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Cranky American Jews Get Self-Righteous in Jerusalem– Without Good Reason

This article in the Jerusalem Post highlights the not-so-surprising lack of interest in the GA conference (huge gathering of Federation professionals from the States) by Israelis and well, the philanthropic American Jews are cranky about it. In the article, GA … Read More

By / November 24, 2008

This article in the Jerusalem Post highlights the not-so-surprising lack of interest in the GA conference (huge gathering of Federation professionals from the States) by Israelis and well, the philanthropic American Jews are cranky about it. In the article, GA attendees claim that Israelis have a lot to learn from American Jewry about Jewish life and education. Frankly, my fellow Americans are laughably misguided. There’s no denying that the philanthropic efforts of the Federation system in the States are worthy of praise; as a former member of the American Jewish community at large, I’ve personally benefited from their assistance and was always amazed that there was a Jewish communal infrastructure with funding and dedicated employees willing to help anyone if they wanted to be ‘affiliated’ (a favorite buzzword that you should be aware of if you’re looking to sweet talk a GA attendee; according to most non-Orthodox American Jews, an affiliated Jew is a Jew that does something with his/her fellow Jews, whether it be joining a youth group, going on a one time trip to Israel, or working out at the JCC instead of a gym with gentiles). GA participants told the JPost that Israelis could learn a lot from them when it comes to Jewish life, especially in relation to things like Jewish education and the concept of Jewish people hood. They claim that Israelis don’t learn enough in school about their own country or the Jewish religion; while that may be true, what could Israelis possibly learn from American Jewry about Jewish education? Perhaps the children of GA attendees go to Jewish day schools and learn about Judaism and Israel in addition to their other subjects– and that’s great. But we aren’t talking exclusively about GA attendees; we’re talking about American Jews in general. We’re talking about some of the most assimilated Jews in the diaspora, most of whom do not attend Jewish day schools and whose Jewish identities revolve around things like an overbearing mother and bagels with lox. It’s true that Israel has a long way to go before it lives up to its designated role as a light unto the nations, but one thing is for certain– Israelis shouldn’t look to American Jews as an example. The generosity of American Jewish philanthropists is a beautiful thing, but it’s a separate issue. As for Jewish life, American Jewry is hanging by a thread. Apart from the Orthodox minority, most American Jews interpret their Jewishness as a side note; a way to relate to others based on a shared culture. Despite their fancy schools and summer camps funded by generous GA attendees, most American Jews can’t articulate how they feel about Jewish issues and maybe some of them can tell you that they value Jewish people hood, but their words are rarely followed by actions other than spearheading committees that throw ice cream parties with other Jews, with some obvious exceptions. Sure, Jews in Israel vary in terms of how much they value Judaism and their Jewish identities, and the education system leaves much to be desired– but Israelis live in the Jewish State, where all of the important Jewish questions are being asked and where they will all be answered. The conflicts between the religious and the secular, the separation and integration of synagogue and state, the five million ways in which Judaism has a presence in Israeli culture– these, among other things, are the reality of life in Israel and this is what educates Israeli Jews. Jewish education amounts to more than baking challah in school and memorizing key phrases by important rabbis or Jewish philosophers. Simply living in Israel is Jewish education at its finest and if American Jewry is so concerned about the future of Jewish education, it may be time to leave the conference rooms in mid-town Manhattan and start brainstorming farther east.

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