On Jewish Hearts and Minds: A Response to Daniel Gordis

Just read Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ recent op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, one of several articles that have given some free publicity to Ta’anit Tzedek.  But it wasn’t Gordis’ offhand slam on TT that really bothered me – it was the decidedly patronizing way he analyzed the gulf between the American Jewish community and Israel – or as he termed it, American Jewry’s “growing abandonment of Israel.”

Gordis’ main premise: American Jewry’s newest generation is essentially self-centered (tainted “with the ‘I’ at the core of American sensibilities”) and simply cannot relate to the national sense of duty embodied by Israel:

In America, the narratives of immigrant groups are eroded, year by year, generation after generation.  In America, we are oriented to the future, not to the past, and if we cling to some larger grouping, it is to a human collective whole rather than to some “narrow” ethnic clan…

Similarly, the recreation of the State of Israel is truly powerful only against a backdrop of centuries of Jewish experience, and is spine-tingling only if my sense of self is inseparable from my belonging to a nation with a past and a people with a purpose.

In today’s individualistic America, the drama of the rebirth of the Jewish people creates no goose bumps and evokes no sense of duty or obligation. Add the issue of Palestinian suffering, and Israel seems worse than irrelevant – it’s actually a source of shame.

It’s not clear to me if Gordis is interested in winning over the hearts and minds of young American Jews, but if he is, I’d suggest that talking down to them from an Israeli ivory tower is not the way to do it.  I’m afraid that record just doesn’t play any more.

Gordis is correct when he posits that the old narratives simply aren’t working on American Jews the way they used to.  But that’s only because a new, more complex narrative is now being written by the current generation. It’s compelling in its own right, though this may be difficult to understand when viewed from the conventional Israeli vantage point.

I work with a great number of American Jews – particularly the 35 and younger demographic that Gordis cites – and from where I sit they look nothing like narcissistic, self-obsessed Americans he describes. On the contrary, most are engaged, seriously seeking Jews.  Yes, it’s true, unlike previous generations they don’t necessarily understand their Judaism in traditionally tribal terms anymore. But that doesn’t make them self-centered. Rather, they are increasingly viewing their Jewishness against a larger, more universal global reality.  In short, to be a Jew and a global citizen is what gives them “goose bumps.”

If, as Gordis suggests, American Jews are abandoning Israel, I’d suggest it’s not due to the lack of a sense of Jewish “duty or obligation” – I believe it’s because they are left cold by an Israeli national culture that appears to them to be overly tribal and collectively self-centered.

Indeed, while most young people today seem to be interested in breaking down walls between peoples and nations, Israel often appears determined to build higher and higher walls between itself and the outside world. It’s a poignant irony of Jewish history: while Zionism was ostensibly founded to normalize the status of Jewish people in the world, the Jewish state it spawned seems to view itself as all alone, increasingly victimized by the international community.

Gordis himself exemplifies this “it’s us Jews against the rest of the world” ethos in the opening paragraphs of his article:

About one thing, at least, the world seems to be in agreement: Israel is the primary culprit in the Middle East conflict, the cause of relentless Palestinian suffering and the primary obstacle blocking the way to regional peace.

The international chorus of opprobrium is growing by the day…It’s relentless, this ganging up, but it’s also not terribly new. The momentum has been building for years, and though we may not like it, we cannot honestly claim to be surprised.

While I understand the psychology of this world view, I don’t think it helps make Israel’s case for young Jews today – nor do I think it promotes a particularly healthy Jewish identity. It seems to me to be the product of self-pity, more than pride – a victim mentality that’s not likely to get us anywhere with newer generations of Jews who are feeling increasingly comfortable with the “outside world” and who don’t particularly identify with the claim that when push comes to shove, all the world really does just hate the Jews.

I will also predict that Gordis’ two cynical references to “Palestinian suffering”  will not resonate for growing numbers of Jews who are legitimately troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.  I understand full well that our criticism sounds galling to most Israeli ears. And no, I don’t believe that we American Jews can even begin to understand how Israelis feel – on so many levels.

But whether Israelis like it or not, there is a steadily growing demographic in the American Jewish community: proud, committed Jews who are deeply troubled when Israel acts oppressively, who feel implicated as Americans and as Jews in these actions, and who are galled at being labeled as traitors when they choose to speak out.

