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As I wrote, I love a good spat. A.B. Yehoshua apologized for his AJC remarks about Jewish identity which offended so many people:


"Reverberations from the first evening of the conference have made me realize, to my distress, that a not-insignificant portion of the audience was offended by the tone of my remarks, as well as by part of their content....

"I wish, therefore, to express to them my deepest apologies," he writes. "Everything I said about the partial nature of Jewish life in the Diaspora as opposed to the all-inclusive nature of Jewish life in Israel has been said by me over the course of many years in the past, both in print and in addressing numerous Diaspora Jews.

"Never before did this lead to such an angry reaction as it did this time. Presumably, there was something in my tone and imprecise formulation that insulted part of the audience. I say "part," because there were also those who came up afterwards to thank me - which does not, of course, compensate for the feelings of the others.



I for one, find it hard to believe that Yehoshua has voiced precisely those sentiments before without getting a rather strong reaction. It is very easy to pick a fight with American Jews by raising the identity question. Even my very cautious admission that in my view Yehoshua is right, and Sharansky is also right, each in his own way, provoked some thundering criticism from US Jews. I love a good spat, but only as a spectator sport.

I also find that Yehoshua's obsession with identity is a bit strange. I do not worry about my "Jewish Identity" or my "Israeli Identity" or losing it any more than I worry about my ears falling off. It is part of me. I confess that I find it hard to relate to discussions about identity problems, in the same way that I would find it hard to relate to any problem I didn't really experience. Indeed, Yehoshua almost said as much. He said his identity is not like a jacket that you can take off. If it is part of him, why is he so concerned about it?

If anything, identity questions get pushed to the background when you are part of a country where most people have the same identity. In Europe or the USA I think about being Israeli or Jewish, because others around me are not Jewish. In Israel it is just there. There are Israelis who have a Jewish identity crisis I know, and they are the ones who are usually most concerned with this identity question.

Bradley Burston took up the theme from a different angle in Ha'aretz. He wrote:


"Do the Jews of North America need Israel? And if they do, what, exactly, is it that they need?
For one thing, a homeland. "


He is not saying, "come on Aliya." He is saying, that American Jews need Israel as their "old country" on which they can build their ethnic identity, because third generation American Jews can no longer relate to European Jewish communities that do not exist any more.



It makes some sense. An Irishman who goes back to County Cork can find his family there or friends of his family. A Jew who goes to Chelmno or Vilna or Kishinev will do so out of respect for the dead. The living Jewish community is in Israel.

He writes:


The generation that spoke Yiddish gave way to the generation that understood it but refused to speak it, and then to the present generation, which seems to be split between those who wish they spoke it more than the non-Jew on the street does, and those who couldn't care less if no one did.

Increasingly, as the grandparent generation of "authentic Jews" were now Americans rather than their own parents, the Europeans, the Old Neighborhood itself took on the role of the Old Country - witness Brooklyn, and parts of the Bronx and New Jersey, points of reference for many New York-area natives now resident in Orange County and Indiana, and for such citizens of the world as Woody Allen and Philip Roth.

In fact, it is only recently that a different Old Country has come to take its place in the American Jewish soul. Israel is still, in fact, a new country, a new culture, but it is beginning to fill to a remarkable extent the needs of American Jews for the genuine Old Sod.

A new generation of North American Jews whose native-born roots go back three or more generations now looks to Israel for precisely those elements of authenticity and all-embracing Jewish culture of which Yehoshua spoke.


Burston is probably being unduly optimistic. We should not flatter ourselves that we are so central to USA Jews. A great many USA Jews are actively trying to find a way to be Jewish without associating with Israel at all, and others seem to be looking for a way to not be Jewish at all. if US Jews look upon Israel in the same way as Italian Americans look upon Italy, and look upon their Jewishness in the same way as Irish-American view their Irishness, where will that lead? How many fourth or fifth generation "pure" Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans are there? Aren't they mostly Scotch-Irish-Italian-Swedish-etc.-etc. Americans after a few generations? That is not the future we hope to see for American Jews, but it may be the one we will get.

