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Another rabbi laments young American Jews’ ‘alienation’ and ‘anger’ re the country they should love

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Rabbi Gerald Skolnik

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik

The neverending crisis. Rabbi Gerald Skolnik of Queens writes in The Jewish Week the young American Jews are angry and furious at Israel, but they need to learn to love the real Israel, warts and all, or they’ll just turn off:

recent studies of the American Jewish community have clearly shown that large sectors of our population, especially the younger cohort, display serious alienation from Israel.  They tend to see Israel’s problems and faults far more easily than its accomplishments.  They simply are not connected to Israel the way Jews of previous generations most often were, and are lacking that primal connection that was generated by an intimate connection to the Shoah, or having lived through the Six Day War, or Yom Kippur War.

Dr. Sinclair has a simple but critically important thesis.  He maintains that we have all contributed to this phenomenon of alienation by being reluctant to teach the “real Israel,” warts and all.  In our efforts to transmit not only love of Israel, but more significantly, the ultimate existential importance of a sovereign Jewish state, we have, unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?), fallen into the trap of being unwilling to address Israel’s faults.  Listening to Dr. Sinclair, I was reminded of those voices which, during the days of protest against the Viet Nam war, asserted a posture of “my country, love it or leave it,” as if to say that one who protested America’s policy was less patriotic that one who didn’t.  Many protesters against the Viet Nam war protested precisely because they loved America, and were concerned that it was making a terrible mistake.

I think that Dr. Sinclair is right.  Whether as a parent, a camp counselor, or a rabbi, I have repeatedly found that the prerequisite for addressing someone’s anger is to validate that piece of the anger that is justified.  If someone is upset for a good and legitimate reason, it is worst than counterproductive to pretend that the person is wrong to be annoyed.  Once the source of the ill-feeling is validated, it becomes possible to move on.

We all know that Israel is hardly a perfect society.  No country is. …  There are times when it makes me crazy.  But here’s the thing: I love Israel anyway, even when I’m furious at her policies.  So many of our younger people can’t get past their frustration with this policy or that one, whether it’s of a religious nature, or treatment of Palestinians in the territories, about which Israelis themselves disagree passionately.  We exacerbate that problem when we refuse, either privately or publicly, to admit to Israel’s imperfections, and we portray it as faultless.

His Vietnam analogy suggests that Skolnik thinks that Israel is the country the young people must feel loyal to; and of course he says that Israel has made Jews safer everywhere. This is further evidence of the degree to which dual loyalty is actually mandated by Israel’s supporters. As Jeffrey Goldberg said recently, Israel would fall without American Jewish support. The lobby has always been central, and central to the lobby is Jewish love and allegiance.

At the New Israel Fund, Carole Zabar discusses the same alienation, from a liberal Zionist perspective:

The truth is, we who are active in the American Jewish community know that the conversation has moved on from “Israel-right-or-wrong” to asking a deeper question: How can we help our Israeli cousins build an Israel that is right? No longer do most American Jews fear for Israel’s physical survival; we respect the IDF as the Middle East’s most powerful army.

 

No longer do most American Jews reject the term “occupation” for what has occurred on the West Bank since 1967, nor do we shy from expressing concern for the terrible impact of that occupation, and the ensuing settlement enterprise, on Israeli society and on the Palestinians. And no longer do we assume that Israeli democracy will somehow always exist, mirroring the Jewish and universal values of equality and justice, because unfortunately we have learned that there are Israeli leaders who claim that those values are wrong for Israel.

The “delegitimization” narrative, upon which the Israeli government and its unofficial allies have spent millions in hasbara shekels, plays much differently in the US. We who live with a Bill of Rights know it is not delegitimizing to honestly question government policy, military behavior, or abuses of human rights.

She stands up for Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish homeland.”

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20 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    November 15, 2013, 12:51 pm

    They… are lacking that primal connection that was… having lived through the Six Day War.

