When your Jewish identity is defined more by how much you dislike U.S. President Donald Trump rather than which synagogue you pray in (if at all), or the religion of your spouse or the type of education you provide your children, or your attitude to Israel, something is very much worrying about the state of American Jewry.
Furthermore, if the one’s preference in any debate over Trump’s policies turns on whether Israel is brought into the conversation as a guilty party or with a negative spin, the moorings of that Jewry need to be considered as in an emergency need of strengthening.
These thoughts came to me in the wake of the convening of the North America Jewish Federations 2018 General Assembly in Tel Aviv. I had intended to attend as much as possible of the GA, but after one day, I realized that it was a task I could not fulfill.
After all, it was very off-putting to be told that “We Need to Talk,” as the assembly’s theme phrased it. We aren’t talking? And if I want to talk about a subject, say, Jewish residency rights in Judea and Samaria, could I? As it wasn’t on the program, I couldn’t it turned out. Others found out that those of the Orthodox stream were also off the program to a great extent. If talking means the agenda items one side wants to discuss but the other side cannot, that’s not talking. That is dictating the conversation.
I think, also, that there is only so much one can take from a Jewish establishment framework that on the one hand is not duly elected in any community-wide manner, while on the other hand, it engages with Israel on shared issues in a very critical way, bemoaning internal Israeli politics and coalition needs, as well as intimating that Israel isn’t that democratic.
When you plan the program in cooperation with certain institutions with a narrow cultural and social outlook, while avoiding other equally capable educational groups, again, you are limiting the conversation. When, at the kick-off event, one of your two co-chairpersons talks down to Israel, suggesting Israel is a child that needs to listen to a responsible adult, something more than just “wrong” is at work.
The Jewish Federations are important to Jewish communal life in North America and to Israel. But this is a two-way street. The presence of Israeli teachers and administrators shores up a Jewish community that sorely needs staff who are, even if secular, knowledgeable of their Jewishness as those communal institutions need be Jewish. Part of the talk I expected was how to define that identity, both in, at the least, an ethnic sense as well as religious. Moreover, in the wake of the Squirrel Hill synagogue massacre, Israeli input on security concerns are becoming vital.
The crisis in the Diaspora-Israel relationship that has being exploding is not solely due to too many American Jews reading Haaretz or The Forward—journals that seem to relish publishing as much negative material as possible with a radical and progressive slant with a tendency to imply neutrality on Zionism.
Now, in the aftermath of the murder of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue—and the reactions of certain Jewish individuals and groups being resonated out of proportion in the media—these issues are becoming more prominent. And so, we very much need to talk.
If a radical miniscule group calls itself as “Jewish leaders,” as did Bend the Arc, and no real Jewish leader denounces that or seeks to get those media headlines altered or inform journalists to be more careful in the future, then something is wrong.
If Jewish leaders, lay or rabbinical, allow extremists within the Jewish community to exploit the blood of Jews that was shed for political benefit, they are abandoning the moderation many would wish to see coming from the corridors of the American political establishment.
If you permit anarchistic groups like IfNotNow to ignore anti-Semitic attacks against Orthodox Jews, as in Brooklyn, N.Y., including one by a person who is not a white nationalist, but proceed to agitprop in Pittsburgh on an anti-white nationalist platform, then you are allowing the Jewish community to be kidnapped and taken hostage. It also shows no real authority—authority you sought to wield against Israel.
If Jewish university students are faced with anti-Semitism, violent intimidation and disruption on campuses and the Jewish establishment has proved to be woefully incapable of dealing with the matter, we need to talk.
If there are those that complain that BDS and Israel are beginning to cause harm to the American Jewish community, but your university aid groups refuse to invite the Jews who are accused of causing that harm to tour and explain and perhaps convince that claims of Arabs, leftists and others are wrong, then we need to talk.
If American non-Orthodox Jews are in a vortex of intermarriage reaching 70 percent and ignore the probability that within two generations the demographic balance will reach a critical while many, ironically, seek to have Israel divest itself of Judea and Samaria for, among other reasons, a presumed “demographic threat” that doesn’t exist, then we need to talk.
At the GA, too many Israelis felt gagged. That has to change, for the benefit and well-being of all.
So let’s talk.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born journalist and political commentator.