A while back I visited the new museum, “Anu” (Us). For years I heard great things about its predecessor, The Diaspora Museum, but procrastination and forgetfulness caused me to miss it. As punishment, I suffered disappointment from Anu.
Anu didn’t leave a bad impression; more accurately it left almost no impression other than superficiality, and was soon forgotten. My memory was jogged by the appearance in my email of an article about the museum, entitled “Anu and the Americanization of Jewish History,” by Dr Aviad Moreno, Head of the Jewish World Lab at the Azrieli Center for Israel Studies at Ben Gurion University, and Prof. Aryeh Dubnov, who holds the Israel Studies Chair at George Washington University. It appeared in “Hazman Hazeh” (Now), the Journal of Politics, Culture and Science of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.
The article gave voice to the rudimentary reactions and hesitations I had to Anu, from the moment I began perusing the exhibits. But, as an American oleh, I would take its critical analysis further by focusing on exactly that matter: the lack of significant Aliyah by choice on the part of American Jews.
The key message of Moreno and Dubnov is that museums devoted to mutual acquaintance of Israeli Jews and their brethren abroad tend to paper over tensions that are growing over time. For example, simply naming the first museum was a loaded decision. Self styled representative of the State of Israel to Jews in the US, Nahum Goldman, who was instrumental in creating the museum, would not entertain the razor- sharp term “exile,” and chose the more amorphous “diaspora.” According to the authors, there was a felt need to replace the Diaspora Museum with one that would give more attention to contemporary Jewish life outside of Israel, as opposed to focusing on the troubled past. But the newly named Anu only exacerbates the tendency to suppress conflictual relations regarding differences in religion, culture and politics that inhere between communities within Israel, within Jewish communities outside of Israel, and, perhaps first and foremost, between Israel and US Jewry.
Moreno and Dubnov refreshed my memory and helped to me to put my finger on what bothered me at Anu. For example, the curators saw fit to designate Conservative Judaism as “traditional” Judaism. This does an injustice to both terms. In Israel, traditional refers to those Jews who maintain aspects of a Jewish lifestyle and is largely associated with immigrants to Israel from Arab lands. The major tenet of Conservative Judaism is that the Halacha, Jewish Law, can change with changing social circumstances. Not only are these not congruent, they may actually be opposed to one another. Another example is the large space devoted to celebrating Jewish humor featuring American Jewish comedians without conveying what characterizes Jewish humor and how it is very much grounded in the suffering of living in Exile.
A cogent analogy to Ikea is made by the authors. Like at IKEA, at Anu the individual can take freely from modular products and construct a tailor made Jewish world view that is comfortable and non binding in a pluralistic environment. It is do it yourself Judaism that comes with user friendly instructions that do not demand deep knowledge and understanding and prefers artificial components to quality raw materials.
As a former American Jew, at Anu, I watched the rowdy teenagers gawking at the exhibits and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the superficial feel good acquaintance being offered them with their so-called brethren abroad. Evident was influence of US Jews, not to mention their financial input, acting out of their being alienated and threatened during what Tel Aviv University Professor and Knesset Member Yossi Shain calls the Israeli Century. While US Jews occupy themselves with “Tikkun Olam,” a vague catch all umbrella for do- gooder activities not necessarily endowed with uniquely Jewish content, Israeli Jews are getting their hands dirty in the real world.
Sadly, Israel may not be the most moral country with the most moral army in the world. Perhaps it is becoming or already is an apartheid state. In my view none of these are true, but even if they were, acting as a Jew in Israel is preferable to an anaemic Jewish existence in the US.
Unfortunately, the obfuscation of Anu regarding the issue of Jewish immigration to Israel from the US, is commonly observed outside the four walls of the museum. As this is written, I hear MK Avi Dichter argue, in the context of the story of the death in action of Hir al-Din, a high level Druze IDF officer, that the Jewish Nationality Law should not be seen as an affront or denial of rights to Israel’s Druze population. He is correct, at least insofar as the Nationality Law is much more of an affront to Israel’s Jewish population, exposing as it does the demographic insecurity of the latter. The source of this insecurity and the manner in which it is acted out is the direct result of the refusal of US Jewry to prioritize, or even discuss realistically, aliya of a significant number of American Jews who would contribute to the coping with the difficult, complex challenges of running a country. As with every previous wave of immigration, this would put flesh on the word Anu. The lack of such an Aliyah is the main contributor to Israel heading, in the view of thinkers such as A.B.Yehoshua, for better or for worse towards a bi- or multi- national State that will be, pessimistically, forever plagued by unrest and violence, or, optimistically, produce a new, vibrant, robust society. Either way, the future Israel will become increasingly disconnected from whatever Jews are left over time in the US.
Where Beit Hatsufot documented and made accessible the rich but troubled history of the Jews in Exile, Anu clouds any clear vision with an implicit acceptance or even encouragement, of a bi-polar muddled Jewish world, spawning a never ending pluralism of conceptions of Jewish existence which neutralize each other and amount to nothing. Anu, instead of countering this dysfunction contributes to it. It would have been better to remain with the Diaspora.