Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer on “Jewish Heresies, Then and Now”

I encourage you to read this piece for HuffPo written by my teacher, friend and colleague Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer.  In it, she argues eloquently for making a place in the Jewish communal conversation for all – including those “who no longer define themselves as Zionist.”

As a fellow Reconstructionist, I can only offer a heartfelt “Amen” to her concluding sentence:

I am grateful to be part of a Jewish movement that values respectful and compassionate Jewish peoplehood, that understands beliefs as bets on the future and that welcomes new voices, even those that make others uncomfortable — perhaps especially those.

2 thoughts on “Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer on “Jewish Heresies, Then and Now”

  1. In my survey of those Jews who define themselves as “not Zionists”, I have to realize this means many different things to many different people.

    There are those who say while it was legitimate in 1948 to set up a Jewish ZIONIST state which gave a Zionist ethos to the state, this ethos is no longer necessary and is in fact offensive to the Israeli Arab population, so this means that a Jewish-majority state should continue to exist with its Hebrew language and calendar that revolves around the Jewish year, but the state would remove all symbols that define it as “Jewish”, i.e. the flag, the national anthem, institutions like the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, etc would be abolished. This group seems to oppose any large-scale return of the Palestinian refugees, although they may be prepared to accept in “principle”-“in order to assauge Palestinian pride and acknowledge their pain”.

    The second group says that the very creation of the state of Israel was a crime but since it already exists, the Arab world should make peace with it but it should do everything possible to remove any specifically “Jewish” identity (similar to the first group). This group supports the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees, although there are disagreements regarding the number.

    The third group are the so-called “one stater’ that says there must be full righ of return of the refugees and the state of Israel must be eradicated as a political entity because it is “an anachronism” .

    There is a very large difference between these groups. Although someone who defines himself as a Zionist might have some grounds for dialogue with the first group, there really isn’t anything to discuss with the last two.

    Therefore, if American Jews want to define themselves as “not Zionist” and they wish to remain in dialogue with Israelis they have to clarify to the Zionist Israelis where they stand in their “non-Zionism”.

    This is for several reasons:

    (1) While there was a debate among the Jewish people about the wisdom of setting up a Jewish state before 1948, today the issue has been closed. The state, a Zionist state was set up with great effort and great sacrifice. It is important to note that something like 90% of the Jewish population of Israel accepts more or less the Zionist ethos so if an American Jews wants to say, as a “non-Zionist” that the state of Israel has “no right to exist”, there is no basis for dialogue and such a person would be viewed as hostile, particularly if they use political action to work against the state of Israel.

    (2) Almost half of world Jewry lives in Israel and Israel is, I believe, the ONLY country in the world where the Jewish population is growing. All the rest of the Jewish communities in the world, including that of the US are in decline, demographically and spiritually. Thus, a “non-Zionist” who cuts himself off from Israel is isolating himself Jewishly, particularly from the most vibrant part of world Jewry.

    (3) Some may try to claim that there is no such thing as a “Jewish people”, there are only Americans or Frenchmen or Englishmen of the Jewish religion. This was popular in the 19th century, but the events of the 20th century showed that this didn’t work out. Most Jews outside of Israel view themseves as part of a people and this people is connected to Israel in one way or another.

    These things must be kept in mind while debating these issues.

    Sorry for the length of this comment, but I feel it is important to air these matters.

    • Ike,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough comment. I appreciate that you took the time to try and parse and investigate these complicated issues in a serious manner. I agree with much of what you say, but ultimately I think there is something incomplete – and even unfair – in your analysis.

      In particular, I believe you give something of a short shrift to the what you call the “third group” of non-Zionists. There are indeed one-staters who believe in honoring the right of return for Palestinians, but I think you do them a disservice when you say their only motivation is that they consider Israel to be an “anachronism.”

      From what I can tell, these one-staters are motivated by what they see as an inherent injustice in a Jewish state that privileges its Jewish inhabitants. In other words, these “one-staters” aren’t disturbed that Israel is somehow a historical anomaly in an academic sense – rather they are motivated by values such as human rights, civil rights and democracy.

      I am struck that during the course of your very long and thorough analysis, that you never once mentioned the myriad of legal injustices that face the non-Jewish citizens of the Jewish state – or for that matter, the Occupation itself. For many one-staters, however, these injustices are entirely the point. For unless they are addressed in a fundamental way, they will soon grow to the point that Israel will become a patently undemocratic state, in which a privileged Jewish minority rules over a non-Jewish majority.

      If/when this happens, we Jews – Zionist and non-Zionist alike – will be faced with a morally critical choice: do we advocate and support an unabashedly undemocratic Jewish state or rather one civil state of all its citizens? This is not just an academic question. It is a very real reckoning that we will have to face in very short order.

      I agree with you that “dialogue with Zionist Israelis” is important. But from my point of view, this dialogue is pointless if discussion of a one-state solution is treated as a “non-starter.” Alas, I find this too often to be the case with Jews who live both inside and outside of Israel. However, as Nancy’s article indicated, there is a growing constituency in the Jewish community who insist upon facing these issues head on, who refuse to treat political Zionism as a sine qua non, and who believe that Jewish liberation can never be achieved unless it honors values such as justice, equality and human rights for all.

      To address your final three points:

      1. You do them a disservice when you claim one-staters are simply saying that Israel has “no right to exist.” Rather, I believe they are asking, “how will this state continue to exist?” Will it exist in a fashion that privileges Jews over non-Jews, or will it be a state of its citizens that grants equal rights to all?

      2. I simply can’t agree with your statement that Israel is the most “spiritually vibrant part of world Jewry.” Religious life in Israel is expressed almost exclusively through traditional to ultra-orthodox Judaism. What little religious pluralism there is has been imported there from the liberal North American denominations. I believe you could make a compelling case that the most diverse and creative Jewish spiritual religious expressions are currently being developed when they historically always have been: in the diaspora.

      If we use Jewish demographics as your benchmark – that is to say, that Jewish “vibrancy” is strictly a numbers game – then I think we need to ask ourselves this: do we Jews want to create a situation where the most “vibrant” aspect of Jewish life is created on the backs of others?

      I realize that this survival complex has been part of the Jewish psyche for time immemorial. I understand its roots, particularly in the post-Holocaust era. But for all our worry about our extinction, it has never actually come to pass. At the end of the day, Jewish vibrancy should be gauged by the extent with which we develop positive, creative expressions of our inherited tradition – and not simply fear of annihilation

      3. Diaspora Jewish identity today is a complex moving target. While I believe that peoplehood has always been a central aspect of Jewish tradition, there is no conclusive data to indicate, as you claim, that most diaspora Jews today “think of themselves as part of the Jewish people.”

      What Jewish peoplehood means to diaspora Jewry in the 21st century remains to be seen. We do know, however, that most surveys indicate a distinct drop in identification with the State of Israel among young non-orthodox Jews. As Nancy indicated, it’s for a real communal conversation – one “that values respectful and compassionate Jewish peoplehood, that understands beliefs as bets on the future and that welcomes new voices, even those that make others uncomfortable — perhaps especially those.”

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