At the very least, I hope that Gordis will understand that if American Jews are identifying with organizations that protest Israel’s oppressive policies (organizations, yes, such as Ta’anit Tzedek) their affiliation does not come from a shame-filled desire to “bash” Israel. It comes from a deeper and much more Jewishly authentic place than that.

I realize that all of this may be too much to ask for. It’s long been clear that the American Jewish and Israeli Jewish communities are two very different animals with two decidedly different ways of understanding what it means to be a Jew in a rapidly changing world.  (Sociologists Steven Cohen and Charles Liebman pointed this out with great insight in their book “Two Worlds of Judaism” twenty years ago).

But it seems to me if we truly want to facilitate the Jewish future, we’re going to have to do it together. And to do that, we’ll  need to meet one another with openness and understanding, not dismissal and judgment.

25 thoughts on “On Jewish Hearts and Minds: A Response to Daniel Gordis

  1. Brant,

    What an amazing and important post! Your experience as a superb congregational rabbi gives you a unique perspective on this issue. I hope that your post opens a real discussion of the critical issues you have addressed.

    When I read the article by Gordis, I thought that if one separates his analysis from his conclusions, there is some truth to his critique of the individual focus of American society. American society is sometimes too focused on the individual and sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to critical communal issues, mainly political and economic issues that affect all Americans. One example of this is how hard it is to get Americans to vote in elections or to care about the collective as opposed to the individual good.

    However, it is also true that it is the profound respect for individual autonomy and freedom, that has allowed Judaism and Jews -along with some many other ethnic and religious groups – to flourish in America. The focus on the individual has enormous advantages along with the dangers of a self absorption that could come from it.

    My experience in Israeli society and with Israelis leads me to believe that Israeli society and most Israelis – including and maybe especially Gordis and many other Americans who have made aliya – also treasure the individual focus of American society and yearn to imitate America in every way.

    Most striking to me is the fact that Gordis doesn’t address the ethnic and tribal centeredness of Israeli society. If America is too focused on the “I”, Israeli society is too focused only on the “we”, where the “we” only includes Jews. In a society that is effectively only 50% Jews if one includes the Occupied Territories (the unfortunate reality for the past 42 years and for the forseeable future), this is a serious problem. If Americans sometimes only focus on their own individual needs, Israelis (Jewish Israelis that is!) focus only on Jews and not on all members of their society. This is the root of what alienates many younger Jews from Israel.

    Thanks for transforming what was a rather snide article into a productive and important discussion.

  2. It doesn’t seem to me at all helpful to try to postulate a simplified or stereotyped American Jewish character. Clearly there are Jews for whom the state of Israel is a central part of their identity. There are also Jews who don’t particularly give a damn, and there are Jews, like me, who identify as human beings first (how does this make me selfish, exactly?) and feel that there are moral imperatives that override cultural, ethnic, and political concerns. I am grateful that my American sons are growing up in a culture where they are side by side with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and different kinds of Jews. I am hopeful that they will have the strength of character, rooted in Jewish values and identity, to demand justice and deplore oppression and yes, suffering, in their own community and everywhere.

  3. Great comments Brant! Thank you for so clearly and convincingly expressing the expansion of American Jewish complexity regarding Israel.

    Ginny Reel Freirich, my spouse, pointed out that American Jewish complexity and criticism comes from a much more intimate understanding of Israel than has ever existed between the two communities.

    I would add that American Jews monolithic support for Israel isn’t terribly historical – starting only in 1967 and already showing chinks during Israel’s first Lebanon war and the first Intifada.

  4. Brant,
    Thank you once again for your wise words. I am so proud to be a Jew who, as you say, ia “legitimately troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” In fact, my commitment to human rights for all, in my view, makes me the kind of Jew I want to be. It is troubling to me when some people are not willing to discuss such important issues, like one’s personal relationship to Israel. I can’t think of a more complex relationship for me. As Jews, we should always be open to discussion.
    Thanks again, Liz

  5. While always useful to engage in self-reflection, both individual and communal as American Jews, I must point out that increasing generations of Israeli Jews also find themselves farther removed from the immigrant narrative and have cultivated a decided emphasis on “future” rather than “past”. I realize his point is about spotlighting American Jews (I actually don’t find as much inaccuracy in some of what he concludes)but I, for one am not com fortable with the implicit statement that parallel processes are not taking place among Israelis.

