ISRAEL AT 50By Shlomoh Sherman
April 25, 1998
I didn't know. But I read about it. Apparently what should be a great event has turned out to be somewhat less. As reported in this week's NEW YORK MAGAZINE, in an article by Craig Horowitz, Israelis are not in the mood to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their modern statehood.
Why not you well might ask? Well there are several reasons. Who usually helps to make the arrangements for celebrations in and for Israel, the powerfull leaders of American Jewry, and the average Israeli is simply disenchanted with American Jewish leaders (so-called). There is a crisis in the American Jewish world that is having a negative effect on Israelis.
The average American Jew seems to think that there is no problem going on here vis-a-vis our identity or future here. BUT the fact is that we are being killed with kindness. For centuries we have wished to live in a community of people where we would be tollerated and accepted as equals. Well you know the old saying, "be carefull of what you wish for ... you just might get it". It has finally happened. Here is an incredible IRONY that might be a joke were it not for the seriousness of it.
All these centuries we lived in the midst of a Christian society that took itself seriously, and we wanted to be accepted as equals. But how could we expect to be treated as equals in a society that believed it was ABSOLUTELY right and that we were ABSOLUTELY wrong? It couldn't happen. So we had to sit around and wait for a time when some serious decision-making Christians such as the Founding Fathers who were at the same time not so serious about their Christianity came along and created a society in which EVERYONE was equal and RELIGION was not the foremost issue anymore.
What became the FOREMOST issue was being an AMERICAN and all that the word "AMERICAN" stood for. And what it stands for is "come on in, the water's fine", and who in his right mind can argue with that? Once there was a Jewish community in America that was EMOTIONALLY powerfull. It was a transplanted Eastern European Jewery. As the direct descendants of that Jewery reach their 60th birthday and beyond, the younger generation loses its ethnic and religious emotional power here. A friend has said that the younger generations of Jews in America are a faith community, not a tribe.
American Jews such as those of my generation are passing away into history. And as we pass, the State of Israel becomes more and more something other in the mind of the "average" American Jew than it has been to us who witnessed its birth, its struggles, its triumphs and its failures.
We never stop to think what the NEW Israeli thinks about American Jews. But the magazine article plainly states that he (the Israeli) is very much aware of what is happening to Jews in America. He is aware that there is a spiritual holacaust going on, perpertrated by us.
You know what the wonderfull thing about America is? She is a seductress! That is her greatness and also her danger for any immigrant group. People who are no longer committed to religious FUNDAMENTALISM, or to ethnic continuity as a priority issue, people who are not willing to pay the price anymore for what they offer, are primary candidates for being seduced. We are like Ulysses called by the Sirens, but we are unbound, LITERALLY.
The Israeli is very much aware that Jews are intermarrying and assimilating at a collosal rate. He is aware that in the coming Millenium, about the ONLY Jews left in America will be the ULTRA ORTHODOX. Israel's leaders and the so-called "leaders" of the American Jewish community may still behave like brothers, says the article, but the Jewish man in the American street and the Jewish man in the Israeli street now behave more like cousins.
As the threat to Israel's physical survival has now virtually disappeared, the solidarity that existed between American Jews and Israelis has also disappeared. American Jews who are invested in Reform and Conservative Judaism are outraged by the fact that the only synagogue the current Prime Minister of Israel will visit here in the United States is an ORTHODOX synagogue. And why should he bother visiting a non Orthodox one, as politically shrewd as he is? He knows his SOLID backing among Israeli citizens comes from the Israeli Orthodox community which is growing by leaps and bounds. Yes there may come a time when the American Jewish community and the Jewish community of Israel once again become very closely united in an emotional way but that will look nothing like what it has looked like in the 20th century.
In the NEXT century, the age of the Millenium, when the power center of Jewishness lies in the right wing Orthodox community here and the power resides with the Orthodox in Israel, then you will see a forging of unity between Jews here and there. And let's not kid ourselves! With the rate of secular Jews leaving Israel (and the secular are the only ones that leave), with the active proselytization of the young by the Orthodox, with the fact that the average secular Israeli family has two childen and the average Israeli Orthodox family has from 5 to 10, who do you think will emerge as THE numeric and political power within the next hundred years (maybe 50 years)?
