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Day 2 (Shneer): Is Zionism Still Relevant to the American Jew?

From: David Shneer To: Stefan Kanfer Subject: 100 Years-Old and Aging Fast… Dear Stefan: I had trouble with your letter to me, but I suppose that's the point of this dialogue. Let’s start with your opening, which has nothing to … Read More

By / November 30, 2006

From: David Shneer To: Stefan Kanfer Subject: 100 Years-Old and Aging Fast…

Dear Stefan:

I had trouble with your letter to me, but I suppose that's the point of this dialogue. Let’s start with your opening, which has nothing to do with the topic we’ve been asked to discuss: Zionism. Your disdain for American Jewish youth culture shows a tremendous lack of understanding of what really motivates the people who manage these “hip” youth-inspired Jewish initiatives—the same generation of people who will be running Jewish institutions in the not too distant future. (Oh wait, I run a Jewish institution, and the editors of this website do, too, so I guess that time is now.)

First, I should remind you that Heeb comes out of your land of refuge from all things too Jewishly glib, New York, not San Francisco. Your choice to flee to New York doesn't insulate you from the ironic, too-hip tendencies of some aspects of Jewish youth culture. I think the point of Heeband perhaps Jewcy, toois to put your teeth on edge. But I'll concede that I have issues with Heeb; not because it is punning and clever, but because it is only punning and clever.

As for New York, in which you have yet to find a Jew who is indifferent to Israel, I’d say, I should hope they wouldn’t be, not with Israel in the news everyday. But that isn’t the same thing as saying that Zionism is relevant to their lives.

But to the heart of your letter. Your statements about the rise in antisemitic violence in Europe sound very much like the speeches that Herzl and his buddies made in 1897 at the first World Zionist Organization meeting. Just like them, you say the world isn’t a safe place for Jews, as long as Jews are not running their own affairs, so get us out of Europe. One hundred years later, and 60 years after the founding of Israel (which was supposed to be the solution), we still hear the same old things. But if antisemitism is as perennial as you suggest, then why would Israel prevent antisemitism? It might give Jews guns (or “Yids” to use the word you wrote, mimicking the very language of your youthful nemeses), but it clearly hasn’t made Jews less hated, at least in your bleak, dark vision of the world.

You demonstrate Zionism's irrelevance by discussing your Jewish friends from France, all of whom are “lining up to get out.” To where, Stefan? Herzl would have told them that there’s only one place they would feel safe: Israel. Right?

Then why are they thinking about going to Canada and the United States? I presume you think that those two countries will soon be conquered by antisemitic Muslims running amok (they’ve already managed to manipulate Congressional representatives from Michigan, or so you suggest), and then your French friends will have to leave for Israel anyway, no?

The actions of French Jews, many of whom feel more embattled now than they have in many years, show that, as I said in my opening letter, Israel is one part of a complicated Jewish map. It is a unique place with a unique culture that makes some Jews feel at home and drives other Jews up a wall. Some French Jews choose Israel, while others choose New York, Montreal, or other places. You would presumably tell those who don't choose Israel that they should “wake up” (as you told me, again sounding like a turn-of-the-century Jewish ideologue).

I choose not to judge people’s decisions about where to call home. I choose to describe, rather than prescribe, and your French Jewish friends show that the world is much more complicated than you, or your hundred-year-old Zionism, would have it.

A quick story to close. I was having dinner with two Masorti rabbis two nights ago here in Jerusalem. At one point both of their cell phones rang, they looked at the number, “David, it’s the States. I have to take the call.” The same thing happened several times through dinner. When the U.S. called, these two rabbis jumped.

I'm not judging the power dynamics between American Jewry and Israel. I simply point out that these two Israeli rabbis dropped dinner to respond to New York, because that's where their Jewish world is centered.

David

Next E-mail: The world is at war, the enemy is close

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