Monday, April 11, 2011

Two People – Not One

I was amazed at the op-ed by Jonathan Sarna and Jay Ruderman entitled “Education is key in a changing US Jews –Israel relationship” (JTA April 4, 2011). The main thrust of the op-ed is that the Israeli educational system needs to introduce classes in high school and higher education about the American Jewish Community, which the average Israeli knows nothing about. For decades, the authors assert, the American Jewish community taught its students about Israel – its history, culture and current events. However, because the American Jewish community is no longer in lock step with Israeli policies or its politics, the relationship between the two needs to be recalibrated. Israelis, the article insists, needs to understand the US Jewish community so that they can better handle issues such as Who is A Jew, military actions and its impact on the American Jewish community.

The op-ed is stunning for its audacity to equate the two communities as equal. The fact of the matter is that Israel has never been on par with the American Jewish community. They may be wealthier but on another level they are impoverished. They may have a higher standard of living but Israelis have a substantively higher and deeper quality of life. Israel has fed the imagination of the American Jews since its inception. American Jews live vicariously through Israel and continue to do so. For decades, they reduced Israel to a third world country in dire need of American Jewish largesse. The PR coming out of federations depicted Israel as a country in difficult straights were it not for the beneficence of the American Jewish community. And the money poured in – as long as it was tax exempt.

They have diluted themselves into believing the big lie that we are “one people”. The sad fact of the matter is that we aren’t one people and haven’t been for a long time, perhaps beginning with the audacious bold move of the reform movement recognizing patrilineal descent. That was the first major crack in the foundation causing irreparable damage by using patrilineal descent as the line in the sand.

Its incredulous how this liberal American Jewish community on the doorsteps of utter assimilation, recognizing patrilineal descent, takes umbrage with the rabbinical establishment in Israel defining Jews through the halachic standards that have withstood the test of time. Bu the crack is widening progressively especially with the liberal rabbinical seminaries ordaining rabbis who refuse to wear a tallit made in Israel. Many of these putative rabbinical students are supportive of divestment. Why would Israelis need to incorporate in their curriculum courses on the American Jewish community when the resentment to Israel is so sharp? Recently Daniel Gordis in an article “Of Sermons and Strategies” (Jerusalem Post April 1, 2011) cited deliberations of a liberal rabbinical student (that appeared on face book), compiling a list of relevant historical moments to be added to the Tisha B’av extant list of woes. This particular student wished to add the creation of the State of Israel to the list of such events like the Destruction of the Temple (1&2), Spanish (Catholic Church) Inquisition, etc. Another rabbinical student in his first year abroad program as part of his rabbinical education chose to celebrate his birthday in Ramallah where he toasted the violence of his “brothers” against Israel. These weren’t isolated incidents of assimilated self-hating Jews, but “rabbinical” students who, in a few years will assume have the power of the pulpit and use it to spew anti-Israel rhetoric. They will naturally receive approbation because they are speaking from the pulpit wrapped in rabbinical robes.

We are not one people. We haven’t been for a long time, but we choose to live the lie. Its good for fundraising. We are two people growing farther apart as a result of very different conceptual approaches to our Jewish future. Israel sees its future through the prism of Jewish history, continuity and survival. American Jews, now in their denouement define their future through the lens of assimilation and its inevitability. So, I ask Sarna & Ruderman what is it that prompts you to suggest that Israelis ought to give priority in their curriculum to understanding the American Jewish community which is on its way out?