Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Is support of Israel the religion of American Jews?
I do not want to be accused of avoiding the elephant in the room, or better, in the closet. I think of this blog as a little like my Shabbat table. It’s a place for different kinds of people to come together, sing, talk about G-d and spiritual stuff and share wisdom. Now imagine you are at my home for Shabbat and you hear a polite but insistent trumpeting from the closet. You might want to open the closet and check it out. If you are smart you are not going to swing that door too wide. Just enough to peek and formulate a plan for getting a closer look at that elephant. That elephant is “Israel” and this post is my first attempt to crack open that closet door.
Let me begin by saying that figuring out what Israel means to Jews is really complicated because what it means to Jews is really complicated . Its also very diverse. In my experience, that diversity is not well understood either inside the Jewish community and worse outside it. I hope that my Jewish brothers and sisters will step up and contribute their perspectives so we can see them. They range, as you will see, from an religious almost mystical connection to the Land of Israel as a holy land to purely secular and often very pragmatic views of the State of Israel.
In America, support of Israel (emotionally, financially and politically) has become for many their primary expression of Jewish identity. The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece by Eric Alterman from Moment Magazine “The New Religion for America’s Jews: Israel” (Noveember/December 1010) p. 19. I found it provocative and I thought it might make a good launch point for discussion.
When memory is the primary content of one’s Jewish identity, the identity fades as the distance from the remembered experience (like the memory of the Holocaust) grows. And yet in an ethnically defined America in which everybody is something, Jews need a way to feel themselves Jewish—to connect with that part of their identities—in the absence of any knowledge or much interaction with the texts and community that have sustained Jews for centuries.
Without these, many have turned to the defense of Israel as a kind of religious precept and the result, too often, is a repetition of political talking points as if they were the Amidah. [the main standing whispered prayer at the heart of all Jewish prayer services] They are not and will not sustain generation after generation with what is, after all, vicarious experience, and one that is based less on a genuine attachment to Israel than to a mythic version of it. And therein lies the still unsolved dilemma.
see the full article at
This raises some powerful questions:
Has the support of Israel replaced Judaism as the religion of many American Jews?
Is the Israel they support the Israel of reality or the Israel of mythic idealization?
If support of Israel becomes a point of “piety” does it prevent us from thinking about it critically and force us into denouncing those who do as “heretics”?
Where does support of Israel (or even critique) fit into the viewpoints of those who are Observant Jews and do have strong connections to Jewish learning and practice?
How might understanding this quasi-religious force help Muslims and Jews communicate more effectively? Does misunderstanding now act as a barrier?
I look forward to your sharing your thoughts