Burston's other source of optimism is equally problematic in my view:


But keep your eyes on the remarkable generation of what used to be called b'nei yordim, the children of those who "went down" to America. Their problems of Jewish identity are among the most complex and difficult anywhere. But this group may well also pave the way for a new relationship between two communities which, until now, have never really known each other at all.


People leave Israel. It is an unpleasant fact of life. They leave for a variety of reasons. If they stay abroad indefinitely, it is either because they started out with definite views of Israel that are not too compatible with living here, or else they develop them. They can't really represent Israelis very well because they are representative of Israelis who left, and have a somewhat different outlook from ours. Their children certainly do not represent Israel.

Ami Isseroff



A.B. Yehoshua sends 'deepest apologies' for AJC remarks
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/715756.html
By Haaretz Service


Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua has expressed his "deepest apologies" over comments he made at the recent American Jewish Committee's (AJC) centennial symposium in the U.S., in which he asserted that only Israel, and not Judaism, could ensure the survival of the Jewish people.

The remarks by Yehoshua, who said only those living in Israel and taking part in the daily decisions of the Jewish state had a significant Jewish identity, have sparked a furious debate over the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

"Reverberations from the first evening of the conference have made me realize, to my distress, that a not-insignificant portion of the audience was offended by the tone of my remarks, as well as by part of their content," he writes in a letter to delegates to the AJC symposium.

But Yehoshua insists that there is nothing new in his remarks: "I wish, therefore, to express to them my deepest apologies," he writes. "Everything I said about the partial nature of Jewish life in the Diaspora as opposed to the all-inclusive nature of Jewish life in Israel has been said by me over the course of many years in the past, both in print and in addressing numerous Diaspora Jews.

"Never before did this lead to such an angry reaction as it did this time. Presumably, there was something in my tone and imprecise formulation that insulted part of the audience. I say "part," because there were also those who came up afterwards to thank me - which does not, of course, compensate for the feelings of the others.

Yehoshua says that his use of the term "plug-and-play" Judaism, which offended people in the audience, was not meant to imply that they related to their Judaism as nothing more than "a game," but was simply taken from a philanthropy conference in Denver several months ago, titled "Plug-and-play Judaism."

"The debate between us is a basic one that goes to the root of things. But we are one people, and I have never ceased to stress this cardinal principal. Nor was there anything in what I said at the conference that called it into question. Once again, permit me to apologize to anyone whose feelings I have hurt."

Do American Jews have a homeland?

By Bradley Burston
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/716794.html

Do the Jews of North America need Israel? And if they do, what, exactly, is it that they need?

For one thing, a homeland.

When author A.B. Yehoshua detonated debate over the world's two principal Jewish communities, he primed the fuse with the concept of moledet, whose English equivalent, though anemically simplistic by comparison, is the word homeland.

The concept of moledet stalks Israelis from birth, driving some to heroism and many to distraction. It can inspire, infuriate. It can instill faith and it can get you killed. It can stop a nation in its tracks, and make its finest children want to leave. It can be ridiculed, exalted, held high as legend, exploded as myth. But it cannot be ignored.

Except in America. For many Americans, certainly for many Americans Jews, the very word "homeland" has been robbed of much of its meaning, hijacked by the White House, whose use of Homeland Security has taken on the Plot Against America sheen of user-friendly fascism.

Moreover, geopolitics, prosperity and liberalism being what they are, it has now been well over half a century since American Jews turned out in appreciable numbers to volunteer to defend the land of their birth in the armed forces.

Thus it truly should have come as no surprise that when the American Jewish Committee held a symposium on the future of the Jewish people, and when that symposium was held on Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and when Yehoshua asked that the occasion be marked with a moment of silence, the program went on as planned - no silence, no hitch.

At the same time, the concept of a distant Homeland Away From Home remains a crucial if often overlooked pillar of the American Dream - this idea of the Old Sod, the hardscrabble but earnest, effortlessly authentic cultural treasure of an Old Country from which we arose, and which, we want to believe, helps to make us what we are.

