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Are liberal US Jews who move to Israel suckers?

Does anyone honestly believe that her daughter enlisted in the IDF to defend lawbreaking “yeshiva punks?"

Andy Bachman’s blog, “Don’t Like the Israeli Election? Look in the Mirror,” is a liberal American rabbi’s clear-cut call to American Jews to effect change in Israel by making aliyah.

It came as a welcome surprise. I asked myself whether I had ever heard a similarly inclined American rabbi throw down this particular gauntlet. Sadly – though I grew up in the US before returning to the land of my birth – I had not. It appears to be nearly taboo for any but the most Orthodox American rabbis to ask this much.

Comparing American Jewry to “Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Menashe that asked Moses for permission to live outside the land and enjoy its economic wealth–while promising to offer support in time of war,” Bachman, who stepped down a year ago as Senior Rabbi at Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim to pursue service beyond the Jewish community, writes, “… we prefer our Zionism to remain here and not there. We lead with our mouths, even our hearts, but not our feet. The books on our shelves, the magnets on our refrigerators, the chocolates we eat at Hanukah time, enlighten and sweeten the distance between here and there…”

To put it in raw political terms, Bachman continues, “If Likud won the election in a landslide of 200,000 votes, triggering yet again a crisis for a certain segment of the liberal American Jewish elite (of which, I guess, I’m a reluctant member) imagine a different scenario of 10,000 liberal American Jews making aliyah each year, for twenty years, and causing, in turn, their own revolution inside Israeli electoral life.”

Unfortunately, Rabbi Bachman’s bold and eloquent words prompted the following comment from a spineless troll, calling himself “Anonymous”: “OK let me get this straight: My daughter, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago thinking that women were equal to men, is supposed to make aliyah, put on a uniform, pick up a gun and get shot at, to protect a bunch of yeshiva punks who run around Jerusalem spray-painting black paint over the faces of women on posters….and who think she’s not a Jew because they don’t like what she eats. Sorry, I didn’t raise a sucker.”

Just after I read that comment, my IDF-uniformed daughter – who grew up in a rural village in the Judean Hills thinking that women were equal to men — entered my bedroom to kiss me goodbye before returning to her base. Yes, it sounds like a contrived coincidence. But it was yet another Emes-the-Torah-real moment in which Israeli life imitates bad art.

The second I heard the front door close behind her, my blood reached simmer again. Who you callin’ sucker, Anonymous American Jewboy? Me, my husband, or any of the other tens of thousands of American Jews who made aliyah?

Or perhaps, you mean all Israelis who do military service and send their children to do military service so that you can have a Jewish homeland – where you and your children can, at least, experience an undiluted authentic Jewish lifestyle? Where nearly anybody’s adult daughter can fluently read Hebrew and the Torah. I bet that you are like most American Jews. That – at best – you read Hebrew haltingly and – at worst – mouth Hebrew prayers without even knowing what you are saying. (Case in point: A well-meaning “teacher” once suggested to my seventh-grade American Hebrew-school class that those of us who were unable to read the Hebrew during the responsive reading in synagogue, mumble “Rutabaga, rutabaga, rutabaga.”)

Do you honestly believe that my daughter, a leftist feminist, enlisted in the IDF to defend lawbreaking “yeshiva punks?” Do you think that all the soldiers who fought and died this summer to defend leftist kibbutzim along the Gaza border were defending anyone’s right to spray paint?

Do you believe that brave Americans enlist in the US military to defend vandals?

Not to mention that you cower behind your own daughter. Why ask whether your daughter should make aliyah? What about you? Would you take up arms for this or any other country?

I fear that Anonymous is not alone. That others among the 75% of American Jews who vote Democratic may exploit the political shifts in this country to excuse a lack of real commitment to Israel and Judaism.

It is all too easy to talk the talk. But are the American Jews who bemoan the outcome in Israel’s recent elections prepared to walk the walk out of the US? Will they follow our ancestors out of the fleshpots of Egypt this Passover? Will they feel anything other than bloated with Aunt Sadie’s potato kugel when they say, “Next year in Jerusalem?”

For the sake of integrity (if not for the sake of kashrut), may I respectfully request that those who believe that American olim are “suckers,” at least remove the Israel magnets from their refrigerators this Passover.

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am the author of Hershele and the Chicken Skates, was the English Web Content Manager for the Israel Museum and have translated from Hebrew to English for Haaretz and the ANU Museum of the Jewish People. I'm a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.