  6. The phenomena Gordis describes in America–the focus on the future, the melting-pot aversion to an identity focused on “some ‘narrow’ ethnic clan,” the individualism balanced by xenophilia–strike me as truly powerful things, spine-tingling, even.

    That’s because my own sense of self is, as the Rabbi says, “inseparable from my belonging to a nation with a past and a people with a purpose.”

    That would be, of course, the American past, and the American people. Much of which has been shaped, at the level of idea, by Jews. (Ask Emma Lazarus.)

    In fact, I think what we have here isn’t an argument between a Jewish identity (which can only be truly realized in Israel) and an American one.

    Rather, it’s between two versions of Jewish identity, a Zionist one, which emerged from Europe, and a diasporist one, which flourished here, insinuating itself into the American mainstream.

    Gordis thinks his is better, which is why he lives in Israel. I live here, and raise my children here, for exactly the same reason.

  7. I think that American Jews, living in the relative safety of their homes, have no right to dictate Israeli policy as to whether to lift the blockade in Gaza. Only Israelis will be subject to a barrage of rockets, if the decision to lift the blockade is a wrong one.
    Therefore, it doesn’t behoove American Jews to interfere with military policy that is deemed to be a deterrent to terror and to increase the security of its inhabitants.
    When American Jews make aliyah and their sons will be called up to army duty, then, by all means, make your voice heard. But, while living in America, with the greatest decision one has to face is which television channel to watch that evening, it is best not to interfere with Israeli government policy.

    1. In response to Dan …

      So now there are pre-conditions on us even expressing our opinion? If you in fact think American Jews have no right to weigh in on Israeli government policy until we have made aliyah and sent our children to serve in IDF, will you similarly not object when we urge the US government to reduce the amount of our tax dollars spent on aid to Israel? It strikes me that Israeli Jews cannot have it both ways. If you want the support of us American Jews — political, moral, monetary, or otherwise — it behooves you to engage in a dialogue with us in which all parties actually listen to what their interlocutors are saying. Crying foul when we express criticism (whatever you think our motivation may be) while at the same time expecting continued support regardless of your own actions doesn’t really work. A more productive approach would be addressing the substance of criticisms of Israeli actions raised by American Jews, rather than attacking our presumably comfortable life, our motivation, or our right to express our concerns and opinions.

  8. Brant, many thanks for putting this response out there. (If a Rabbi responds, is it automatically a Responsa?) It’s one thing to feel under attack by a segment of Israeli and American society, and another to feel that our kids are being stereotyped in an unfair fashion.

    Rabbi Freirich, I agree completely with your last comment. Marc and I were in Israel (coincidentally) around the same time, just before and during the Lebanon War. His volunteerism in the Israeli army at that time and my visits to Ramallah and to relatives living on settlements honed our current perspective on Israel. Many other American Jews have the same experience-based political viewpoint.

    Unlike our friend Eric, Marc and I are both Zionists–we believe in the Jewish state and identify with that ideal as part of our core identity. Which is why we are not willing to see that ideal degraded and corrupted by jingoism, vengeance-based policy and intolerance. These emotional responses, and the enabling of the Bush years, are not in Israel’s best interest, and all the Gordisian cries of “shame!” will not make them so.

  9. I have to disagree both with you and with Gordis. Gordis is wrong in indicating there is something unique in modern American society that makes Jews turn away from their Jewish national/religious identity. There has ALWAYS been Jewish assimilationl, particularly in cultures that seemed advanced. Good examples were the Jewish Hellenists who were fought in the wars of the Hasmoneans (Hannukah, 2nd century BCE). Many, many Jews converted to Christianity in Spain BEFORE the expulsion of 1492. Germany from about 1800 to 1933 (the rise of Hitler to power) many Jews converted out, many Jews intermarried, and many Jews abandoned Jewish observance, viewing it as “outdated” and “un-German”. Then, in the USSR, many Jews enthusiastically embraced the Communist ideology and joined the Yevseksia which actively persecuted both Zionist and Orthodox/religious Jews, sending many to the GULAG in the name of “progress” and “socialism”. True, America pushes “individualism” and “universalism” but not all Americans go for this, many use American freedom to become SUPER-tribalistic…..look at the large number of very, very devout Muslims, or Mexican nationalists, or Greek or Irish ethnics, etc. We can see from the examples I gave above that it is not necessarily “individualism” that attracts Jews, but rather “universalism”, which, I, in an cynical way, can express as a desire to flee antisemitism and the feeling of being a minority immersed in a larger, powerful outside culture. So Gordis needs to admit that the Jews of America are not facing some new problem. Before the Six-Day War, many Jews were indifferent to Israel and Zionism, during the supreme crisis of the 1930’s and 1940’s many Jews turned their backs on the Jews of Europe thinking that worrying about them at the expense of the greater threat of Fascism and Nazism to the world would make them look “particularist” and “anyway the Jews in Europe are primitive, tribalistic and not relevant to our new American reality”….EXACTLY WHAT SOME AMERICAN JEWS ARE SAYING ABOUT ISRAEL TODAY. And this was before today’s supposedly “individualistic” period.

