Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A response to Halkin — from a teacher

One of the educators on our Thursday informal programs through Israel recently published what I read partly as a response to Halkin's talk with our group. Alex Sinclair's article Why Silence over Israel's wrongs is anti-Zionist mandates American engagement with Israel, and condemns Halkin's explicit Israel-centrism of the relationship.

It's well written. Based on what you know from the previous post, I'd be interested in your feedback on how it relates to my own thoughts.

Follow-up questions for Alex are how to make these proposals happen in the micro, on the ground.

Below is the article from Haaretz:

Why silence over Israel's wrongs is anti-Zionist
By Alex Sinclair

Israel is not living up to its potential, and one reason for that is because American Jews have not insisted that their voices be heard.

The recent flood of articles and essays about American Jews "losing their love" for Israel is based not only on a misguided conception of Israel-Diaspora relations, but also on a misguided conception of what a loving relationship is about.

There is a famous Rashi on Genesis 2:18, in which God decides to create a partner for Adam. The Biblical narrator has God say "It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper against him." The Hebrew here, "ezer k'negdo," is tricky, and has always perplexed translators. Some try "corresponding to him," some try "beside him," some try "fitting." None of these captures the oddness of the Hebrew.

Rashi comments as follows: "If he is worthy: a helper; if he is not worthy: against him, to fight with him." Generations of rabbis have used this beautiful comment to talk about the complexity of the relationship between spouses, and to suggest that a true marriage is based on the ability and willingness to give honest and critical feedback to one's spouse if they lose their way. A spouse is not a yes-man (or woman); a spouse is someone who disagrees with you when you are wrong.

The current crisis - and it is a crisis, make no mistake about it - in the relationship between American Jewry and Israel is because we have forgotten this Rashi.

We need to remember this Rashi because it suggests that American Jews should offer angry, vocal, confrontational critique when they feel that Israel is practicing particular policies that they find unworthy. Note the word that Rashi uses: "to fight." Not just to critique, not just to gently remind, not just to seek to influence, but to shout, to confront, to demand to be heard.

If we want American Jews and Israel to be in a truly deep relationship, then we need to enable American Jews to be the ezer k'negdo, the helping spouse who fights. After all, they do enough helping. We can't ask American Jews to support us, visit us, give us their money, and be inspired by us, without allowing them - demanding of them - to tell us what they think. It is taxation without representation. It is an abuse of the relationship between us. It is blasphemy to the very notion of a Jewish state.

This approach will ultimately lead to a much richer marriage between American Jews and Israel. Young American Jews throw their weight behind other causes, causes where demands are made on them, where they are encouraged to fight against injustice, to debate, to create change. We don't give them these opportunities with Israel. Go and change the world, we say; but when it comes to Israel, you must close off your creative energies, your critical thinking, your fiery emotions, and just support politely from the sidelines. No wonder they are not interested.

Young American Jews will not develop renewed commitment to Israel unless we demand that they make demands; that they become the ezer k'negdo. Every Jewish day school should require every single student to join an Israeli political party. Every synagogue should do the same for its members. When American Jewish groups come here on missions, they should be doing so not just to support, but also to demand, to critique, to tell us where we are going wrong.

The lack of American Jewish voices in modern Israel is a tragedy. Israel, for all its wonders, its achievements, and its robustness, is not living up to its potential, and one of the reasons for that gap is the lack of American Jewish voices in its culture, religion, and politics.

Thomas Friedman writes more perceptively about Israeli politics than any Israeli journalist or politician; why are his pieces not regularly and immediately translated into Hebrew? Abraham Joshua Heschel revolutionized our understanding of Jewish spirituality; most religious Israelis have never heard of him. Diaspora Jewish educational thinkers and practitioners have made enormous strides in working out how to get Jews of different religious streams to sit, talk, and learn together; Israel is decades behind. There are countless other examples. Both sides are at fault. Israelis have been too stubborn, too arrogant, or too busy, to listen; but American Jews have not been willing to be the ezer k'negdo, the spouse who fights.

Israel is not living up to its potential, and one reason for that is because American Jews have not insisted that their voices be heard. This is scandalous. It is anti-Zionist. It is suicidal. It must change

1 comment:

  1. Zac- I agree with Alex Sinclair's piece. I am for engagement. You can read about it in my blog piece, losing and finding love, which I wrote in response to Jay Michaelson's now famous Forward piece, "How I'm Losing my Love for Israel". But I also want to tell you that Hillel Halkin's book both drove me crazy and completely influenced me in 1984 when I read it - despite his rejections of diaspora and of feminism, his arguments about land and language struck me deeply and I credit his book in large part with fueling my desire for and later actualization of aliyah.

    I am surprised you did not mention Kaplan, or the idea that Israel is a spiritual center. Things will happen here that won't happen anywhere else. We'll face challenges here that you won't and vice versa.

    I am learning Maccabees 2 after learning Maccabees I some years back and I hope to one day get to posting on my blog some ideas Prof. Daniel Schwartz has written about Maccabees 2 regarding Diaspora historiography. Also relevant to this discussion.

    Keep up the amazing work!