American Jews: Choose or lose

As most of the English speaking world prepares for the new year, at least according to the Gregorian calendar (and what did the Gregorian Popes give us anyway…well, aside from the calendar…and the chants), I find that there is a sharp divide between my friends who are Israeli, and my friends who are American, although both groups are fairly heavily represented by Jews.

My American friends are enjoying a day off, and are planning to consume massive meals that will leave them bloated and semi-comatose in front of a widescreen TV while wearing a Snuggie. They will then prepare lists for 2014 in which they promise to never again overindulge in food or spirits, and will subsequently round out the night by playing 15 straight hours of Grand Theft Detroit while simultaneously trying to buy pretty much anything Amazon recommends to them.

“Amazon is the only one who truly knows me, Malynnda.”

My Israeli friends celebrated the New Year months ago, and after surviving Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Hanukah, the last thing we need is another holiday. I am a little annoyed that I don’t get a day’s reprieve where I can practice writing 2014, but since my bank has asked that I stop writing checks for a while, this isn’t as big of an issue as it used to be. The difference between January and December is barely noticeable in Israel, which is both comforting and depressing, combining familiarity with a vague sense of lack of progress, which feels kind of like moving back to your childhood home with your parents at 45. It’s good that you know where everything is, but you’d just thought you’d be doing something different by now.

A lot of my American friends have told me that they plan to visit Israel this year. American Jews mean well when it comes to Israel, at least for the most part. But, sometimes they mistake the love of an idea with actual reality. I was particularly struck by this thought when I read David Horowitz’s piece featuring the opinion of Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Oren advised that Israel has to “recognize all forms of Judaism. We have to recognize the roles of those movements in Judaism within different life-cycle events in Israeli life. We risk alienating them.”

He then continued, “they’ll say to you: I can’t tell you how hurtful it is that the State of Israel doesn’t recognize my form of Judaism. It is the worst pain when you say something like that. It’s something we have to address as a society if we are to remain the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

And my immediate thoughts were, first, why do I care about alienating them any more than I care about alienating some guy in France or Russia? And second, Israel, is the Jewish nation-state, but that doesn’t mean we give out auxiliary citizenship to Jews in other countries. Israel does, in fact, recognize most streams of Judaism when it comes down to the most important thing: you want to change policy here, then move here and become a part of changing the process.

That’s not to say that Jews worldwide do not have a special connection with the land of Israel. This connection is recognized, and has even been codified as part of Israel’s Right of Return legislation, which significantly simplifies the process of gaining citizenship for those who are of Jewish descent, or who have converted through a recognized movement. And due to the decentralized nature of the Orthodox movement, it is frequently easier for Jews from the more liberal streams to make it through the Aliyah process.

But the connection to Israel for those who have not moved here is one of potential energy versus kinetic. Being descended from African slaves does not give me a special license to dictate policy in Nigeria, although I may feel more connected to the issues facing that region than the problems of say, Iceland (well, maybe not Iceland… there’s something about saying Reykjavík that always gives me a cheap thrill). American Jews basically get a free pass to come here and help change Israeli policies they don’t agree with. It’s called making aliyah. Otherwise, you’re just another voice in the peanut gallery.

Oh, and don’t think that I’m too busy alienating the EU, the Palestinians, Turkey, and the rest of the Middle East, that I won’t have time to alienate you, too. I schedule alienation time. I’ll put you down for Wednesday at 10:30. Is that good for you?

It may well be that, as a democracy, it is time for Israel to make changes to its policies towards Masorti and Progressive Judaism. In fact, I agree that a stronger separation of Shul and State would bring about some positive benefits. However, those changes need to be made based on an internal dialogue between Israeli citizens. And in this case, my fellow Israeli, Mohammad from Akko, has a more germane opinion than my fellow Jew, Chaim from New York. At least until Jerry gets his tuchas on a plane heading to Ben Gurion Airport with a one-way ticket.

About the Author
Malynnda Littky made aliyah to Israel with her family in 2007 from Oak Park, Michigan. Her recent stay in Paris, enjoying both medical tourism and her new status as the trophy wife of a research economist, has renewed her love for Israel, despite arriving just in time to enjoy several weeks of lockdown.
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