Larry Gellman

How did so many smart Jews get it so wrong?

Since I first became immersed in the American Jewish community more than 30 years ago, the rules of the game and the path to being considered a Jewish “leader” (has anyone ever met a Jewish “follower?”) has been pretty clear.

All we had to do was give lots of  money to Federation and other mainstream Jewish organizations, invest in Israel Bonds to support the miracle that was taking place in the Jewish homeland, work with AIPAC to build support for Israel in Washington, work with the AJC and ADL to fight anti-Semitism,  and work to fight racism and bigotry and support social justice programs that benefited to the poor and those who suffered from discrimination here in the U.S.

We had it all figured out.  In just one generation we had gone from being the targets of discrimination and bigotry to being the most widely admired religious group in the country.

We felt like heroes and took great pride in Israel’s amazing accomplishments against all odds.  First surviving attacks from richer, more powerful and wealthy Arab neighbors and then moving on to become a world military and financial powerhouse.

And above all, Jews were the smartest guys and gals in the room. Just ask any Jew (or any anti-Semite).

No more nose jobs and no more changing our names to sound less Jewish. We had arrived and won. Or so it seemed to most people.

Just not the wealthy, older Jewish “leaders” for whom perpetual victimhood and the belief that the rest of the world wants to destroy us is so hard-wired into their Jewish identity that they seem powerless to change it.

They knew what we needed to do and what we needed to fear. Our biggest threats were anti-Semites, intermarriage, assimilation, and anything that endangered the survival of Israel.

And, first and foremost, not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory.

For a very long time, most Jews were happy to go along with that story. Israel had the bravest, most ingenious, and most moral army in the world and for Jews who were still coming to grips with the enormity and tragedy of the Holocaust the story had credibility and resonance.

But the tipping point for me came when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in cold blood–not by an Arab terrorist but by an Orthodox Jew acting on the instructions of his rabbis.

And then came the perpetual occupation and growth of settlements, which caused Israel to become an international pariah for reasons that a growing number of Jews actually embraced.

But the roof got blown off after Bibi’s speech to Congress — and his decision to form an Adelson-funded coalition consisting of hard line right wing Jews, Obama-hating Republicans, and proudly homophobic Christian evangelicals — the facts on the ground changed dramatically but the narrative of our legacy organizations did not.

Suddenly Jews who were committed to Jewish values and Tikkun Olam found themselves on the outside looking in. And the older, wealthier Jews made it clear that to be Jewish meant to hate the right people and make sure they didn’t destroy us.

At the very time when Jews have never had more safety, prosperity, and influence in history.

Instead of adapting the narrative to acknowledge these changes and foster conversation and discussion about them, many American Jewish decision makers have moved to shut down conversation and demonize those who dare to express concerns or troubling opinions out loud or even ask questions.

In short, we did the unthinkable for Jews. We got stupid and persisted with narratives based on paranoid fantasies and outdated information.,

The existential threats of today for Israel are coming not from anti-Semites and from devastated and collapsing Arab neighbors, but from the Occupation and self-inflicted errors and decisions made by our own Jewish leaders that would divide our community and turn one Jew on anoth

On one side is the Netanyahu/Adelson coalition and their small but wealthy and powerful supporters here who believe that being a Jew means surviving in a perpetually hostile world where Jews always have been and always will be targeted for destruction by those who are determined to destroy us.

On the other are the majority of American Jews who  care about Israel and its safety, but who don’t feel like victims as Jews here in a country where Jews are admired and respected and even disproportionately loved.

More than 90 percent of self identified American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and feel a special connection to Israel.  And yet members of the Netanyahu/Adelson coalition routinely say that Jews who disagree with them even a little bit are self-hating anti-Semites.

Most people or groups who are designated as a cause of the problem by those who are part of the new ruling international Israeli/Republican/Evangelical team are actually people or groups who have found their voice as a RESULT of the problem.

J Street, for example, does not turn Jews against Israel. J Street gives Jews who feel alienated by the new paradigm a place to go where they can have a voice and feel safe.

With all of our Nobel prize winners and our extraordinary brilliance how did we get the most important part of the real narrative so wrong?

The next segment of this series that began last week will explain.  The first segment can be found by clicking here.

About the Author
Larry Gellman is a retired Managing Director--Wealth Management at a private worldwide investment firm. He has studied and lectured on Jewish wisdom and ethics in Israel and the U.S. . He has spent 40 years as a major Jewish philanthropist and a current National Board Member of organizations including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and CLAL and a past chairman and former board member of Israel Bonds, Jewish Federations, AIPAC and Jewish Day Schools in Tucson and Milwaukee. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN MY WRITINGS ARE MINE AND MINE ALONE. IDO NOT SPEAK ON BEHALF OF ANY OF THE ORGANIZATIONS WHERE I SERVE AS A BOARD MEMBER OR VOLUNTEER.
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