In the privacy of my own head, I am often very much at odds with Jeffrey Goldberg (whose book, Prisoners, I reviewed once upon a time and would still recommend) — but he got this one absolutely right: Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews.
Looking at a series of PSAs produced by the Israeli government to encourage Israelis not to get stuck in America [how else to put it?], Goldberg writes: “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads…. The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.”
Exactly. But it goes well beyond this series of ads, and can be found at every level of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship — it infuriates me, and I’ve said as much before, so now I’m saying it again (with a few edits):
If I am nothing else on this earth, I am a Jew.
If ever I doubt that, I have only to observe my reaction to, oh, say, finding a vat of pulled pork on my porch (it was a block party!) or consider the goosebumps that unfailingly prickle every time the Torah is returned to the ark and my congregation starts to sing: “Torati al ta’azovu – etz chaim he…” (“Don’t abandon my Torah – it is a tree of life…”).
I’m a Jew.
And if I’m any kind of Jew, I’m an Israeli Jew. Israel is where I became Jewish, after all, having been born an American Protestant of some sort of vaguely Presbyterian lineage. I went through a spiritual whoops-di-doo, discovered where I was meant to be (where I was, the rabbis would say, all along), and joined my life to that of my people.
My conversion doesn’t come up a lot because it doesn’t mean very much to me. I’m not a convert – I’m a Jew. I’m not a Jew-by-choice – I’m a Jew. I’m not a former Christian – I’m a Jew. When God presented the Israelites with the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and the souls of all Jews past and present were there to hear and receive it, mine was in the crowd. So we’re taught, and so I believe.
So there I am in Israel, I discover that I’m really a Jew, I become one, and there it is. Done.
Or so I thought.
It never occurred to me that I might one day find myself living in the galut (exile). It never occurred to me that American Jews would find my conversion of material interest (Israeli Jews — or: the kind I hang out with — mostly don’t). It never occurred to me that in becoming a Jew in Israel, I learned some very specific ways to be Jewish that don’t apply in the galut. And it really never occurred to me that there might be anything wrong with Israelis’ powerful sense of superiority about the way that they are Jews — and it never occurred to me that there might be something wrong with American Jews agreeing with them.
And yet. Here I am. And the longer I live here in the galut, the more of an American Jew I become — and the more pissed off I get at the Israelis.
There is a sense — a nonsense, really — that Israelis are better Jews. That they, by-definition, know what they’re doing better than the Jews who don’t live their lives in Hebrew.
Israeli Jews are often greeted by their American brothers and sisters with an odd kind of reverence, deference even, both of which my husband and I experienced when we arrived on these shores. This is true even if (and this is the especially odd part) the Israelis in question are not in the least observant. I’ve been told (to my face) that some people in my shul are willing to accept that I can’t be all bad, despite my politics, because my husband is Israeli-born.
Do they know that he’s an atheist? That he’s to the left of me politically? That if the kids hadn’t been there, he would have dived into that pulled pork and not come up for air?
And now, dear reader, I come to my point.
Not only do Israeli Jews, as a rule, behave as if they know better than their Diaspora counterparts, not only do American Jews, as a rule, accept this as a given — but the Israeli government itself is complicit in furthering this series of assumptions, and regularly acts to codify them into law.
Most American Jews are Reform, secular, atheist, Reconstructionist, Conservative — in short: anything but Orthodox. And yet everything about the Israeli handling of religious issues within Israel’s borders is predicated on the assumption that there is but one way to be a Jew, and that is Orthodox. My Conservative wedding? Unacceptable. My friend’s Conservative conversion? Unacceptable. Burial in anything but an Orthodox fashion? Literally impossible (unless you take the body to a friendly kibbutz).
This fact has angered me since before my (Orthodox) conversion, and the years haven’t moderated that anger one iota. It’s simply wrong to dictate to the citizens of a democratic state how they may or may not conduct matters of faith, who they may or may not marry, who (in short) they are. You may think you’re a Jew, they seem to say, but you’re no Jew. And I have a law passed by the legislative body paid for by your taxes to back me up.
Fuel to the fire: These same people? This Israeli government so anxious to hand me and mine over to the tender mercies of the Orthodox rabbinate — the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, peopled by men who follow dress-codes set in 16th century Poland — this bunch of secular, nationalist, opportunistic politicians for whom matters of faith matter not in the least? These people?
They are the very same people who tell American Jews — over and over ad infinitum – that they had best be all about official Israeli policy regarding the conflict. They had best be all about the occupation and the settlements and the constant war-footing and the refusal to accept any responsibility for the results of the refusal to actually resolve the conflict.
Indeed, American Jews must not only be mentally and emotionally behind all of this — they must also send their money east to support it, and dog their Senators and Representatives to do likewise.
Else they are very bad Jews indeed.
To summarize: The Jewish State is happy to take American Jews’ money and shame us into creating political pressure to support endless war — but our prayers?
The ads about which Jeffery Goldberg wrote are up on YouTube (click here for one entirely in English – it suggests American Jews are comically ignorant about Israeli Memorial Day; click here for one with but a single word in English – trust me, you’ll get the point even if you don’t speak Hebrew) but the truth is that Goldberg is right: “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious” — which is to say: It’s always been there, it’s always been fairly blatant. It’s just never been quite this blatant.
This two-faced behavior is a feature in the Israeli-Diaspora relationship, not a bug. Why American Jews as a community are not out-and-out incensed by it is beyond me.
Who are they to tell you that you are not a good enough Jew?
Who are they?