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The Outlook for Peace in the Middle East

What Does it Mean to be Jewish – Winter 1995

Can Israel make peace with her Arab neighbors? That question has been plaguing the Jewish people and many other nations for forty-seven years, ever since the establishment of the state of Israel.

In 1967, the Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdul Nasser tried to mobilize the Arab nations to crush Israel and failed. Twelve years later the first breakthrough occurred. Egypt, under the leadership of Anwar Sadat, the successor to Nasser, made peace with Israel. But no one else did. Sadat was assassinated. Terrorism contin­ued. War followed in Lebanon. And the fanati­cism of Muslim fundamentalism invaded the Arab world with a fury far worse than any that Nasser invented.

Peace was impossible so long as the Cold War continued. So long as the United States and the Soviet Union competed for allies in the Middle East, confrontation was inevitable, and weapons poured into the region, encour­aging warlike posturing. But, to everyone’s surprise, Communism fell like a house of sticks. The Cold War ended with more of a whimper than a bang. The Arab world was left without Soviet support. Hating America became impractical. Tolerating Israel became a possibility.

The last bastion of pan-Arab nationalism was Iraq. In an action that defied reason, that nation’s leader, Saddam Hussein, attacked Kuwait, part of the oil empire of the United States. The Gulf War ensued. Iraq was crushed and humiliated. Jordan and the Palestine Lib­eration Organization (PLO), which supported Hussein, also were losers. Jordan lost its American support. The PLO lost its Arab sup­port. Both were ready for peace. The question was: Which would take the first step?

The PLO took the first step. It was bank­rupt, down and out, and bereft of real allies. It was weakened by civil war and defection. Above all, it was confronted by a formidable Palestinian opposition in the form of Hamas. Hamas was the child of Muslim fundamental­ism and the Intifada. It hated Israel. It hated America. But it hated PLO chairman Yasser Arafat with an equal passion. Suddenly the old political principle that the enemy of my en­emy is my friend worked its wonders. Arafat and Israel shared a common enemy. And so they became reluctant “friends.” In Septem­ber 1993, the famous handshake took place. Israeli doves were euphoric. Israeli hawks were depressed. Most Palestinians, desperate for good news, were happy. Fundamentalist Pal­estinians were angry.

The PLO’s action allowed Jordan to take the next step. There were too many Palestin­ians in Jordan to allow King Hussein of Jordan to do what he had wanted to do ever since he became king: to initiate peace with Israel. But now that Arafat, the official leader of the Pal­estinians, had made peace, it was easy for Hussein to shake Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand, too. In September 1994, peace broke out between Israel and Jordan. The fundamentalists growled again. But they were powerless to prevent the second handshake.

While many Israelis were apprehensive about making peace with Arafat, most Israelis were wildly enthusiastic about making peace with Jordan. After all, the agendas of the PLO and Jordan do not coincide. They both want the same thing. They both want the West Bank. They both want control over East Jerusalem. They both want to win the support and loy­alty of the Palestinians in Jordan. While they both share a fear of the Muslim fundamental­ists, they share very little else.

Most Israelis like King Hussein. They see him as a sincere supporter of the right of the state of Israel to exist. They see him as the long­time persecutor of the PLO, which he expelled from Jordan in 1970. They see him as a politi­cal alternative to Arafat.

Arafat is very worried. He is squeezed be­tween Israel and Jordan. He knows that Hussein hates his guts. He knows that if Israel and Hussein could get together, they would leave him and the PLO out in the cold. He knows that, in a pinch, he has very few allies in the Arab world.

But Hussein needs to move cautiously. He has thousands of fanatical fundamenta­lists in his country. His population is mainly a refugee West Bank population. He has many enemies who want to overthrow him. His throne is insecure. He relies mainly on the soldiers of his Bedouin army. A betrayal of Arafat would not win him any moderate Arab friends. His survival as the King of Jor­dan has depended on his unwillingness to take any real political risks. The one time he did, by supporting Saddam in Iraq, he suffered bit­ter consequences.

For years King Hussein worried about Syria. President Hafez al-Assad of Syria cov­eted Jordan and Lebanon. He saw himself as the ruler of a Greater Syria, which would in­clude the Palestinians. Assad won the military and political support of the Soviet Union. He offered asylum to Palestinian terrorists and aided them in their ruthless work. He defied

America and the rest of the Arab world. Jor­dan was afraid to make peace with Israel be­fore Syria did.

When the Cold War ended, Syria was left high and dry. Her chief enemy and Arab rival, Iraq, loomed as more and more menacing. Her option to play one great power against the other vanished. Her only radical support came from Shiite Iran, whose fundament­alist rulers despised the secular nationalism Assad championed.

