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The limits of loyalty

Recent events have brought into sharp relief the sense that home is not in America

The Federal Express guy barely got my signature when I started to cry. “It’s an important document” I snuffled to him, grinning through my tears like a madwoman. He left Road Runner tracks as he scurried through my front yard to his truck. There was no way to explain the range of emotions triggered by receipt of the aliyah visa now gracing my United States passport. For me and so many Jews before me, aliyah means acceptance of the gift of the right of return, a gift paid for by those who fought and continue to fight for Israel’s right to exist. My struggle regarding dual loyalty has ended. But for others it has only grown with recent events; in some countries the message is starting to sound as if the welcome mat is no longer out for Jews.

Throughout Operation Protective Edge, the issue of dual loyalty seems to rise to the top for diaspora Jews who express support for Israel. This is not about those Jews who joined the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel crowd, however you want to classify them. Their loyalty is to a myth created solely to demonize Israel and to minimize the right of Jewish return to our nation.

For Canadian Jews, maybe the divided loyalty issue was easier. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a vocal supporter of Israel. Canadian Jews could be proud of their leader. Harper has unequivocally offered support and been clear about why. The following is from an article by Mark Kennedy in the Ottawa Citizen, published on August 4th:

Kennedy writes about Harper’s visit to Israel in January and his speech to the Knesset. His words said what no representative of the executive branch of the government of the United States has said about the conflict with Hamas:

‘Those who often begin by hating the Jews, history shows us, end up hating anyone who is not them,’ said Harper…’Those forces, which have threatened the state of Israel every single day of its existence and which, as 9/11 graphically showed us today, threaten all of us.’

Now on to Canada’s neighbor to the south. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, Jews in the United States who are committed to Israel witnessed a foreign policy that seemed to be a bad cop, good cop plot of an old Law and Order. The approach to Prime Minister Netanyahu was disrespectful on the part of the President and the Secretary of State. In addition, the lack of a cohesive policy regarding Islamic terror played out in the halls of Washington at the expense of Israelis who were slammed with terror attacks on a daily basis. That they could not make the connection is stunning to me. And I was embarrassed that this was the best this President could do to support an ally. Yes, the Iron Dome funding went through Congress and the President signed it, but the pain of the demeaning treatment of Israel by the administration is a sore wound.

So where does the loyalty lie for American Jews? To this administration? To a political party? To the American melting pot ideal? To Israel also? Or not? As the uptick in anti-Semitism causes some Jewish soul searching in Europe, is there any of that here? There must be. What are most American Jews thinking? Is there some shame circling about dual loyalty? Isn’t there a lot of pride for the IDF? Isn’t there horror that anti-Israel protesters have turned their rallies into classic anti-Semitic rants in Boston, Chicago and other cities? Or are Jews embarrassed by it? What were American Jews thinking when the three boys, one an American, were murdered by terrorists? What about the death of lone soldiers in this operation; is there pride that young American Jews are risking their lives for the Jewish nation? On one of the social media groups for English speaking olim, there was a question posed about whether relatives and friends in the United States had reached out to their now Israeli family and friends during the operation. Many questioned why there had been less contact during this period and what it meant. One man mentioned that no one in his family had been in touch. This made me sad.

I do not have any answers, only questions about the lack of connection that some diaspora Jews have with what is clearly the most amazing Jewish journey: the return to a homeland after two thousand years of dispersion. And if there is a connection, what does it mean for those of us raised on American patriotism? I have no answers, other than my own which is that in the end, we are visitors, we are hoisted up as an example of American diversity, but we are not home. In this country, less than three hundred years old, there is a tentativeness for the “other”. Granted the “other” changes every few years depending on the political climate. Now it seems to be Latin American kids trapped in relocation centers. In the 1930s and 40s, Jews were turned away by the same anti-immigration fervor. After World War II, Jews were suspected of being communists and vilified. So here’s where it gets tough: if our tentative seat at the table of the American dream is dependent upon a political climate, is our loyalty earned?

There are a lot of questions and I surely do not have the answers, nor would I presume to tell anyone else what to do. The answers I have are mine and came to me through a lot of soul searching and prayer. This past winter on a long visit in Jerusalem, I realized what could have felt foreign did not. At all. When I returned to the United States, it was as if I had lost something, or left something behind. As I watched from a distance these past few weeks, I knew that all of my questions had been answered. My loyalty, as much as I appreciate the life I have had in the United States and especially in the little town that has been home for almost thirty years, is to a country that sees every Jewish life as precious and is rooted in a place where a nation was born thousands of years ago. And where the welcome mat is always out.

About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. She has worked at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance and retired in 2020 from her position as the Resource Development Manager at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center. She recently retired from her position as a Consultant at Landman Strategic Fundraising. Pro cycling fan. T1D.