    America’s current “individualist” and “universalist” culture is NOT the “culmination” of modern man. German Jews before 1933 thought their society was the most advanced and cultured and most Jews couldn’t wait to immerse themselves in it. Yet, we see how that the whole thing came crashing down within a very short time. I am not saying the same thing will happen in America, but there are many problems with modern American culture including a feeling of alienation, lack of values, overemphasis on materialist values (“more money makes more happiness”) and outright selfishness (“what’s in it for me?”, “the almightly dollar”). These things are pushing many Americans, including the devout Muslims, Haredi Jews, fundamentalist Christians and others into very intense and closed groups in order to feel a sense of belonging, fulfillment and connection to a higher purpose than simply making as much money as possible and being part of an unidifferentiated “universalist” mass.
    A knowledgable Jew takes a long-term view of things. We must look at the historical sweep of the Jewish people. Certain patters reoccur. Attempts at total assimilation repeatedly fail and there is a reaction in the larger non-Jewish society against it, even if individual Jews strive mightly to achieve invisibility in the outside society. Thus, current American attitudes towards things are NOT the ultimate scale by which we must judge our Jewish identity and our relationship to Israel, the Jewish State which is the national/territorial embodiement of Judaism and Jewish values EVEN FOR THOSE JEWS WHO LIVE OUTSIDE ISRAEL. All Jews around the world draw strength (even if unconciously) from Israel (e.g. most Jewish scholarsihp today comes from Israel) .
    Values that an American may think are important are not necessarily appreciated in the Middle East, neither by Jews nor Arab/Muslims. For example, many object to the Rabbinate’s control of marriage and divorce in Israel. However, a Muslim or Christian Israeli is also subject to his or her own’s religious establishment for these things. Just as Judaism does not allow for intermarriage. Muslim woman are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, so we see abolishing religious control of personal status would offend Israeli Muslims and not just the Jews in Israel who think it is important ( a majority). Homosexual marriage, an issue that seems to be one of the most important matters in the US today, is looked on with horror by ALL religious groups in the Middle East and no one of any religious group in the Middle East would countenance it.
    So, for an American Jew to turn his back on Israel because of matters like this shows a major lack of sensitivity to the values of the people of the Middle East. I think most American Jews do realize this and so I think that the danger of American Jews becoming alienated from Israel and the larger, world Jewish community is not at a catastrophic level. There has always been assimilation, and there always will be assimilation, but there is always a solid core that carries on even in the most difficult conditions. In addition, I believe the memory of the tragic failure of the American Jewry in the ultimate crisis of the 1930’s and 1940’s is seared into our collective memory and so I don’t think that if Israel (G-d forbid) faced an existential crisis as it did in 1967, we would see the same rallying of united Jewish forces, including from sources we would least expect it. This was what happened in the USSR where there was a totally unexpected resurgence of Jewish and Zionist identity in spite of 50 years of antisemitic repression and forced assimilation.
    I expect leaders of the Jewish community to bear these things in mind and to show an optimistic view of the future and NOT to dwell on the things that divide us.

    1. I find myself surprised by how much I agree with this, YBD!

      It’s worth adding, though, that one other “pattern” that emerges from Jewish history is the ultimate failure and destruction of Jewish states and sovereignty. That pattern goes back as far as the pattern of Jewish attraction to cosmopolitan / universalist ideals–why should we expect either to end now?

      Perhaps the lesson to be learned, taking the long view, is that both sides need to be encouraged and nurtured, since we don’t know where the hammer of history will fall next? If Jews hadn’t stayed in Babylon & Egypt, if Philo hadn’t written, we’d be worse off now, surely.

