Two months ago, Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, ran an interesting piece in its magazine on changing American Jewish attitudes toward Israel. Writer Gloria Goldreich, who is apparently in her 70s and lives in the Westchester suburbs of NYC, said that she sees American Jews turning on Israel, even refusing to provide sewing kits to the Israeli army.
“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Zionist” begins with an improbable scene at a dinner party last November where everyone is Jewish and everyone has visited Israel. “Bar and bat mitzvas have been celebrated on Masada. Books by Amos Oz and David Grossman have been discussed at their book clubs.” But the Gaza conflict is underway, and a pediatrician and a psychiatrist at the table express great sympathy for civilians in Gaza.
The words “disproportionate” and “unconscionable” are used again and again. Will the world turn against the Jewish state?
Unspoken is the concern that such rejection will rebound and affect American Jews.
“How can Israel condone dropping bombs on schools and homes?” our host asks.
“Babies. Little babies,” a woman who has recently given birth moans…
Goldreich starts to argue. Her husband signals her not to get in a fight. They leave the party early and back home, Goldreich calls a friend in Israel, who says that Israel had no choice but to attack Gaza. There follows a statement of Goldreich’s Zionist identity.
“Of course we didn’t,” I agree.
My use of the first-person plural is automatic. I am part of Israel and Israel is part of me. My Zionism is visceral. It has been an intrinsic part of my life since my early adolescence when I attended a Hebrew-speaking camp and fell in love with the language and with the dream. I lived in Jerusalem in the ’50s as a graduate student at the Hebrew University, and the friendships I developed then have endured and, indeed, deepened through the decades that followed. Our family spent summers in Israel when our children were young and visited during their college years when they each spent semesters in Jerusalem. Our son made aliya, became an officer in Israel’s Air Force and lived in Tel Aviv for 10 years. During those years we made annual and occasionally semiannual visits to the country. Our involvement and commitment is, I recognize, atypical and yet I remain confused about attitudes like those I confronted at that dinner table.
That’s Goldreich’s big claim: that American Jewish attitudes are shifting.
It bewilders me that at a time when Israel is in danger, when Gazan rockets flared in Tel Aviv and fell too close for comfort near Jerusalem, that diaspora Jews do not offer unequivocal support. It puzzles me that in late November, as tensions in Gaza intensified, a Jewish columnist for an influential Jewish newspaper published a piece that argued that it is the Palestinians who have no partner for peace. What welcome public relations fodder that must have been for Israel’s enemies, all the more potent because the author is a Jew…
For some years, I chaired modest fundraisers for Israel projects. Without difficulty, one year we raised a significant sum for the Jewish National Fund, and another year we were able to send a generous check to Magen David Adom. There were subsequent collections for a children’s village and for a hospital. However, when I proposed that our next project concentrate on the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, the board of the synagogue objected. I was not at the meeting, but I gather there was resistance to contributing to anything to do with the military….
“We don’t want to support an army,” a member of the board told me.
“But it’s your army,” I protested, and she looked at me in surprise. That association had not occurred to her….
I am resigned then to recognize that my family and I belong to a proud but lonely minority….We live at a great distance from the country about which we care so deeply. But that distance does not mute our concern nor should it mute our voices. Our obligation is to persistently engage in unpopular arguments, to persistently speak up for the children of Sderot and Kfar Azza…. We will continue to write letters to the editor expressing our solidarity with the people of Israel, although we may despair of ever seeing them in print.
Is Goldreich accurately representing American Jewish attitudes? Having been to some of those dinner parties with people who have David Grossman books, I question her report. Many American Jews are questioning US policy, but it’s typically the ones with little connection to the Jewish state, not the ones who had bar mitzvahs on Masada.
As Nicole Krauss wrote so positively about Israel in The New Yorker recently:
For certain Israeli and American Jews, Israel has always been the strongbox of Jewishness, the place where the most vivid, authentic strain of its modern existence has been unfolding for the last sixty-five years, and there has been a constant stream of American Jews passing through Ben Gurion Airport on their way to imbibe this heady brew from the source.