In this week’s Forward (July 9, 2010) Jay Michaelson makes an insupportable statement in his article Peoplehood Vs Israel, fallacious at its core and is the quintessential oxymoron. “In principle, the values of peoplehood and Israel are on a natural collision course”, he claims and then spends the rest of the article venting about the lack of inclusion of various interest groups around the Jewish table. This isn’t the first article published in the Forward in which Michaelson sacrifices Israel on the altar of narcissism and Jewish liberalism when his personal comfort level was threatened by a system that wasn’t particularly embracing of his values. Michaelson’s understandable frustration with not having the LGBT community well represented around the Jewish table in no way undermines their place within the community or threatens their place under the peoplehood tent. For him to say Peoplehood Vs Israel is sour grapes, to say the least.
Putting aside all the recent DNA research into Jewish peoplehood there is a litmus test that has been applied throughout the centuries before there ever was genetic research. Israel has always been the glue that kept the Jewish people together as a unified “am”, nation. Our prayers would have rung hollow without the centrality of the Temple and Jerusalem at the center. Our rabbinic literature, midrashic texts, medieval and modern literature would be bare and barely an echo without the centrality of Israel to our existence as a people.
Peoplehood is difficult to define but there are certain qualifiers at the heart of it that without inclusion would undermine the principle and definition of who we are. Peoplehood assumes that we are all bound together by certain common values that either we possess or aspire to. Land, language, culture, values, music, art and literature are but a few of those characteristics. They aren’t necessarily quantifiable nor is there a yardstick as to how much of any of these traits or qualities one needs to subscribe to in order to be a member of the tribe. For the most part, most Jews share some of these traits to one degree or another, either in theory or in practice. For example, the love of Israel isn’t quantifiable. In generations past there were those who merely gave lip service to the idea of the rebirth and reclamation of Israel. Others were passionate, but mostly all Jews recognized the centrality that Israel played in our culture.
Just as Michaelson is unhappy with the lack of voice appropriated to the LGBT community, many others and I are unhappy with the disproportionate voice given to the haredi community in Israel as well as the disproportionate amount of resources allocated to them. I do not however claim that as a result of the political architecture of Israel, which makes me uncomfortable, I am removing Israel from the Jewish equation. It smacks of the spoiled schoolyard kid who not liking to loose, picks up his marbles and goes home! Thus, one may disagree vehemently with a particular position of Israel’s politics, but one must also draw the line when Israel’s security is at the point of being compromised and Jewish life lost. To cavalierly submit that Israel’s position aren’t comfortable and therefore Israel needs to be conveniently (albeit uncomfortably) removed from the Jewish equation is vapid and narcissitic.
The American Council for Judaism formed in 1942, by reform rabbis was established for the express purpose of sanitizing Judaism by removing Israel from the equation. It can’t be done. Judaism isn’t a religion. We are a people, an “Am” (nation), as our bible says: “Asher bocah banu mechol ha’amim” we were chosen from all the other amim. And even if one doesn’t accept the Bible as divine, is irrelevant. The Bible, divine or otherwise, through historical imperative is one of our national literary treasures that has defined to a great degree who we are as a people. The ACJ wasn’t comfortable with having to deal with issues such as dual allegiance, as apparently Michaelson isn’t comfortable with either, perhaps for different reasons. But he is trying to put forth the same thing that was tried in the past and failed. It can’t be done, because we as a people refuse to let anyone, redefine who we are. For thousands of years gentiles and anti-Semites have tried to redefine us and failed; I doubt that those of Michaelson’s ilk will have the slightest success in debunking Israel by trying to manufacture a schism between Israel and her people. Instead of writing off Israel, Michaelson should persist in the righteous cause of lobbying on behalf of the LGBT community, because one day they will receive their rightful recognition and place under the big tent.