Tuesday, January 11, 2022

By Daled Amos


In the age of groups like If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace, there seems to be a basic truth that Cubans get but an increasing number of Jews just don't grasp.

This is one of the points raised by Gol Kalev, a writer whose book Judaism 3.0 - Judaism's Transformation to Zionism will be published this year. Kalev sees Zionism as an integral element not only in how Jews in America relate to Israel, but also as a crucial component in how they identify as Jews and contribute to the country where they live. (Disclaimer: I helped proofread Gol Kalev's book for publication)

This question of Identity has become a major issue in the US as people choose from a variety of possibilities: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political party -- or any combination of these and other identities.

And this presents an opportunity to Jews that historically has been denied them in the past, namely to proudly and openly declare their Jewishness in the context of their being Americans.

Kalev writes:
The patriotic American neighbors of the Jews today celebrate their own ethnological national affiliation, be it Mexican, Irish or Korean. This is manifested in Vice President Kamala Harris, who is proud of her Jamaican and Indian affiliations, and senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who in the 2016 Republican primary argued who was the more Cuban (not more Christian).

But Judaism is not only a religious affiliation, or even an ethnic affiliation. It is a national affiliation known as Zionism. And according to Kalev, Zionism today is crucial for maintaining one's Jewish identity:

Zionism as a conduit to one’s Judaism is not just in-line with prevailing American realities, but also needed, as legacy connectors to Judaism has faded: religious observance has declined, and memory of the Holocaust and nostalgia for the Eastern European past eroded as the generations pass.

And therein lies the problem.

There are antisemitic forces hard at work to punish Jews for any assumed connection or affiliation to the state of Israel, let alone for openly supporting or showing pride in it. Then of course there are the fringe Jewish groups who openly demonize Israel and refuse to defend it -- even when Israeli civilians are the target of terrorist attacks.

In this regard, Kalev makes a point that has clearly eluded those groups:

Centering one’s Jewish identity around Israel certainly does not mean one needs to agree with its policies. After all, Rubio and Cruz do not agree with the Cuban government. [emphasis added]

We are way past the point where we used to say you shouldn't criticize Israel openly in public. But honest criticism of Israel does not prevent Jews from seeing Israel as part of the Jewish identity.

This basic truth escapes not only those fringe groups, but also those antisemites who want to pin any Israeli failing -- either real or fabricated -- on the global Jewish community.

People who today would not hesitate to condemn the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II have no problem blaming Jews for whatever fault they find in Israel and have even insisted that they either disavow any support for Israel or that they pledge support for Palestinian Arabs.

But this disconnect between those "progressive" Jewish groups and Israel is part of an even larger problem.

Writing in 2019, Yisrael Medad noted Young Jews’ wrong turn at wrong intersection:

For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza. 

This problem that today's progressive Jews have with identifying with the Jewish community at large is not new. Consider Bernie Sanders, about whom Jonathan Tobin writes:

when most American Jews were demanding freedom for Soviet Jewry and denouncing the anti-Semitic nature of the Communist regime, Bernie Sanders was not there...There is no available evidence that he ever lifted a finger to fight for Soviet Jews.

We can sympathize with Palestinian Arabs who find themselves in a similar predicament. As Sean Durns points out, when it is politically expedient in their smearing of Israel, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are quick to tweet about events in the Middle East. But when it comes to the ongoing abuse that Palestinians suffer under the totalitarian governments of the PA and Hamas, such as during the Hamas crackdown in 2019 -- which even Amnesty Internation and Human Rights Watch condemned -- Omar and Tlaib were silent.

But in the US, the problem of Jewish identity is only getting worse.

According to last year's Pew survey on Jewish identity and belief

Twice as many Jewish Americans say they derive a great deal of meaning and fulfillment from their pets as say the same about their religion.
More of those surveyed consider “having a good sense of humor” as essential to being Jewish as following halakha (34% vs. 15%). 

On the other hand, 45% of those surveyed said caring about Israel is essential to their Jewish identity -- and that number goes up to to 82% when taking into account those who said Israel was important (though not essential) to their Jewish identity.

That is good news, but that number is significantly less for Jews who do not have a religious affiliation:

Jews by religion are nearly twice as likely as Jews of no religion to say that caring about Israel is essential (52% vs. 27%).

Similarly, the Pew survey on Jewish community and connectedness in the US found that Jews with a religious affiliation are much more likely to feel a great deal of belonging to the Jewish people than do Jews with no affiliation (61% vs. 13%). 

Going a step further, the survey found that feeling a responsibility for Jews around the world is linked with the sense of an attachment to Israel: Four out of ten Jews who feel at least somewhat attached to Israel said that they feel a great deal of responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world (42%), compared with just 10% of those with little or no attachment to Israel.

In their survey of US Jews’ connections with and attitudes toward Israel, the Pew survey found that six out of ten Jews who have no particular denominational affiliation (59%) say they are either “not too” or “not at all” emotionally attached to Israel.

Regardless of what Jews in the survey felt allowed them to personally identify as Jewish, it was a religious affiliation or an attachment to Israel that allowed them to feel responsible for other Jews and be part of a larger Jewish community. 

But considering that a little more than half of those Jews surveyed said that Judaism was important to them, the importance of the state of Israel for Jewish identity in general and for fostering a sense of global Jewish responsibility cannot be ignored and needs to be openly recognized.










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