Monday, June 28, 2010

A Body Without a Soul

There is a strange and cold wind blowing through the American Jewish community. I first took note of it during the presidential primaries when so many of our illustrious liberal Jews fell in love with Obama. Having at the time confronted several acquaintances who pledged their everlasting love and support to Obama I questioned them regarding Obama’s vague and sketchy position on Israel as well as his long-term association with that notoriously anti-Semitic putative reverend Wright. The answer I heard was disturbing: American interests trumped Israel. I should have understood that the winds of change were about to descend on the Jewish landscape in a way that would change forever Israel’s relationship with America as well as with Jews living in the Diaspora.

Recently I read a disturbing article in the New York Times, “American Jews Who Reject Zionism Says Events Aid Cause ” by Samuel G. Freedman, and was so infuriated that I decided to wait till the calm returned. I’m still waiting. That article confirmed my suspicions that indeed the winds of change are at our doorstep with a growing movement within the liberal Jewish community supported by their rabbis to eviscerate Israel from Judaism, the core, the heart of our peoplehood. Allan C. Brownfeld, a longtime member of the American Council for Judaism and editor of its magazine maintain that Jews are American by nationality and Jews by religion. In support of this anachronistic and fallacious statement he and others of his ilk have distorted Jewish history in order to buttress this position.

What is the American Council of Judaism? It is an organization of apologetic Jews founded in 1942 by a group of Reform rabbis preferring to adhere to the principles of the Pittsburg platform, rejecting the idea that Jews are a nationality (peoplehood) but merely a religious group. They opposed the Reform movements position that endorsed the support of a Jewish army in Palestine. This is the same organization that supported the efforts of William Fulbright to have the lobbyists for Israel in the United States register as foreign agents. Support for the organization came mainly from Jews of German decent, socialists and others uncomfortable with Judaism such as Hannah Arendt, Eric Fromm and Hans Kohn.

I was raised on the motto that the Jewish People without Israel is like a body without a soul. Everything in our history points to that regardless of those revisionist historians and theologians who seek to distort the truth in order to promote their political agenda. Some of our prayers dating back twenty five hundred years references Zion as the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Our Temples and significant sections of our Bible is testament to the centrality of Israel to Jewish life. And when we were sent into exile the significant portion of our collective soul was left in Zion and it wasn’t till 1948 that our soul was once again made whole.

There were some orthodox leaders who rejected Zionism. There may have been those who rejected secular Zionism but they didn’t reject the concept as evident by the fact that Agudas Israel as well as other right wing orthodox groups fought for certificates in order to enter Palestine. Some Hassidic courts rejected Zionism because of the control exercised by the secular leadership. But many courts such as Gur as well as Slonim were advocates of Zionism prior to World War II. One only has to study Jewish history to glean these facts.

The traditional Jewish community never ever rejected Israel as the heart and soul the Jewish people. The traditional Jewish community never, ever treated Judaism as a religion. We always identified ourselves as a people, with a land, language, religion and culture. It was only the reform Jews of Germany who, ashamed of what they were sought to be like their Christian neighbors and re-identified Judaism as a religion. They refashioned their synagogues to resemble churches and introduced the vernacular and sermons into the service to comport to the style of their Christian neighbors. They were intent on assimilating themselves into Germany and hadn’t wanted the albatross of dual allegiance around their necks. They were willing to trade away their peoplehood in exchange fro being accepted as Germans. They miscalculated.

They miscalculated then and they are miscalculating again. Some people never learn from history and they are destined to repeat it. Interestingly, those same Reform Jews ashamed of who they were, are at it again today. So intent are they to thoroughly assimilate into American culture they are willing once again to trade away their inheritance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Troubled Waters

These are troubling times for our tribe regardless of whether one is living in America or Israel (Jews living in Western Europe are further down the road and I don’t see a bright future for them either). Since Obama was elected President a cloud seems to be hovering over us, making me feel queasy. It’s not the kind of cloud that accompanied us in the dessert and over troubled waters, but a threatening cloud, one that doesn’t appear to be providing the kind of cover enjoyed by our ancestors. I don’t think I’m over reacting; I believe that I’m trying to decipher the writing on the wall.

What I find particularly worrisome however, are the trends within the putative Jewish community and the manner in which they have reacted to the goings on over the past several months. Their refusal to recognize the disturbing signs is deeply concerning. Commentary magazine has devoted an entire issue to this new phenomenon of Jewish support for a democratic president intent on causing Israel irreparable harm. Based upon the current polls over 50% of those Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 would vote for him again. Shocking, in view of Obama’s performance vis a vis Israel since entering office. Obama is apparently getting away with it which I find disheartening, to say the least. This past week I had a conversation with one of Obama sycophants who would vote for him again, a “committed Jew” and pro-Israel who is in his twenties and probably representative of Jewish liberals of his generation. His tenuous attachment to Israel is in the spirit of Obama: it has to make political and strategic sense. Challenging him he asserted that my position was antiquated and irrelevant to his generation. To this new generation of Jews who voted for Obama, the holocaust has no bearing, nor does our historic connections to the land of Israel have any true relationship to realpolitic on the ground, here and now in the twenty first century. He wasn’t perturbed in the least by Obama’s cavalier treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Snubbing Netanyahu on his Washington visit Obama demeaned Israel and the broader Jewish community. An attitude seems to be gaining traction in Washington that the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem is no longer special. Israel is no different than any other ally and may even be considered a liability as evidenced by remarks made by General Petraeus last month. This attitude is becoming more manifest as was played out most recently over the ridiculous brouhaha resulting from Israel’s exercising her right to enforce a blockade against the rule of Hamas in Gaza and ending with Helen Thomas’ outrageous, hurtful and mean spirited remark that the Jews should move back to Poland and Germany.

Helen Thomas is no fool, nor is she senile. She may have assumed that Obama’s nuanced shift away from Israel gave her the license to stridently make her position clear. She obviously misread public opinion, forcicng her to end her career ignominiously. However, I’m beginning to think that perhaps we Jews have become too comfortable in America, too complacent and too secure. Judging from the blogosphere comments surrounding Thomas’ fall from grace there are a hell of a lot of people that agree with Helen Thomas. Perhaps her crude and coarse comment and reactions ought to serve as a wake up call to all the yefe nefesh in America.