Monday, December 05, 2011

But Israel is Home: A Guest Response to Jeffrey Goldberg

The Jewish World is all aghast at Israel's aggressive campaign to get Israeli expatriates to return home. The lead has been taken by Atlantic reporter and blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg. I am, personally, conflicted about the campaign. One, impassioned and thoughtful response is by a young friend whose blog posting I repost here:

Dear Mr. Goldberg, That's Right. America IS No Place For A Proper Jew

by Chana Rivka Poupko

I have 2 great passions in life and hope to one day develop a career in both fields.

The first is advertising, the second, Jewish identity. So when I came across the latest campaigns targeted towards Israelis in the U.S. telling them to come home, I could not ignore it, and I definitely could not ignore it after the uproar which it created amongst American Jewry. There is an on going argument amongst advertisers- is all publicity good? Some believe that even bad publicity is good, since it gets the company's name out in the public. I am glad this campaign is creating such an uproar. This gives us a chance to finally discuss this important topic that has been relevant for the past 2,000 years.

One cannot find on YouTube the ad with the child saying it's Christmas, when he actually should be saying it's Channuka. It seems that the ad had hit an exposed nerve in the body of American Jewry.
Jeffrey Goldberg at his blog writes ("Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews"):
The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik
I would like to tell Mr. Goldberg, “That's right. America IS no place for a proper Jew. And any Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should not be living abroad. And, by the way, chutzpah in Israel is not a negative term. It’s having the nerve to say what needs to be said, no matter how unpleasant, in this case to tell Israelis who have gone to American for the “good life,” that they may have sold their birthright for a mess of lentil soup.”

Other bloggers have written about the scare tactic in this campaign. The question arises: “why hasn't the campaign gone down a calmer road, convincing these Israelis to come back home for reasons like, sunshine, a low unemployment rate, real felaflels? Using fear in a campaign is a very strong tactic, but most- sometimes it's all that works. Sunshine, good food and a steady economy, may not be cards strong enough to play.

I was talking to a relative who moved to Israel a few years ago. We spoke after she had some trouble in a few stores that day and of course she began the classic "Oh, in the states that would never had happened". But then she paused and said "it’s moments like this that remind you that you move to Israel for spiritual reasons, not materialistic reasons." Anyone who’s been following the Israeli news over the last 6 months knows that financially life in Israel is not simple for many of us.

During college I've heard my friends saying that in a few years they hoped to live somewhere outside the land of Israel. Some of my friends found out that I'm an American citizen and I can get up and leave anytime I wish to do so. They've told me I'm crazy for staying here when I have an opportunity to just get on a plane and not live here anymore. But those are just some of my friends.

On the other hand, I have a fair number of friends who've made aliya. These friends have chosen to voluntarily join the army and start a life here without their family. I greatly admire these friends. Truth be told, if you look at their actions through materialistic eyes – then yes, they are crazy. But when you know that moving to Israel is not immigrating to another country, but something much deeper than that, the Jews who live out of this great country, may be the crazy ones.

One does not immigrate to Israel, one makes aliya, and one is not an immigrant in Israel, one is an Oleh. Aliya, and Oleh come from a root that means "going up". Moving to Israel is a difficult but an uplifting experience for your soul, from what I've heard. I myself cannot share my experience of making aliya, I was lucky enough to be born here. But my parents have made aliya 30 years ago and everyday I thank God for that.

Not too long ago, a friend who made aliya asked what my favorite thing about Israel is. I had no answer. Later that night I went to bed asking myself that question over and over again. I realized I don’t have a favorite thing about life in Israel. Life in Israel is my favorite thing. Knowing that I am lucky enough to be living in the land that has been promised to my forefathers thousands of years ago is an astonishing thought to me. But living here is not amazing just because of historical reasons. A Jew's spirituality is not whole while living out of the Land of Israel. Although G-d dwells everywhere, his presence is strongest in the land of Israel. A Jew is closest to G-d while being in the Land of Israel. Making aliya is not just for religious people. Aliya is for anyone who understands the importance of Jews living in their home land.