    American protestors during Vietnam lacked a connection of living through WWI. But many of those protestors could rethink WWI and question whether WWI was really a war of defense and democracy or of a clash of empires. For those protestors, WWI was not really something that bound them to their patriotism, but actually something that made them more critical of the society.

  2. eljay
    eljay
    November 15, 2013, 1:28 pm

    >> They tend to see Israel’s problems and faults far more easily than its accomplishments. They simply are not connected to Israel the way Jews of previous generations most often were, and are lacking that primal connection that was generated by an intimate connection to the Shoah, or having lived through the Six Day War, or Yom Kippur War.

    Ah, yes, nothing like a “primal conection” to make you overlook the fact that you’re supporting, excusing, justifying or advocating for an oppressive, colonialist, expansionst and supremacist state.

    >> Dr. Sinclair has a simple but critically important thesis. He maintains that we have all contributed to this phenomenon of alienation by being reluctant to teach the “real Israel,” warts and all. In our efforts to transmit not only love of Israel …

    “Transmitting love” sounds a lot like brainwashing, especially if neither the transmitter nor the transmittee is from or has any tangible ties* to the country they’re expected to love.

    (Prayers, chants, yearnings, deep sighs and wet- / day-dreams do not count as tangible ties.)

    >> … but more significantly, the ultimate existential importance of a sovereign Jewish state …

    Jews need justice – not an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State” – in order to exist.

    >> … we have, unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?), fallen into the trap of being unwilling to address Israel’s faults.

    One of Israel’s greatest faults is that it is a supremacist “Jewish State”. Address that!

    >> Listening to Dr. Sinclair, I was reminded of those voices which, during the days of protest against the Viet Nam war, asserted a posture of “my country, love it or leave it,” as if to say that one who protested America’s policy was less patriotic that one who didn’t. Many protesters against the Viet Nam war protested precisely because they loved America, and were concerned that it was making a terrible mistake.

    Those protesters were Americans protesting the actions of America. Jewish Americans are not Israelis. Israel is not their country or their homeland or their birthright.

  3. American
    American
    November 15, 2013, 1:52 pm

    “my country, love it or leave it,” >>>

    But Israel is not American Jews country.
    It’s a symbol….how far do they want to go in trying to save this symbol of Jewishness?
    The dispora Jewish love of Israel so far has been demanding ‘unconditional support’ of Israel…’right or wrong’.
    If they want to save Israel they should understand that pressuring their various countries governments to keep protecting Israel from itself is the wrong tactic.
    There is a snowballs chance in hell that Israel will change unless that protection is withdrawn and it has to reform itself or sink.
    They should actively ‘lobby’ their governments to change that unconditional support to conditional support……Jewish criticism from the dispora alone isnt going to do it.
    Reality has to set in sooner or later.

  4. Shmuel
    Shmuel
    November 15, 2013, 2:14 pm

    the ultimate existential importance of a sovereign Jewish state

    As long as American Jews don’t actually have to live there.

    • wondering jew
      wondering jew
      November 16, 2013, 3:06 am

      Is it possible for Jews to feel a connection to Israel even if it is not as close as the connection between Americans and America? Of course it’s possible. Is it permissible? No law against it on the books yet.

      (Of course if we consider Israel evil, then a connection to an evil country is evil as well, but the point of refuting the Vietnam analogy is that Americans are allowed to feel a connection to America, but Jews are somehow “wrong” for feeling a connection with Israel because they do not live there. This is absolutist (aka ridiculous) in the sense that it proposes that the only connection humans are allowed to have with any part of the world is dictated by the sovereignty of nations. Thus for an American to feel something for someone in Alaska or Hawaii is natural, but for a Jew to feel something for someone in Jerusalem is unnatural (and should be codified and penalized according to some of the people here.) Of course this is preposterous. Yes, I can understand why not everyone would appreciate a Jew’s connection to another Jew, but it exists. And I can understand how Palestinians would object to a Jew’s connection to Jerusalem, when they do not live there, but this objection will not cause such a connection to cease to exist.)

