Abe Foxman may be sawing off the treelimb he’s standing on. People are passing around the JTA’s wonderful/bizarre interview with the ADL director of a week or so back, in which Foxman defends his campaign against recognizing the Armenian genocide, so as not to alienate the Turks.
The most interesting moment in the interview came when Foxman said he had misjudged the Boston Jewish community, which is more progressive than the N.Y. Jewish community (and was all for recognizing the Armenian genocide). Foxman took a shot at the Bostonians’ inclinations for intermarriage and assimilation:
I didn’t realize was to what extent the American Jewish community has
reversed Hillel, or at least in Boston and Massachusetts. That comes
out of a changed demography, sociology. When we talk about
assimilation, when we talk about intermarriage — you know what, that’s
what it is.
that’s one thing I misread. Two, I misread something else. Israel is no
longer as significant. Some of this stuff I read and hear about in
Boston was: "Why do we have to sacrifice our relationship with our
Armenian friends and neighbors for Israel." I heard people say to me if
the [Jews in Turkey] are in trouble, let them leave. That’s what I
When Foxman says the assimilating Boston Jews are reversing Hillel, he is referring to the famous statement by Rabbi Hillel, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" "Hillel" is a standard warning in Jewish life: Jews must look out for themselves, because no one else will. A.M. Rosenthal used to invoke Hillel all the time. (The Hillel-quoters tend to leave off the next part of Hillel’s statement: "If I am only for myself, who am I?")
The revelation here is that Foxman is saying that assimilated and intermarried Jews tend to look out for others. He’s right. I think this is one of the reasons I intermarried. I found myself seeking out modes of consciousness that weren’t as Jewish-oriented as the tribal one that I grew up with, in which it was O.K. to ask routinely, Is it good for the Jews? I wanted to open the windows a little… It bugged me when people invoked Hillel all the time…
I note that in Ruth Wisse’s jeremiad on Jewish powerlessness in the Wash. Post the other day, she also took a shot at assimilationists like myself, in the context of U.N. criticisms of Israel:
I understand why some Jews and Israelis try to escape [the U.N.'s] assault
through assimilation or denial, or even by joining their assailants.
It’s seductive to hope that by accommodating our enemies, we will be
allowed to live in peace. But the strategy of accommodation that
historically turned Jews into a no-fail target is the course least
likely to… etc.
I don’t know that it is tactically wise to attack assimilators. 62 percent of American Jews under 35 are intermarrying. They are bound to take a more enlightened view than Wisse and Foxman of Palestinian suffering…