      Your list of “pan-Middle Eastern” values reminds me of yet more reasons that I’m happy to be living here in the US. Thanks for that, as well!

  10. One thing I haven’t noticed in your erudite comments, nor in those of others, is the cynicism engendered among American Jews by the continued strands of corruption found among Israel’s leaders. Aside from the basic problems, it feels as if Isreal is susceptible to similar activities that we see in the U.S. What’s more, the activities appear to continue without protest. Or is the law just terribly slow there as it is here?

  11. It was hard for me to get to the end of the Gordis article because I found the intro, “The world is ganging up against us, so what is new” approach to be so flawed.

    According to Israeli army numbers over 1,100 Gazans were killed in Operation Cast Lead. What kind of a world would we be living in if people weren’t asking questions?

  12. If I said that I really loved my wife, and I would show it if only she did this and said that and looked like Bar Rafaeli, then it would be reasonable to say that I really don’t love my wife.

    Israel is a real country, which is to say that it is populated with real people, some of whom are jerks, bigots and crooks. Israel is also in a war for survival, fighting against enemies who hide behind civilians. War are not nice, wars for survival are particularly unpleasant and war fought amidst civilians are even more so. This is reality, and if you can’t support the real Israel, then just admit it. Because the real Israel will never conform to your fantasies of a Jewish utopia.

    In the real world, we make choices and we define ourselves by our choices. If you really can’t deal with the real and imperfect Israel, then you are deciding to be neutral in the fight between Israel and its enemies, to include Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, al-Qaeda. If that’s your choice, then please don’t annoy us with your sanctimonious talk about human rights. It’s not my side, right or wrong. It’s my side, imperfect but vastly better than the alternative.

  13. Kenneth, I am sad when I read your comment. It resembles the viewpoint of so many of our community who have given way to the threat of broiges (of breaking up the family) because of disagreements. This is most unfortunate for the Jews of Diaspora, I think.

    If I love my husband, and my husband gets drunk at bars and beats people up, when I give my husband a hug and some cash I am not expressing my love. I am enabling him to continue behavior that threatens other people, himself, and my whole family.

    You may or may not agree with this metaphor, but I hope you understand that your viewpoint is not the only one that is valid. There are others–viewpoints with which you may feel free to disagree–held by people who consider themselves lifelong Zionists and whose lives have been committed to the Jewish people. Disagree, but please do not stoop so low as to smear other members of your community in order to win your point.

  14. Correction to my previous comment- I meant to say that if Israel faced another existential crisis as it did in the “waiting period” before the Six Day War in 1967, I am sure that world Jewry WOULD rally to Israel’s defense, unlike what I wrote above.

  15. Lori: Israel is a democracy with fair elections, a free press, an independent judiciary and a diverse population. The idea that you or I can explain to them how to run their country or fight their battles is either condescending or foolish. There probably is a reason why Israelis (or at least Jewish Israelis) have decisively rejected the Left, and those who would preach to Israelis should probably understand that reason. What friends of Israel can do is support Israel, even when they disagree with the positions of its elected government. Probably a good start to supporting Israel would be to refrain from comparing it to a drunkard who beats people up. A good example of how to support Israel was provided by my evangelical Christian friends, who certainly opposed the withdrawal from Gaza and regarded PM Ehud Olmert as a doofus at best, yet still strongly supported Israel.

    With regard to Israel, I am uninterested in your self-assessment of your Zionism and Jewish identity. What interests me is your willingness to support Israel in word, deed and through your associations. In particular, I am interested in what you are doing to prevent Israel from being isolated, terrorized and overrun by murderous savages, or obliterated with nuclear weapons by genocidal fanatics. To me, that is the bottom line for supporters of Israel.

    I am not a blind supporter of Israel. I am keenly aware that Israel is not a utopia and not populated by saints. I would like it to be better (as I define “better”, of course), but as a Zionist I respect the choices of the Israeli people, because they have a lot more “skin in the game” than I do.

    Eliot: You are certainly within your rights as an American to “urge the US government to reduce the amount of our tax dollars spent on aid to Israel?” There are any number of reasons to advocate such a course of action, some of which are not animated by animosity to Israel. But if you do so with the intent or effect of coercing Israel to do actions that its elected government thinks are detrimental to its security, then honesty demands that you cease to refer to yourself as pro-Israel or Zionist.

