There was a time when the non-Hebrew speaking American Jew was very limited in obtaining information on the everyday goings on and current events in Israel. The American newspapers and periodicals that we read regularly were of course very limited in their coverage and always from the American point of view. There was the Jerusalem Post, but for the average American Jew finding a copy was not that easy. Has the fact that any information on what’s happening in Israel now is just a mouse click away changed the involvement and attitudes of American Jews? I would strongly argue that it has.
Prior to the internet, American Jews were not as involved and knowledgeable about Israeli politics. Of course we knew about the Labor Party with Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, and that Menachem Begin in whichever party he was in at the time was in opposition. In general, us Jews loved all Israeli leaders. All we read was positive. When Begin would visit the US while in opposition he would never criticize Israeli policy or other Israeli leaders.
We did not know much about the Israeli media. Which periodicals leaned left and which leaned right? Who was pro-government and who was against? We did not know and by virtue of not knowing we were apathetic. Israeli elections were events we did not really understand very well. We were used to seeing lots of screaming and yelling in the Knesset but we did not really understand what was going on. When we would read about it in the NY Times we were reading something geared for the American audience not for insiders. Columnists? We did not know any. We did not read or hear about the movers and shakers of Israeli society or the opinion makers. Analysis of leading issues of the day from an Israeli point of view? No, we never saw any of that.
It was not just politics that we were poorly informed about. We did not know very much about the economy of Israel. We knew that life was difficult but we were ignorant of the business leaders and and the economic issues that Israeli society was dealing with. A few Israeli entertainers crossed over into the American consciousness but in general we did not know what Israelis were watching on TV, listening to music wise or seeing in their theaters. Sports? Sure Israel loved soccer but that is not a game that Americans pay much attention to. Israeli basketball? Tennis? We knew nothing about it. We paid strict attention to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and watched with pride as the Israeli team walked in, but once the games started (with the tragic exception of Munich) we did not hear anything again about Israel.
Of course now it is all different. Now we have access to it all and have an opinion on everything. We are now polarized just like our Israeli brethren. You can read what the left thinks in Haaretz, the right in the Jerusalem Post and the center in the Times of Israel. When a hot button issue hits the news we want to understand it by reading an analysis by David Horovitz. Currently, Americans have their favorite Israeli politicians and ones they really don’t like. When elections come around we can discuss the issues and have rooting interests besides sending over campaign contributions and American political consultants.
Now, Americans are aware of natural gas exploration off of Israeli shores. We read about the latest Israeli IPO’s and follow with interest Israeli companies on the stock exchanges. We see demonstrations against government economic policies in video clips embedded in the newspaper articles. We follow the tortured debate over how to handle the immigrants from Africa. We get emotionally involved in these debates and have strong opinions.
We follow the progress of Israeli World Cup aspirations. In the Olympics we scour our Israeli bookmarks for information of how the Israeli team is doing. Tennis fans follow the Israeli Davis Cup team and want to read how the handful of Israeli players are doing on the pro circuits each week. We have interest in how the Israeli national teams do in international basketball and baseball tournaments. During the Maccabiah games we can actually get information and results in real time.
We see Facebook posts with YouTube clips of adorable Israeli girls singing in the Israeli version of American Idol. We watch Israeli movies on Netflix. I was invited to dinner in a Succah in an Israeli household and the hostess welcomed her guests by calling us her Uschpizin. I commented how I very much enjoyed that movie and as the non-Hebrew speaking American there I shocked our Israeli hosts with my knowledge of this word and the film.
Yes, the world and the relationship between the American Jew and Israel have been permanently altered. Israeli leaders have to adapt to this new reality. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of it and the Times of Israel can continue to educate us and feed our appetite for all that is Israel.