its existence and yet beat its combined enemies in six days? It didn’t compute.
The rest is history, as they say. I did some research and some more and I realized that this telling, at least, was a pack of lies. Then I looked at the other myths…and so on.
To rid oneself of lies and mythology,here’s a required reading list in the event you want to override hasbara:
Simha Flapan: Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities
David Hirst: Gun and the Olive Branch: Roots of Violence in
the Middle East
Ilan Pappe: Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
Avi Shlaim: The Iron Wall for starters.
It took me years to locate several of these titles (in the 90s) they were “disappeared” books in the US for “some reason”.
Nowadays there is NO excuse not to have read these classic titles as they are easily available.
Brings to mind this famous Orwell quote: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
–May you live long enough to outgrow your cognitive dissonance.
Richard Silverstein says
Many of these books are available through this blog’s Amazon Store linked in the sidebar. And yr purchases earn the blog a small commission. Any books not on the list which you would like to see there, let me know. And if you start any Amazon product search here, no matter what you buy, this earns the commission as well.
Walter Ballin says
Another great book is The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. It’s a true story written in the form of a novel about a Bulgarian Jewish family and a Palestinian family. It’s about a house that was owned by the Palestinian family and given to the Jewish family. When these homes were given to the Jewish refugees, the refugees were lied to and told that the Palestinians simply “abandoned” those homes. Later the Bulgarian-Jewish family learned the truth, and actually made friends with the Palestinian family. I actually spoke with the daughter of the Jewish family via email a couple of years ago. She’s in her 60’s now and her parents are deceased. She is opposed to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
Mixing religion and politics it´s not the solution, when in comes to Israel everyone has a personal opinion, or wasn’t Ovadia Yosef who said that giving land was OK to save Lifes (he later retractec because terrorist were still attacking).
Many Orthodox Rabbis would support giving land in exchange of real peace, but that’s no the case, rockets are still launched everyday from Gaza.
The real solution is education, at home or at School. I´m from Mexico an here 90% of children 3-18 go to Jewish schools, from Jeshivot to almost secular but all jewish schools.
Intermarriage is at 10% (5% in sepharadic jews), low levels. Orthodox are around 35% of population the rest have different degrees of observance. Only 2 out of more than 50 shuls are not orthodox with only hebrew prayers.
How it works? Simple every Jew in Mexico see this as normal, you may use the car to get to the shul, and you know the rabbis are orthodox, but since young age you learn that’s the way its meant to be, you just dicide how much you want to take in. You know you are a part of something bigger than any individual, you are part of Am Israel.
The diference with the rest of the world is that this education and love for beeing jew, only happens at home but here if it´s not tought at home, in school it will. So every kid has at least basic knowledge of jewish history, traditions and rituals. Making it harder for anyone to take the decision of abandoning our communities.