Thursday, August 31, 2006

Elul 5766: Food for Thought for Diaspora Jews

I just returned from vacation in Netanya (more on that later), and discovered this. It deserves maximum distribution.

If Israel had only a year to live
Bradley Burston

If you knew that Israel had just a year to live, would you see it differently?If, as a Muslim, you knew that Iran, in the name of Islam, was about to turn the Jews of the Holy Land into ash, how would it influence your outlook, your beliefs, your actions?

If as a Diaspora Jew, you knew that you were about to be all that was left of the Jewish people, would that affect your observance, your identification, the direction of your social conscience?These days, the questions are more than merely theoretical, a point which grass-roots reactions to the recent war drove home with telling effect. Certainly never before was this newspaper, a clearinghouse and meeting place for passionate opinions on both sides, so swamped with messages haunted by the prospect of - or explicitly advocating - genocide.

Iran's certainly thought about it. They've calculated that since Iran's land mass is some 86 times that of Israel, they could take a nuclear first or second strike and still reduce the Jewish state to Alamogordo glass.

So how would it work, if those who would have Israel disappear got their way?Some of it we know. Some of it we've already seen. We know that there would be jubilation in Arab capitals, as well as broad swaths of Malaysia, Indonesia, Detroit, San Francisco, London and Paris.

There are also millions upon millions of Muslims which the annihilation of Israel would give serious pause. Perhaps a reconsideration of the wisdom of having granted jihadists a broad measure of respect in avenging Israel's killing of Muslim civilians - and avenging the very existence of Israel - by killing Jewish civilians.

Perhaps, as well, a reconsideration of having given so public a stage to radical Islam, and of having remained on the sidelines - or voicing roundabout but heartfelt justifications - as murders were committed in the name of justice, in the name of defending the Prophet, in the name of restoring Muslim honor, in the name of fighting Bush, in the name of Allah.

What we don't know, is how the Jews of North America would respond. Not the minority that is active in Jewish or Israel-oriented organizations, not the minority that takes active part in synagogue or Jewish community life.What about the others? The majority.

There's no question that for many American Jews, Israel has already ceased to exist. It is a dot on a map, an unfamiliar, perhaps dead-end branch on a fading family tree.

It only makes sense. Some are alienated by the character of North American Judaism. The liturgy doesn't speak to them. The culture doesn't speak to them. Their interests lie elsewhere, in social action, in making a living, in making a lifestyle, in getting through the day.

For many of the generation of Jews now in their 20s and 30s, it appears, Israel is simply not relevant. Life is too short. Life is too full. Life is too promising, to have it be dragged down by that bummer of a distant Promised Land.

It's the wrong promise. There's too much to answer for. Jews - heirs to what we prefer to recall as the Old Testament prophets' social vision of Judaism as exponent of equality, generosity, humanity, Swords to Plowshares - don't want to be thrown into the First Samuel reality of swords, swords, and swords.

Maybe, in the end, all of this is a healthy thing. Maybe North American Jewry should begin to think about a future without a state of Israel. Maybe it's time for the Jewish world's largest Diaspora to start acting like it. Maybe it's time that a healthy, unselfconscious, reduced-neurosis authentic American Jewish culture emerged.

Not because Israel is about to be erased.

Rather, to make sure that in the future, American Judaism is not.

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