Julie Wiener ("Israel To Ex-Pats: Come Home Before Your Kids Start Celebrating Xmas") suggests that a parody campaign should be done, presenting the "dangers" of aliya Americans making aliya and producing "bizarre" offspring who will call their mother "Ima". Wiener is afraid that God forbid, these offspring will cut in line in the super market. In life one should keep a sense of proportion. On the micro level, cutting in line is disturbing to me; on the macro level – Jews living outside of Israel is much more disturbing to me. I feel sorry for Jews whose ancestors prayed for two thousand years to be able to return to the Land, and now that we can, they don’t. I try to imagine to what these people's ancestors would say if 200 years ago they'd been told their grandchildren would have the possibility to live in Israel, yet chose to ignore it.

It seems that those frightened by this campaign are threatened by the thought that someone actually is telling them that living out of Israel undermines Jewish and Israeli identity. You do not have to be a professor of sociology to know that immigration creates a new identity for immigrants and if not for them, then for their off spring. The percent of Jewish assimilation is incredibly high. The number of Jews in the world today is the same as it's been in 1980, which means, we're still having children, but were disappearing too. One can say they will make the effort in order to keep his/ hers Jewish identity, but our forefathers said the same thing when they moved out of the shtetel. We all know that did not last for long.

Every day I pray for all Jews to realize the importance of life in Israel. How can we claim this land is ours while we're still living all over the world? Why should the common Joe Smith believe in the Jew's right to the land of Israel, while half of his colleagues are Jews, not living in the Promised Land?

Living in this great country may be a crazy thing to do, but still, I know this is where I'm suppose to be, and that's what keeps here.

Chana Rivka Poupko is a 24 year old Jerusalemite; she is a PR intern and hopes to see the day when all Jews move to Israel. Besides that she has lots of love of world Jewry and cares about their future. She'd love it if her kids will have Israeli chutzpa instead of having no Jewish identity.


Anonymous said...

as i always say when reading such pieces, oy.
poupko offers an impassioned and articulate statement of her thoughts and feelings about what israel means to her. but it does not mean that for all jews. for many, jewish life outside of israel is just fine, thank you, and may even find jewish life in israel restrictive.
it is not an either/or of rudeness vs. intermarriage.
and who knows, maybe for others intermarriage is not the great tragedy that you think it is.
the overwhelmingly large number of jews over thousands of years who never bothered to come -- and this includes most holocaust survivors -- makes the argument of historical appreciation [what would our dead ancestors say?] ring hollow.
further, so many spiritual, saintly, rabbis never bothered to make the move. ditto for so many religious jews today. at a certain point you need to take a step back and get some perspective: maybe israel works for you and is great for you. but for many very good jews, it just isnt. and maybe thats fine, even from a jewish, religious perspective.
that you are excited to live in israel and feel fully jewish there is good, for you. but your feelings dont work for everybody, and you cannot assume that your feelings and experiences should be true for everybody.

the best response i have found to jeffrey goldberg can be found in the forward, in a piece written by hazony.

Anonymous said...

I think what Ms. Poupko was saying is that you (and your ideological compatriots) are expressing a non-authentic religious Jewish world view. While it is true that rabbis and other Jewish leaders in the past (and, alas, present) eschewed the opportunity (nay, obligation) to live in the land of Israel, that does not have relevance to the rectitude of your position. Many wrongs do not make a right. A brief perusal of the Scriptures, Mishnah and Talmud, as well as our daily prayer liturgy, firmly establishes the centrality of the land of Israel to the essence of Judaic dogma, second only to the belief in the Almighty himself. Centuries of exile required a perhaps expedient substitute for that centrality, which took the form of the pious, learned Talmid Chacham, with the emphasis on his portable Torah learning, a sin qua non for the wandering Jew. However, the return to Zion was always his foremost aspiration, and its current realization re-establishes Israel as the focal center for every intellectually honest practicing Jew. Just as there is no such thing as half-pregnant, there is no longer such a thing as a galut Jew, as an authentic Jewish identity - you either embrace galut, or embrace your Judaism - there is no longer a happy ideological middle ground. To state that for some Jews, Israel doesn't work for them "even from a Jewish, religious perspective" is tantamount to stating that for some Jews, shabbat doesn't work for them, and we know where that leads to ...