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Bo: Who Speaks For Me? January 12, 2019

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

ג דַּבְּרוּ אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל …
Speak to the whole community of Israel… [Exodus 12:3]
“American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup,” a column by Jonathan Weisman announced in the New York Times earlier this week. He’s probably right. But only “probably.” The relationship does not have to crash, if both sides can acknowledge the profound ways in which the world’s two largest Jewish communities are profoundly different, and cease imposing their own worldview on the other.
To heal this rift, both sides are going to need to accept that we are invariably going to continue disappointing each other, because American Judaism and Israeli Judaism are, by this point, very different animals.  ... they now rest on almost entirely different foundations. One is universal and one particular, one focuses on Judaism as religion while the other sees Judaism as nationality, one largely exempt from the messiness of history, while the other is the product of a movement that expressly sought to restore the Jews as players into the complexities (and ugliness) of history.
… In the course of his New York Times column and his prediction that the relationship between American Jews and Israel is on the rocks, Jonathan Weisman …, quotes Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Washington, DC. … But even with Rabbi Zemel, the tendency to want Israel to be what American Jewish progressives envision for Israel (rather than what Israelis seek) leads to more of the Israel-bashing-as-Israel-helping tendency. Weisman writes that on Yom Kippur, “Rabbi Zemel implored his congregation to act before it is too late, to save Israel from itself.”
A Reform Congregation in DC should save Israel before it is too late? Does no one see the hubris (and the humor, frankly) in such a suggestion? Who are these people who are being urged to save Israel? Can they read the op-ed page of a Hebrew newspaper?
Since they cannot, and since the vast majority of the Hebrew press is not translated into English, why do they imagine that they know what’s best for Israel without being exposed to what millions of Israelis think, without access to Israeli discourse on the subject? (Not speaking Hebrew is no crime, of course, but should it not engender at least some humility when it comes to speaking about Israel?)? … How well do these people know the country they’re being asked to save? What can they say about the ideological worlds represented by readers of Haaretz and Makor Rishon and what animates the worldviews of each? Can they name five Jewish communities along the Gaza border and speak about how they’re different? How those communities see the conflict? They cannot, of course, and as very few have spoken at length to people trying to raise their families in Sderot or Sha’ar HaNegev, they have no real idea what life is like there.
And what does their rabbi want them to actually do? If 82% of Israelis now define themselves as center-to-right-wing (which Shmuel Rosner’s new book – sorry, in Hebrew only – says is the case), how can American liberal Jews save Israel without subverting the will of Israel’s majority? At the same time, though, how can American Jews both boast about Israel’s robust democracy and also decide to override it in the name of their American, suburban, progressive ethos? Does what Israelis want not matter? Is Israel’s democracy not sacred? Or is it simply less sacred than the moral comfort of American Jewish progressives?
Though I believe that their suggestions are misguided, one can, and should, at least acknowledge that Beinart and Zemel both care about Israel and believe that what they are doing is best for Israel.…Or, more likely, is it that bottom line they care about their progressive credentials much more than they care about Israel? …
It is, of course, absolutely the right of American Jewish progressives to have those priorities. But it is also Israelis’ right to ask themselves which American Jewish voices are genuine partners. Those who think that all “settlers” are the same, who want to make the occupation the focal point of Israel-discourse, are not genuine partners. Those who tell their congregations, who cannot read Hebrew, who have not spent a night in a bomb shelter, who insist that the occupation end even though Israel’s left-leaning commanders all believe that cannot happen now, are not partners. … To heal the rift of which Weisman correctly writes, there is much that Israelis will have to change about themselves and the ways in which they view and assess Diaspora Jewish life. By the same token, though, if American Jewish progressives want Israelis to be in dialogue with them, it is time to end the assumption that the repository of morality, wisdom and decency resides exclusively on the Western edge of the Atlantic. A lot less hubris and bit more interest in why Israelis think what they think would go a long way to making sure that somehow, in some manner, we help this relationship survive. [Rabbi Daniel Gordis, The American Zionist Assault on Israel, Blogs-Times of Israel, Jan. 8, 2019]
Think About It:
1.       Is this a real critique of the left or is it Rabbi Gordis flexing his right wing credentials?
2.       What role does the Hebrew Language play in the discussions between American and Israeli Jews?
3.       Are American Jews and Israeli Jews really different?
.הִנֵּה מַה טוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד
Behold how good and pleasing it is when brothers sit together in unity.



Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, January 12, 2019.


Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780