Thursday, 6 May 2010

Israel Matzav: Scapegoating Israel, American Jewish style

Scapegoating Israel, American Jewish style

Rabbi David Forman of blessed memory passed away suddenly on Sunday. He was 65.

His passing moved Dr. Aaron Lerner to post this column that Rabbi Forman wrote in the JPost in February to Dr. Lerner's web site. I'm glad he did, because Rabbi Forman - the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights - was not one of my favorite writers, and had Dr. Lerner not posted it, it is unlikely that I would have read it. But I did read it, and I urge all of you to do the same. Here's an excerpt.

BEING BACK in the US for another round of lectures, I have encountered what I call the Blame Game – a frantic search to seek out those who should be held accountable for this disappearing act.

The Orthodox population claims that this breakdown is due to the disregard for Jewish tradition. Yet there is an emerging element within the Diaspora Jewish community that looks for some other internal force in the Jewish world that can be held liable for the comatose state of American Jews.

Who stands in the dock? The usual scapegoat: Israel. Israel’s actions are alienating Jews abroad not only from Israel, but also from Judaism. The Jewish state has failed to fulfill its promise of being a “holy nation.” It has demeaned Jewish values to such an extent that Jews around the globe are embarrassed and fleeing in droves from their Jewish roots.

Who are the leaders of this transference movement – that is, those who look to find fault elsewhere for their own failures? Surprisingly, but on close examination not unexpectedly, it comes from new quarters – the liberal Jewish community. If only Israel were faithful to its prophetic tradition and also a reflection of the great social movements of the West, American Jews would identify with their Jewish heritage.

For example, I heard Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, say that Israel’s policies – internationally and domestically – are responsible for Jewish apathy in the States, the reason that assimilation is so prevalent. Israel has essentially turned off American Jews. B’rit Tzedek V’Shalom, newly merged with J Street, would most likely mimic a similar view.

Ben-Ami and his fellow ideological travelers seem to be burying their heads in the sand. Either that or they are trying desperately to entrench their position as the great hope of the Diaspora community with the claim that their “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” platform will save the day. While it is true that the vast majority of Jews in America are socially and political progressive – and important organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund represent the worldview of these Jews regarding Israel – their reasoning is skewed if they expect Israel to stop American Jews from vanishing into the woodwork, given that they live in a sea of Christians.

Even as they utter words that are pleasing to our ears – if you are engaged with Israel, you will be involved in Jewish life, collectively and personally – a stinging accusation immediately follows: If Israel behaves in shameful ways, any involvement will be weakened to the point of disenfranchisement. Such a theory defies logic, as it only applies to those who are actively engaged in Jewish life. Under the slightest scrutiny, this cart-before-the-horse approach simply does not hold up.

I WAS shocked when I spoke to 10th graders at a synagogue’s Sunday school. It is amazing what they do not know. After so many years of religious school education, few knew that Abraham preceded Moses, few could name one prophet, few knew in what part of the world Israel was situated. They all know who Jesus’ parents were – but they do not have the slightest idea whose were Moses’. What are they being taught, or rather not being taught? The state of Jewish education in synagogue life is depressing. This condition relates to those who are affiliated with a religious institution; so one can imagine the dismal Jewish state of affairs in an unaffiliated household.

Because of a total lack of Jewish awareness, it would never cross the minds of these typical Diaspora Jews to think twice about going shopping on Shabbat; attending a baseball game on Shavuot (Shavuot – what’s that?); or for that matter, eating a bacon cheeseburger on Pessah or dating a Zen Buddhist. Why should they be interested in anything that has to do with Israel if they have no knowledge of anything that has to do with Jewish life?

Please, read it all. It will give you a different perspective on that New York Times piece I blogged earlier.

And then read Rabbi Forman's biographical blurb at the end. His politics and his religious views were to my (and probably your) left.

The writer is a Reform rabbi, author, lecturer and ongoing contributor to The Jerusalem Post Magazine.

And you thought he was very modern Orthodox, didn't you? Well, there are some things that all of us can get. And when it came to the importance of Jewish education, this reform rabbi apparently got it.

Y'hi zichro baruch (may his memory be blessed).

Israel Matzav: Scapegoating Israel, American Jewish style

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