(February 27, 2020 / Jewish Journal) A Feb. 21 op-ed in The Forward that alleges Jewish day schools encourage dual loyalty to Israel is “shocking,” according to Anti-Defamation League CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt.
The op-ed’s anonymous author states that during their time working at six Jewish day schools in New York City, they saw these schools adorned with Israeli flags and heard the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” sung more frequently than “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The students, the author claims, were being taught that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “our prime minister.”
“Are we really to blame non-Jewish staff if they leave campuses thinking that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States?” the writer asserts. “Perhaps we tell ourselves that they just don’t understand the incredible, mystical nuance that underpins the relationship between Judaism and Zionism. That while it sometimes looks like we’re supporting a foreign government, it’s really about our hopes, dreams and historical identity.”
The op-ed went on to state: “The jingoism around Israel and its military goes beyond any possible doctrinal link between Judaism and Zionism. There is no similar enthusiasm for the Torah in these schools. On the contrary, there was an understanding at all the schools in which I have taught that we don’t push religion, that we must teach about religion in a detached way. So while we may teach what the Torah says, we are pretty much forbidden from actually saying the key point—that ‘as Jews we have to do what the Torah says.’ It’s like a very lame, extremely limited, comparative religion class. But when discussing Israel and Zionism, there is rarely room for leniency, disagreement, or apathy.”
Greenblatt responded in a Feb. 25 Forward op-ed that the anonymous piece “likely delights anti-Semites from all sides of the spectrum. Whether they hate the Jewish people and/or the Jewish state, they undoubtedly will hold up this op-ed long into the future as the basis for their bigotry.”
He argued that the writer’s refusal to provide his or her name, or the name of the schools in question, makes it impossible to rebut any of the allegations in the op-ed. More importantly, Jewish day schools tend to celebrate Israel as part of Jewish “personal identity,” argued Greenblatt.
“Celebrating the miracle of the creation of the Jewish state after 2,000 years of yearning to return to Zion is foundational to the teaching of Jewish history and identity,” wrote Greenblatt. “It links the Jewish people of the present to the ancient Jewish people of the past. After millennia of persecution and pogroms, of marginalization and murder, the miracle of Israel cannot be understated.”
The ADL head then wrote that Jewish day schools teach American values and history and instill a sense of patriotism in students for the United States. The dual-loyalty trope against Jews, wrote Greenblatt, dates back centuries.
“From the Dreyfus affair in 19th century France to the Farhud in 20th-century Iraq to the singular tragedy of the Shoah, dual loyalty has been used to rationalize the irrational hatred of Jews and the most horrific crimes,” he wrote.
Huffington Post senior video producer Isaac Himmelman echoed Greenblatt in a Feb. 22 Forward op-ed, arguing that his Jewish day school taught him to be proud to be an American.
“I attended school every day with the grandkids of Holocaust survivors liberated by American troops, kids whose parents fled Soviet tyranny, and kids who themselves fled the tyranny of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he wrote. “My own grandfather was a proud Jewish Marine. We didn’t need a teacher to intellectualize ‘one nation under G-d’ for us in a classroom. Our patriotism, like our connection to Judaism, was a lived experience, something true and sacred that we held inside us every day.”
Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren tweeted that the author remained anonymous because “there is a clear danger of the author losing his job if identified.” She said in separate tweets that the Forward had verified the author’s employment at Jewish day schools and would be happy to consider running other perspectives and experiences with Jewish day schools.
“When someone has an interesting story to tell and reasonable fear of repercussions to livelihood or safety, it’s worth it,” tweeted Rudoren.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.
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