In the eyes of many, whatever their ancestry, it is the Old Country that sets us apart in the great maw of contemporary American homogeneity.

For North American Jews, the question of the Old Country was long a no-brainer. It was the shtetl, the Eastern European Pale of Settlement, the Yiddish-laced fount of borscht belt culture, of both Shalom Aleichem and Fiddler on the Roof, the source of what Americans learned to identify as Jewish food, Jewish humor, the Jewish mind, the Jewish heart.

But time moves faster and farther in America than in most places. The generation that spoke Yiddish gave way to the generation that understood it but refused to speak it, and then to the present generation, which seems to be split between those who wish they spoke it more than the non-Jew on the street does, and those who couldn't care less if no one did.

Increasingly, as the grandparent generation of "authentic Jews" were now Americans rather than their own parents, the Europeans, the Old Neighborhood itself took on the role of the Old Country - witness Brooklyn, and parts of the Bronx and New Jersey, points of reference for many New York-area natives now resident in Orange County and Indiana, and for such citizens of the world as Woody Allen and Philip Roth.

In fact, it is only recently that a different Old Country has come to take its place in the American Jewish soul. Israel is still, in fact, a new country, a new culture, but it is beginning to fill to a remarkable extent the needs of American Jews for the genuine Old Sod.

A new generation of North American Jews whose native-born roots go back three or more generations now looks to Israel for precisely those elements of authenticity and all-embracing Jewish culture of which Yehoshua spoke.

And there is another element, one that may yet play the key role in forging a true bridge between Israelis and American Jews: the very large, very different group of first-generation North American Jews now coming of age - tens of thousands of young adults who are the children of thousands and thousands of immigrant Israelis.

These are the children of the Israelis who had nurtured an American Dream of their own: no more going to the army, no stratospheric taxes, no dying for your country, and, for a lucky few, gold in the streets.

After generations of parallel development, the American and Israeli Jewish communities remain to a large degree mirror opposites, unable to see the other except as caricature.

To this day, many Israelis are unable even to begin to understand American Jews' complaint of alienation. Alienation is, after all, virtually impossible in a nation where talk is free and frank to a fault, privacy limited, and everyone barely one degree of separation away from every event on the news. In fact, it may be said that many Israelis come to America to enjoy, for once, a bit of what alienation has to offer.

But keep your eyes on the remarkable generation of what used to be called b'nei yordim, the children of those who "went down" to America. Their problems of Jewish identity are among the most complex and difficult anywhere. But this group may well also pave the way for a new relationship between two communities which, until now, have never really known each other at all.

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000064.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 4 Comments

Hi Wendy,
The conditions under which Jews existed in Europe or the USA for quite a long time were not such as to raise the question of identity. Even in the USA, it was very unlikely that any Jew could forget for long that they are Jewish around 1930 or 1940.

Shalom,
Ami

Moderator, Wednesday, May 24th


It's hard to say this, but Jewish life in the US existed before Israel, and although it is richer beyond measure with Israel, Israel is not esssential to our existence. I sometimes felt quite alienated by the relentless secularism there--eating pork on Yom Kippur, making fun of Reform or Reconstructionist Jewry, or anyone who had a spirtual Jewish life--so I was grateful to come back to the US so I could stop being American, and be an American Jew. I am passionately involved in Israel, but think the gulf between Israelis and Americans is quite wide. Perhaps the children of the yordim could bridge it--I hope so.

Wendy, Monday, May 22nd


I would also argue that Israel has allowed many of us to see the true diversity and beauty of the Jewish people (including Beta Israel, Mizrachim, etc.)

Chris, Friday, May 19th


Ami: people leave Israel mainly for economic reasons. I am optimistic in that respect about the bonds that unite expat Israelis with Israel.

Fabian, Thursday, May 18th


Constructive comments, including corrections, are welcome. Do not use this space for spam, publishing articles, self promotion, racism, anti-Zionist propaganda or character defamation. Inappropriate comments will be deleted. See our Comment policy for details. By posting here, you agree to the Comment policy.

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