      (The problem created by Rabbi Skolnik’s article is that Skolnik is trying to educate a next generation in connectivity to Israel. But if we accept Rabbi Skolnik’s generation’s connection to Israel, which was the purpose of the previous paragraph, then we also should accept the fact that sometimes in almost all cultures one generation tries to pass on its values to the next generation. So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that either.)

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        November 16, 2013, 3:51 am

        Yonah,

        I don’t know whether you were responding to my comment, but I said nothing about “feeling a connection” or “a Jew’s connection to another Jew”. I was referring to the apparent incongruence between Rabbi Skolnik’s bombast and his choice (and that of the vast majority of American Zionists) to disdain direct participation in something of such “ultimate existential importance”.

        Had Rabbi Skolnik not defined that importance in terms of sovereignty, he might have had a valid “cultural Zionist” point (not requiring – in fact discouraging – the physical presence of each and every Jew in the spiritual centre of Jewish life, and healing most of the “warts”* of political Zionism).

        The thing that Rabbi Skolnik described as being of “ultimate existential importance” was “a sovereign Jewish state” — while preferring another kind of sovereignty on a personal level. If Jewish sovereignty is only far yenem, how on earth does he expect to convince young Amercian Jews of its “ultimate existential importance”?

        * What an offensive way of describing grave violations of human rights, even if he believes that the good outweighs the bad. If these are really the things that are bugging young American Jews about Israel, calling them “warts” and arguing that “no country’s perfect” is hardly going to convince them of anything but the continued bad faith of their religious and communal leaders.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        November 16, 2013, 6:06 am

        Shmuel- I placed my reaction to the post by Phil under your name by mistake, or shall we say, merely as a way of saying hello, and avoiding others who would have reacted to my comments with invective rather than with intelligence.

        Skolnik’s comments are not very deep. The task of teaching the next generation to appreciate the natural closeness of Jews to Jerusalem is not in good hands given his superficiality.

        The innate contradiction of an American Jew expounding on the existential nature of Jewish sovereignty over a land which he chooses to visit rather than to live is something that is glaring in the case of Skolnik’s superficiality, but in fact even the less superficial are vulnerable when it comes to this contradiction. I have no pat answer.

        I too find it quite natural to condemn (in my heart if not verbally) Jews who are more Zionist than me (if solid support for Netanyahu is considered more Zionist than say support for the positions of Meretz and Peter Beinart, which is debatable) but live in America and seldom visit and have no stake in close relatives there. There are those who are convinced that if only the Israel lobby would “stand down” Israel could reach a peace with her neighbors. I am not certain what the prospects for peace are today or were in the last 46 years, if only the Jews in America were more sensible about the situation.

        When Elie Wiesel writes a letter that states that Jerusalem must not be divided for it belongs to the Jewish people, I too recoil (these days) for I sense the unfairness of not realizing that Jerusalem has many nonJews who love the city as well and whose stake in their love for the city must have some recognition. (I cannot envision a peace treaty with the Palestinians that involves Palestinians going to their mosques on the Temple Mount only after passing through Israeli checkpoints.) (These days when a peace treaty with the Palestinians based on a two state solution is dismissed as Wizard of Oz, I suppose “I cannot envision a peace treaty with the Palestinians” really can suffice as a complete sentence.)

        I realize I have not presented a full fledged argument and hope you are comfortable with the idea of me expressing some thoughts without a full fledged argument as the punch line.

      • American
        American
        November 16, 2013, 9:03 am

        ‘yonah fredman says:
        November 16, 2013 at 3:06 am
        Is it possible for Jews to feel a connection to Israel even if it is not as close as the connection between Americans and America? Of course it’s possible. Is it permissible? No law against it on the books yet.””