So what does Israel have to celebrate with a dispassionate American Jewry now? The Orthodox gain more and more power in Israel with every passing day. The Reform and Conservatives may want them to share power but who WILLINGLY shares power unless they HAVE to? No one! And the Orthodox don't have to. And look! With 4 Orthodox babies born to every secular 1, why share power? Oh, and if you say that power should be shared because Israel is a democracy and democracies should be pluralistic, well you need to be splashed with some water to awaken from your dream.
Israel SAYS it is a democracy but really it has never been a REAL democracy in the way AMERICA is a democracy. In a real democracy, a person can get married and divorced whenever he wants to by simply going to court. In Israel, if the RABBINATE doesn't like who you are, you can't get married, and if you are a woman and your husband doesn't want to divorce you, well you are just out of luck. There is no court of appeals. And if you say that you are a Jew and the RABBINATE says you are not, well you just have to accept it or BECOME one according to their dictates. Where is the democracy in a country that has as its national anthem, HATIKVAH, the song of JEWISH hope, that speaks of Israel as a JEWISH homeland? What would we say about American democracy if America adopted a state religion the way Israel has JUDAISM as its official state religion? If ONLY Jews are allowed to be soldiers in the Israeli army, what does THAT say?
Do I personally think that this situation is right? That Israeli democracy is tempered by Israeli Jewishness? Sure I do. There are many Christian countries but only ONE Jewish country and frankly that country is not up for grabs. Does the younger generation of American Jews feel as I do. Not necessarily, but maybe they think that Israel was the creation of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Ben Franklin, which it clearly is not.
Israel has a choice. It can be a REAL democracy and lose its special Jewish character, in which case what becomes of the 2000 year old dream that Jews died for? Or it can become a more Jewish and less democratic state - which is what will probably happen.
Israel may have been created by Western and European thinking men but Israel exists in the Middle East and because the Sephardic population is becoming stronger and stronger, Israel will become, not only more Jewish but more Levantine, and LESS democratic. When the AYATOLAIZATION of Israel takes place within the next 50 years or so, whoever is left of the non-Orthodox Jewish Community in America will have less to do with it than they today.
Israel is a great country and has much to celebrate. It stands as an island of incredible technological and moral achievements surrounded by a sea of Oriental barbarism. But sadly, for all its greatness it lacks the desire to celebrate. It still has many problems to solve, not the least of which is what to do with its non-Jewish population, most of whom cannot be trusted.
There is also another problem. There is the problem of the American non-Jewish community that has been Israel's chief support, the American Evangelical and Fundamentalist community. That Christian community has, for its own selfish purposes, helped Israel a great deal. And everyone knows that you don't keep doing things for someone else without a payoff. What is the BIG payoff for the Evangelical community of America in the Middle East? The mass conversion of the Jews to the belief in the Nazarene messiah - which just will not happen.
Here is what I predict will happen to cause the Christian Fundamentalists of America to abandon Israel. The more Israel becomes an Orthodox country, the more hostile it will become to Christian missionizing efforts. Just as the FIRST millenium caused the Christians of Europe to go on a rampage against Jews for not accepting "that man", so I believe that the coming millenium will witness the turning away of the Evangelistic community from Israel due to her refusal to accept him again. AND there probably will be a RELIGIOUS justification to it. For Fundys, there is a RELIGIOUS justification for everything. It may just be the old antichrist theme whereby something false [State of Israel] is created to resemble the real [religious] thing hoped for by Christians. But when its falseness shows itself by the refusal to accept the crucified man, then there will be abandonment.
Israel has a lot to celebrate and a lot NOT to celebrate. For people like me who are no longer in the loop on a day to day basis, it is sad. There is nothing for me to do but watch and have an opinion, an opinion which together with $1.50 gets me a ride on the New York City subway system.
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