    1. Kenneth —

      From your response above, you may be uninterested in whether I call myself a Zionist. In my earlier comment, I was silent on that question, though you assumed I did when you questioned the honesty of that assessment.

      I think you are saying that encouraging Israel to undertake actions which its elected government does not currently favor can not be pro-Israel or Zionist. That strikes me as simplistic. What if a substantial segment of the Israeli voting public feels the way I do, even if their view is not espoused by the ruling coalition? Are they unpatriotic? The history of Zionism is one of multiple opinions, of numerous and sometimes opposing agendas and philosophies. Israel continues to enjoy vigorous and mutilfaceted political discourse. Why should Jews outside of Israel who agree with the current Israeli government be considered Zionist and pro-Israel, while those of us who agree with Israeli minority opinions not be so considered? If the next Israeli government is a left-leaning coalition including parties with whom I agree more than I do with the current coalition members, will I then be considered Zionist, while diaspora sympathizers with the right leaning Israeli new minority whom you might consider Zionist today will no longer be so considered? If we both agree that whichever party leads the Israeli government, the minority is by and large the loyal opposition, why should the diversity of political thinking end at Israel’s borders? It does a disservice to the rich history of Zionism to boil it down to a Bush-ian “you’re either for us or against us”.

      Separately, a better fitting metaphor than the spouse who does only what I want or who has a drinking problem might be as follows: My father has failing eyesight and gets into repeated small fender benders. I tell him he should stop driving before anyone is more seriously injured, my brother thinks it is disrespectful and demeaning to say so, and my father worries about his independence. We can all be in the same family, love one another, and share many of the same concerns, but we each have different assessments of which concern outweighs another. Similarly, why should your focus on Israel’s security be more (or less) valid than my focus on its respect for human rights? We can each express our concerns to our Israeli cousins, and take those actions dictated by our respective consciences, while acknowledging the validity of each other’s concerns and of our shared concern for Israel’s future.

      Exchanges of blog comments like these are not the ideal vehicle for respectful and candid discussion, particularly on as sensitive a subject as the relationship between American Jews and Israel. That discussion is taking place face to face in my community, with an emphasis on listening to and respecting one another. I hope it is taking place in yours and many other American Jewish communities as well.

  16. If you in fact think American Jews have no right to weigh in on Israeli government policy until we have made aliyah and sent our children to serve in IDF, will you similarly not object when we urge the US government to reduce the amount of our tax dollars spent on aid to Israel?

    So what you are really saying is that Americans should have a right to weigh in on policies of any country that receives American aid, no matter how big or how small, right.

    If I love my husband, and my husband gets drunk at bars and beats people up, when I give my husband a hug and some cash I am not expressing my love. I am enabling him to continue behavior that threatens other people, himself, and my whole family.

    It is a silly metaphor because it is inaccurate in almost every way. It simplifies things without taking into account the real cause and effect of the matter.

    Has Israel made mistakes? Yes. Should Israel be criticized? Yes, but it needs to be balanced.

    We need to take into account things like Hamas’s charter which calls for the destruction of Israel. We need to account for discrepancies in number of civilians killed. They don’t wear uniforms. It is intentional so that when the dead are counted the numbers are skewed.

    It is a known fact that not all of those who were killed in Gaza were civilians. It is a known fact that the rocket fire that was launched from Gaza rained down upon land that wasn’t in dispute, wasn’t considered occupied by anyone who accepts the state of Israel.

    It is a known fact that Abbas and Hamas do not see eye to eye. How do you intend to negotiate with someone who doesn’t have the ability to speak or represent all.

    I am not suggesting that peace talks should forever be suspended, but we need to be real. It feels uncomfortable to see some of the things that we have seen, but they do not operate off of the same value system we do.

    Are there good Palestinians? undoubtedly, they are people. But again the leadership makes it quite difficult to try and negotiate terms

    There are better ways to try to effect change than the critics of Israel are engaging in.

  17. Kenneth,

    I answer with the hope that your question is not rhetorical. In any case, lack of an answer would make it appear that I had no reply.