        Well that is superficial glossing over of the actual PROBLEM that this blog focuses on most of the time.
        And that is when their love of Israel is forced into US politics and policy.
        US Jews can have any ‘feelings’ they want for Israel, the US Irish can have any love for Ireland they want. They can support their roots or original homeland personally with their own efforts, that is their right.
        BUT…..it is NOT their democratic or individual ‘right’ to demand that ‘their feelings’ for a foreign or former homeland dictate the actions and interest of another nation that affects all it’s other citizens.

        As pointed out…..”The lobby has always been central, and central to the lobby is Jewish love and allegiance.”

        If trying to forment this US Jewish love for Israel didnt result in ‘proping up’ the Lobby and Zio grip on US gov Isr policy, or at minimum aid the Zios in their claim to politicians that they speak for the US Jews, then it wouldnt be a problem.
        Love Israel all you want, do what you want with your own blood and treasure to support it——just get and keep it out of US government.

      • eljay
        eljay
        November 16, 2013, 9:21 am

        >> … Jews are somehow “wrong” for feeling a connection with Israel because they do not live there. … Thus for an American to feel something for someone in Alaska or Hawaii is natural, but for a Jew to feel something for someone in Jerusalem is unnatural …

        You’ve white-washed all of the hatefulness and immorality that is Zio-supremacism and the oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State” with the innocent-sounding suggestion that it’s nothing more than Jews “feeling a connection” with the geographic region of Palestine or with someone in Jerusalem. What a bad joke.

  5. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    November 15, 2013, 2:14 pm

    Rabbi: “I love Israel anyway” (in spite of her faults). Fine for you, I guess. But why should it be universal?

    You also

    If someone is upset for a good and legitimate reason, it is worst [sic] than counterproductive to pretend that the person is wrong to be annoyed. Once the source of the ill-feeling is validated, it becomes possible to move on.

    And one way to “move on” as to Israel is to oppose its settlements, oppose its occupations (and alleged annexations), oppose its ever-blossoming racism, and finally (if you are so moved) oppose its existence even within the green line.

    Validating ill-feeling can lead to recognizing an evil for what it is, not necessarily to forgiving it.

  6. seafoid
    seafoid
    November 15, 2013, 2:22 pm

    American jews are angry at venereal disease but they need to love venereal disease, warts and all.

  7. Cliff
    Cliff
    November 15, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Great more naval contemplation about those poor beleaguered Liberal Zionists who are struggling with their love for Israel and their hhmmmm, oh right, love for Israel.

    I guess Phil is keeping tabs on this accumulating intellectual flatulence.

    It’s friggin’ old, Phil. Seriously, who gives a flying crap? Old Jew says blah blah young Jews are being meanies blah blah Israel tough neighborhood blah blah double standard blah blah antisemitism.

  8. ritzl
    ritzl
    November 15, 2013, 6:15 pm

    Southern plantation owners really knew how to grow them some tall cotton and lots of it. What an achievement that was. Worthy of deep and abiding affection, no doubt.

    Define “wart.”

    Seems like this guy’s “wart” is a Palestinian’s massacred family, ruthlessly/casually repeated for decades, and as the basis for the [continued] existence of the entity young Jews are supposed to love.

    After the ADL re-education program finishes with the FAU student protesters, maybe they can start on these young misguided Jews.

    Do this Rabbi and Richard Cohen know each other?

  9. piotr
    piotr
    November 15, 2013, 8:22 pm

    I had some interest in wartology, which is a methodology of coping with warts. Suppose that we need to offer counsel to a young man (or woman) with acne. As Rabbi Skolnik observed, denying the problem can go only so far. But we can get nice mileage by putting the problem in perspective. First, there is a lot of very nice skin between the pimples. Second, some famous people had acne too. Third, coping with hardship can build character.

    One could also forget about the perspective, disregard all the context and strongly recommend some professional treatment (and no, not by a spiritual counselor but by a dermatologist). Dermatologists perhaps are one sided, but more effective.

    [That said, dermatologists sometimes do not know the cure and resort to pretty ham handed “spiritual counseling”. There are worse problems than acne.]

