OpinionIsrael at War

It’s not our thing

Why are so many American Jews still on the sidelines?

Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Alan Newman
Alan Newman is the author of the novel Good Heart and a pro-Israel advocate who holds leadership positions at AIPAC, StandWithUs and other organizations.

While we sat quietly at a local restaurant, several neighbors floated by. They stopped and shared that their friends were traveling to Israel to volunteer. We asked if they were going with them. They responded, “No. It’s not our thing.” It reminded us of the jaded traveler who visits the Taj Mahal and says, “Been there, done that.”

We wondered what was not their thing. Is the thing compassion for the dead, the raped, the hostages? Is the thing helping wounded IDF soldiers, families of hostages, the displaced or farmers? Tradition requires you to attend shivas and funerals. These are not fun things, but they are kind things. They are Jewish things.

We wondered how they separated their tidy lives from the whole Israel thing. Do they not see Israelis as their brethren? Are the Israeli parents worried sick about their kids fighting in Gaza not their thing? Is the Diaspora-Israel separation too wide to cross in times of need?

The eruption of antisemitism on American streets and campuses should be an uncomfortably real thing to them. Don’t they sense the hate on their fashionable heels? Doesn’t it remind them of the savages who attacked on Oct. 7?

As the war bleeds on and the Democratic Party’s support for Israel ebbs, will Jews keep avoiding the Israeli/Jewish thing? Maybe the collision between Israel’s existential battle and American politics will be the thing that challenges preconceived notions.

Assimilation and indifference are tragic side effects of the American Jewish golden age. We should recall the words of Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.” Even worse, for some Jews indifference has metastasized into woke, intersectional politics that makes them useful idiots for antisemitic and anti-Israel movements. They virtue signal to our enemies and provide comfort to those whose aim is our destruction. 

Maybe they haven’t basked in the glow of the golden Kotel at sunrise, felt proud of the young soldiers returning to their base or rubbed shoulders with the melting-pot crowd scurrying to buy fresh produce for Shabbat dinner. Our things include all those experiences. We feel our spirits lifted when we see Israeli flags rippling in a warm breeze or hear the opening bars of “Hatikvah.”

We look lovingly at our circle of colleagues for whom Israel and the Jewish people are their thing. We are in awe of their devotion, donations and activism. Yes, we wonder why so many American Jews are still on the sidelines. The reasons for this are well documented, but the past is the past and it is hard to undo. We hope more of them will join our cause.

Whoever shares our thing is our friend. They are more than enough.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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