Sad, But Not Unexpected

“When affluence leads to forgetfulness, and prosperity to religious indifference, we are in the midst of Judaism’s greatest challenge…” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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The richer Britain became, the more cynical it grew. … It created the religion of shopping, whose original sin was not having this year’s model or must-have, and whose salvation lay in spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that doesn’t last.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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The reason North American Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel “lies not in the political makeup and policies of the current Israeli government, but in contemporary American Jewish life being less religious, less observant, less knowledgeable, less committed, and more intermarried. Consequently, if anything is to be ‘blamed’ for the increasing estrangement, it is not what Israel is doing or not doing, but rather the fundamental deterioration in American Jewish identity.” – Rabbi Daniel Gordis

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“I’m grateful to Hillel Halkin, Evelyn Gordon, and Jordan Chandler Hirsch for their enlightening responses to my essay. … [W]e’re in agreement not only that the divide is widening but…that the principal reason for this state of affairs lies not in Israel’s policies but in what is happening in American Jewish life.” – Rabbi Daniel Gordis

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Many years ago in Israel lived a couple with a little girl. Afraid for their daughter to travel via public transportation, they sent her to a nearby religious school though they were not religious. There the little girl learned the beauty of Torah and Shabbat. The girl repeatedly asked her mother to light Shabbat candles and the mother promised, but never did. She would get home late or be out with her husband, and never got around to lighting.

The girl decided she would light them herself. She went to the corner store and asked for two candles. Knowing that hers was not a religious family, the storekeeper figured that she must want yahrzeit (memorial) candles since even the most non-religious Jews light them. When Friday night came, her parents were out, so the little girl lit the two candles before the sun went down.

When her parents returned they were shocked to see the two yahrzeit candles lit. They woke up their daughter to ask the meaning of the two candles. The daughter sleepily replied, “Since you wouldn’t light for me, I lit for you.” (Aish HaTorah, 12 Sivan, 5776)

Several years ago, at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, two well-known Conservative rabbis from California, Sharon Brous and Edward Feinstein, spoke about the sermon topics that made them uncomfortable. The two topics they considered too controversial for their congregations’ tender sensitivities were G-d and Israel! Sad, but not really shocking. What does it say about today’s Americanized non-Orthodox Judaism if its rabbis are uncomfortable talking to their congregations about G-d and Israel? Afterward, I asked each rabbi separately what topics they felt comfortable to discuss in their sermons. Each responded “social justice.”

This past Shavuot, I attended a Tikkun Leil Shavuot sponsored jointly by 10 north side Jewish institutions including the open-Orthodox Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel, the Conservative Anshe Emet, and three Reform congregations: Temple Sholom, Temple Emanuel and Sinai Congregation. I wondered what topics would be offered at a program devoted to such a holy event as the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The scheduled all-night learning included 24 presenters, both rabbinic and lay, speaking on 21 topics. Since all the rabbis often pontificated on how pro-Israel they are, and since this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, I was interested to see how these “pro-Israel” presenters would treat this topic. With the president of the United States traveling to Israel, I thought there might even be a presentation about the modern miracle of Israel in 2017.

For those who regard Israel and G-d as too toxic, a more secular topic such as Jewish pride in the incredible “Startup Nation” could have been offered. After all, receiving the Torah was a rather watershed event for the Israelites on their way from the diaspora of Egypt to the Land of Milk and Honey. The Land where G-d sent Abram. The Land Moses begged to enter. The Land where Jacob insisted on being buried. All good topics. Strangely, however, out of 21 presentations, not a word about Israel, evidently edged out by such profound Jewish topics as “The Virtues of Liberalism,” “Even in Marriage You’re Allowed to Say No” and “Sowing Justice: Community Gardening and Jewish Ideals.” I could list more, but you get the picture. Sad, but not unexpected. I guess Rabbis Brous and Feinstein and this august group of non-Orthodox institutions all share the same aversions. But at least yoga mats were available.

I asked the senior rabbi, whose Conservative synagogue hosted the event, why Israel hadn’t been included on the program. He said the presenters chose their own topics. It kind of takes your Zionist breath away that out of 24 Jewish “educators,” rabbinic and lay, not one thought to include Israel — and this was before the blow-up over non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel, non-Orthodox conversions, and the revelation of a blacklist of 160 American rabbis by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. “Consequently, if anything is to be ‘blamed’ for the increasing estrangement, it is not what Israel is doing or not doing, but rather the fundamental deterioration in American Jewish identity.” (Rabbi Daniel Gordis) “Sing it Loud & Proud” was also a Shavuot topic offering.

