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‘Citizens of the world’ – on B’nai Jeshurun and the Palestinian U.N. status

On B’nai Jeshurun and the Palestinian U.N. status

There was an interesting term used in a recent email sent out by leaders of the B’nai Jeshurun congregation in New York City: in the email, which praised the U.N. vote that granted the Palestinian a non-member state status, the cosigners argued the vote was “a great moment for us as citizens of the world.”

It is sometimes said about Jews that they have the ability to understand and sympathize with any side at any given debate or conflict – besides their own. Without going into some of that email’s questionable assertions, and the later apology of the rabbis regarding the “tone” of the message (but not its “essence”), the self-description as “citizens of the world” is intriguing. The world does not issue passports yet, and one can sense in the email the old Dr. Feel-good prescription of many liberal (and, before them, radical) Jews: a simplistic and unreflective universalism. When one cares about “the world” – or the “oppressed masses,” or the “international proletariat,” or whatever category seems large enough – s/he really cares about little. The generations-long attempt to transcend anything that is seen as parochial, tribal (or just too Jewish) was historically common among Jews who wanted to shed any trace of Jewishness – socialists (though by no means all of them), communists, anarchists, or bourgeois assimilators.

That this flight from Jewish particularism would manifest itself among rabbis is hardly a new phenomenon. Yet that email shows again that when it comes to Israel many American Jews would stick to what they believe is the universal or humanist bon ton of the moment rather than to be accused – heaven forbid – of being supportive of the Jewish state.

It is one thing to advocate the creation of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, a territory in which the Jewish people came into being, due to valid demographic, political, or other considerations. But when the signatories rush to support such a solution as “citizens of the world” they demonstrate not only a disturbing level of alienation from other Jews, but also alienation from the foundations of Jewish history and civilization.

About the Author
Dr. Gil Ribak is an Associate Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona. Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Ribak served as an analyst in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office before earning a Fulbright Fellowship that sent him to pursue his doctoral studies in the U.S. In 2021-2022, he serves as the European Union's Marie Curie Senior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies in Freiburg, Germany. I am a scholar and public educator of Modern Jewish history, whose scholarship has always been interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together history, sociology, folklore, ethnic studies, and literature. My scholarly interests and expertise span various fields of Jewish history – American Jewish history, Eastern European Jewish history, and histories of Modern Israel.