    The great supporters of Israel, Bush-Cheney and their American-Jewish loyalists are responsible for putting Hamas in power in Gaza and letting the peace process end up in rigor mortis over the past decade. We won’t go into whether they are also responsible for dragging Israel’s world popularity down to its lowest low–I think so. To me, Zionism isn’t about waving the flag and cursing the Arabs. It’s about finding a practical way to insure Israel’s survival. George Mitchell managed to make it happen in Ireland, which has been at war for longer than Israel. But the will to find a way has got to be there, rather than the impulse to cave in to fear. There is no way to win by force in this case. All the Americans’ horses and men can’t defend Israel from the Muslim world in which it dwells. The only chance to live to see the Zionist dream into the next century is to find a way to live among them. The major Arab countries of the region have proposed ways to make that happen. If we let every extremist with a bomb derail that process, how will we ever go forward?

  18. Lori, Elliot

    Israel is not a drunken husband nor a poor sighted senior citizen. Israel is a nation trying to defend itself against an enemy that seeks it’s destruction. A better analogy would be Israel as surgeon; using surgery to extract tumors and cancer. And if the cancer has spread beyond a surgical response, extreme chemotherapy may be necessary, knowing full well that damage will be done to healthy tissue, but no action will lead to certain death.

    Are you suggesting that the appropriate response to Hezbullah and Hamas attacks from civilian areas is surrender?

    There is something very wrong when Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, speaks up for Israel on Gaza, saying, “The Israeli Defence Forces Did More to Safeguard the Rights of Civilians in a Combat Zone than Any Other Army in the History of Warfare” and high minded Jews turn their back and say, “No, it can’t be true that we are good. How can the world be so wrong about us?”

    Any Jew familiar with Israel knows that all these issues are debated and aired. We as American Jews, should stand for Israel’s right to decide its own fate and the future of its own children. It’s one thing to want to participate in that debate, and seek an appropriate venue for doing so, but it’s another thing to apply pressure through American politics to force Israel’s hand to do what we think is best for it.

    I’m sorry to say that I find Rabbi Rosen’s posts on issues of Israel and the peace process very naive. Rabbi Gordis’ op-ed deserves serious reflection.

  19. The debate can be summarized as follows: Gordis states that more and more young American Jews no longer feel empathy for Israel (I think this is what he means when talking about “selfishness” – a lack of empathy), while rabbi Brant and Ari Hart et al. confirm this by condemning Israel’s actions (treatment of Palestinians) even though the rabbi agrees that he, as most of his fellows in the US, “don’t even begin to be able to understand how it feels to be living in Israel” (quoting from memory). So I would like to remind them to stick to their insight into their incapability of judging how it feels to be exposed to the threats and precarious living conditions in the Middle East and try to give Israel the benefit of doubt, no matter what it decides to do. As Avi Primor, who’s lecture I had the privilege to attend some years ago, said: It is one thing not to agree with Israel, and quite another to assume that Israel is capable of doing what its enemies are blaming it for … And as my fellow-talkbacker Kenneth says: You do side with Israel’s enemy’s (Saudia Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Iran …) if you don’t want to take sides between democratic Israel and those tyrannies!
    Shalom to all of you!

  20. I am in the category of under 35 and find interesting the quotes below:

    “MAYBE THEY are the thousands of young American Jews answering the Jewish call to pursue justice by teaching in inner city schools, advocating for the rights of prisoners or providing health care in the Third World? Perhaps they are the Jews who care so deeply about God’s creation that they bicycle to work, compost their waste and meticulously track their carbon outputs. Maybe they are the Jews who travel each summer to countries in Eastern Europe to help struggling Jewish communities thrive and grow. Or perhaps they are the thousands of Jews on college campuses, responding to “Never Again” who mobilized and advocated for stopping the genocide in Darfur. Are they the ones?”

    Many of my Jewish cohort is now marrying and tend to espouse these universal values listed above. However, many of these are the same that are intermarrying and have little interest in exploring both their Jewish roots and heritage and connection with the State of Israel. What will be the fate of their children and grandchildren- A gradual distancing from any associations of their Jewishness.

    We live in an era of Jewish dissociation and assimilation, and although this is a phenomena that has always occurred in Jewish History, one would argue that the degree in which it is taking place now is dramatic. I have many friends and know many more that are intermarried and have little connection with their Jewishness. You can put your own value judgement on this development, but it saddens me.

    Gordis quotes,
    “Two American Jewish sociologists, Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman, wrote that among American Jews aged 35 and younger, a full 50% said that the destruction of the State of Israel would not be a personal tragedy for them.”

    If this is true (which I’m not sure it is) it is a telling statistic that no one yet on this comment board has mentioned yet.

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