When the senior rabbi of the Conservative synagogue heard he was on the blacklist, he emailed his congregants, referencing another blacklisted Conservative rabbi, Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation of Mendota Heights, Minnesota, who also happens to be the general campaign chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul. In a piece titled “I Was Blacklisted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate” published in the very liberal Forward, Rabbi Allen recalls his father telling him “there were three things that one needed to do to live a decent and fully Jewish life: keep kosher, love Israel and vote Democratic. … Those three facts of life have defined much of my life’s work.” (I’m guessing he supported Keith Ellison for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) “Kosher” and “Israel” were a good start, but I might have disqualified him for being a Democrat. I’m not part of the Chief Rabbinate and I doubt they care whether the rabbis on the list were Democrats or Republicans, but I suspect that over 95 percent of the rabbis on the list are loyal-to-their-grave Democrats. Remember that the 2016 Democratic platform committee withdrew support for Israel and supported Palestinian statehood instead. Thanks, Bernie.

In 2012, after four contentious years of Obama, his approval rating in Israel hovered around 12 percent, yet non-Orthodox Americanized Jews voted for him a second time by almost 85%, totally dismissing Israel’s concerns. I guess in liberal circles that would be considered pro-Israel. A January 2017 Pew survey found that 74% of Republicans versus 33% of Democrats sympathize with Israel, while 34% of Democrats versus only 11% of Republicans sympathize with Palestinians. So why are non-Orthodox, Americanized, Democrat-supporting Jews so upset? From just a simple read, non-Orthodox American Jews have a strange way of showing their pro-Israel bona fides. Let’s be honest. They may feel they’re pro-Israel in a metaphysical sense, but Israel is obviously not high on their list of priorities.

In 1992, Matti Golan, then editor of the liberal daily Ha’aretz (considered the Israeli New York Times) wrote a book called With Friends Like You – What Israelis Really Think About American Jews. A secular fellow who met Ha’aretz’s prerequisite for leftist ideology, Golan was none too complimentary about his Americanized Jewish brothers. But back then, even he had had enough of the “arrogance and hubris of Americanized Jews.” The book is a conversation between “Judah” from America and an Israeli named “Israel.” And Golan pulls no punches. In one of the exchanges, “Israel” describes the response to the Yom Kippur War of some American Jews in high places, who “refrained from openly and unequivocally taking a stand on the side of Israel … even though the fate of the Jewish state was at stake. And what was the reason? Because of ‘the fatigue from the struggle for the sake of Israel.’ Philip Klutznik, the former president of B’nai B’rith, said immediately after the end of the war that 3 American Jews ‘must be aware of the danger of being too preoccupied with Israel.’ ” (Emphasis added.)

As the Jewish state of 2017 continues to move to be more Jewish by the day, Jewish Americans move to be more secularized and indifferent to their Judaism and to Israel. If this doesn’t concern American Jews and their “thick wallet” leadership, why should it concern Israel? It’s been glossed over and swept under the rug for the last 69 years that as much as we dream of a unified peoplehood between American and Israeli Jews, the two communities have been headed in different directions since Israel was first reestablished in 1948. When a leftist like Gordis writes a series of columns such as “Conservative Judaism: A Requiem” (Jewish Review of Books, Winter 2014), “No Jewish People Without Israel” (Tablet, 08/20/12) and “It’s Time to Say a Mi Shebeirach for American Jews” (Bloomberg, 03/14/17), then even a liberal like Gordis can see the handwriting on the Wall (despite a sometimes bumpy transition). But hell has yet to freeze over. Notwithstanding his disgraceful idiocy of encouraging American Jews to stop donating money to Israeli hospitals – (Yes, he actually wrote that on July 3, 2017 in a piece titled “Israelis Don’t Care That You’re Insulted: An Open Letter to American Jews”) – it should be taken as a mea culpa and a mental slip playing to his donor base. His obscene, mind-numbing proposal to jeopardize Israeli lives, Jewish, Christian and Muslim alike – in essence collaborating with the BDS movement because he disagrees with the Chief Rabbinate – is an astounding display of petulance that defies even the ethics of his debased liberalism. He erroneously claimed that five percent of Israel’s GDP comes from Jewish Americans, when in fact it’s less than one percent. Even if he were correct, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Clearly, Gordis is conflicted. But it’s a reprehensible suggestion nevertheless.

If American Jews want to be part of the Jewish peoplehood, they should donate their money as an affirmation of Jewish pride in Israel’s achievement—not as a guilt offering for what they didn’t do during the Shoah. But if you think your money will buy you credibility or respect in Israel, you might as well give it to NPR or PETA. Israel has grown up. It is an incredible miracle in truth, glorified by all the thirdworld bigots in the cesspool of the United Nations. It is truly a blessing for all humanity and a “light unto the nations” that glows brighter by the day. Superman has nothing on Israel, “a nation that shall dwell apart and not be reckoned amongst the nations” … a holy nation that actualizes the unimaginable with unparalleled brainpower. For 40 years in the wilderness, our people were stiff-necked, a condition that’s persisted over the last 69 years.

Hopefully, there will soon come a time when all Jews will recognize that the sanctity of the Kotel eclipses their social activism and egalitarian agendas, and instead focus on prayer to G-d. Separated for prayer, their partner might even still be there after a few personal, respectful moments at the Wall.

Shabbat Shalom,                           08/18/2017 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

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About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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