    In any case, my meager experience with Zionists suggests that these people are experts on focusing on warts and nothing else. Consider Russian Empire. Top achievements in literature, arts, music, sciences, and, here and there, from time to time some pogroms. They talk only about the pogroms. Or Switzerland. Top achievements in mechanics, sciences, sublime beauty of Alpine valleys that can be easily enjoyed in variety of ways and some unfortunate incidents concerning Jewish banks accounts. They mention only the latter. Or Norway. There is a special Zionist web site devoted to iniquities visited upon Jews by wicked Norwegians. And so on and so on.

    One result may be that if someone’s mind is trained in that fashion, it is very hard to maintain intellectual balance on a single topic while rejecting it on every other topic. Honestly, this is my diagnosis of Gilad Atzmon.

    So I know a thing or two about warts. Where I am totally lost is why and how one should love a country. Recently Ms. Portman reported that when she is in Israel, every windowsill whispers to her about history. I would not even try to guess what did she hear. I think it is better to stop at rational affection. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk3Ps_yvckc

    • just
      just
      November 15, 2013, 8:38 pm

      There is a lot of truth in what you write, piotr.

      (and quite a bit of humor as well!) Many thanks.

    • chocopie
      chocopie
      November 15, 2013, 10:54 pm

      I can’t help thinking the windowsills are whispering (in Arabic), “Hey, where is the Palestinian family who lived in this house for so many generations?”

  10. RoHa
    RoHa
    November 16, 2013, 12:05 am

    “they need to learn to love the real Israel”

    Why?

  11. Jackson
    Jackson
    November 16, 2013, 12:29 am

    Zionists keep harping about an existential threat, but their problem is that American Jews have no existential threat. Nobody is going to wipe out American Jews, simply because they are as American as the rest of us. We won’t stand for it.

  12. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    November 16, 2013, 7:59 am

    Three questions for Rabbi Skolnick:

    (1) Don’t you agree that when Israel was established, the Palestinians were the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing? And don’t you agree that today, Israeli ethnic cleansing continues?
    (2) Don’t you agree that even Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are victims of systematic Israeli racial discrimination?
    (3) Don’t you agree that it’s the Palestinians whose are facing an existential threat?

    Rabbi Skolnick, unless you agree with these three statements, you are just not facing up to reality.
    Want proof? Read Max Blumenthal’s recent book, Goliath.

    And calling this Israel’s “imperfection” is just ridiculous.

    I will agree with Rabbi Skolnick on one point: American Jews have traditionally supported “universal justice,” and opposed racial discrimination. However, many American Jews have had a blind spot for Israel, because the Israelis have run a brilliant PR campaign to prettify a very ugly reality. The Palestinians have had a hard time getting out their side of the story.

    Now, the truth about Israel is starting to come out. The Israelis and their supporters in the US have systematically constructed a veil to hide the truth about Palestine and Palestinians. Max Blumenthal and others have begun to lift that veil. And the Israeli PR effort is starting to fail.

  13. Hostage
    Hostage
    November 16, 2013, 2:17 pm

    And no longer do we assume that Israeli democracy will somehow always exist, mirroring the Jewish and universal values of equality and justice, because unfortunately we have learned that there are Israeli leaders who claim that those values are wrong for Israel.

    Oddly enough, those Israeli leaders have taken to claiming that it is Judaism, not secular Zionism, which is incompatible with democracy.

    * Haaretz: “MKs debate protection of ‘equality’ in future constitution: Religious MKs reject inclusion of ensurance of equality, saying it would contradict Judaism.” — http://www.haaretz.com/news/mks-debate-protection-of-equality-in-future-constitution-1.234565

    * JPost: “Lapid: Israel’s definition as Jewish and democratic is an unsolvable contradiction”: “Judaism is a whole line of values that have existed for thousands of years, but the democratic idea is a new idea, and significant parts of it stand in contradiction to Judaism,” he said. — http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Lapid-Israels-definition-as-Jewish-and-democratic-is-an-unsolvable-contradiction-330067

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