When the Gulf War erupted, Syria repu­diated all her old propaganda by joining the Americans and Israelis as allies against Iraq. By the time the war was over, Syria was ready to talk peace with Israel. Urged on by U.S. Sec­retary of State Jim Baker, she entered into ne­gotiations. The handshake of Rabin and Arafat came as a cruel surprise. Assad wanted no Pal­estinian state. He wanted the Golan back. And he was prepared to sell out the Palestinians to achieve his goal.

Peace with Arafat made it less necessary for Israel to make peace with Syria. The hos­tility of fundamentalists in Syrian-controlled Lebanon was quite manageable so long as the Intifada was extinguished. And peace with Jordan made a rapprochement with Syria even less necessary. Israel had imagined that King Hussein was too cautious to make peace un­less the Syrians did it first. When Hussein grew tired of waiting for Syria (because he was afraid that waiting would allow Arafat to take every­thing Hussein wanted), Assad was furious. Is­rael no longer urgently needed Syrian coop­eration. Israel had Jordan and a friendly eastern border. Finding a solution to the dilemma of the Golan Heights could be shifted to the back burner.

The importance of Jordan to Israel has in­creased with the events of the past few months. The power of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank is growing. Arafat’s control of the Pales­tinians is slipping. Can Israel afford to turn over the West Bank to a Palestinian popula­tion dominated by Hamas terror? Can she leave the Jewish settlements to be protected against Hamas aggressiveness by reluctant PLO police? Most Israelis no longer believe that Arafat is either intimidating enough or necessary. The message of the Likud opposition to the Labor party’s peace policy is to suggest that Arafat be abandoned, the West Bank be retained, and the protection of Palestinian rights be shifted to Hussein. And Hussein does not seem averse to assuming that role.

Peace with Jordan has become more im­portant to Israel than peace with Arafat. It means that Syria can wait for concessions. It means that Arafat may never get what he was promised. It means that what Labor accom­plished — peace with Jordan — may work to the Likud’s advantage.

History features cruel ironies. Peace with Jordan would not have been possible without peace with Arafat first. Rabin stuck his neck out when he stuck his hand out to meet the hand of Arafat. Now he is burdened with Arafat. And Hussein can just as easily shake the hand of Likud as shake the hand of Rabin.

New Ethnic Realities and the Jewish Future

Judaism Beyond Ethnicity, Summer 1997

Two forces are shaping North American Jewry and making it radically different from the Jewish population of Israel. One is assimi­lation; the other is intermarriage.

In Israel a new Jewish ethnicity is emerging. Despite the initial problems of in­tegration, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Maghrebi, Yemenite, Oriental, and Ethiopian Jews are merging through intermarriage. In fifty to one hundred years a new gene pool defined by this melting pot will be firmly established. You can already see the racial mixture: not as white as European Jewry, not as dark as the Yemenite complexion.

A new culture is also emerging — a mix of Ashkenazic European ambition and the more family-oriented loyalties of the Near Eastern world. Israel will not be a liberal Anglo-Saxon democracy. Nor will it be a pa­triarchal Oriental despotism. It will be an interesting mixture of the two. The binding force of this combination is the Hebrew lan­guage, which serves as its linguistic glue. In time a Hebrew-speaking ethnic group, neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic, will take its place among the family of nations.

For the predominantly Ashkenazic Jews of North America, however, a different future is in store. While Israelis are being re-ethnicized, American Jews are being de-ethnicized. Due to assimilation and intermarriage with the Christian majority, the ethnic profile of North American Jewry is radically changing.

At one time the overwhelming majority of American Jewry came out of the Ashkenazic centers of Eastern Europe. There, Jews were a distinct nation, with a distinct language and national culture of their own. Yiddish vocabu­lary, Yiddish food, Yiddish humor, Yiddish music, and Yiddish anxiety all combined to pro­duce the self-image we identify as Yiddishkeit. As a national identity, it transcended religion and flavored every aspect of Jewish cultural ex­istence. For many Jews the nostalgia and roots of the Jewish experience lay with chicken soup and gefilte fish as much as with any theological doctrine. In America, Jewish identity hovered somewhere between the nationality-based iden­tities of the Irish and Italians and the religion- based identities of Protestants and Catholics.

But American culture is overwhelming in its power. The American way of life dissolves all competing ethnicities. Only where there is racial distinction, as in the case of African Ameri­cans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, does ethnic distinction survive. In the world of white America, assimilation and intermarriage have produced a new white gene pool, a union of WASP, Irish, Italian, Polish, German, and doz­ens of other European contributors. The typical white American is now “one-quarter this” and “one-quarter that.” A new American white ethnicity is emerging, in the same way as a new ethnic blend is emerging in Israel.

American Jews are increasingly becom­ing part of this new white ethnicity — in language and culture, for sure, In fact, the new white American culture has already incorpo­rated many aspects of Ashkenazic culture, from Yiddish words and the bagel to a fond­ness for Hanukka and Passover. Hundreds of Christian groups are now celebrating Passover seders all over America.

As for the genetic profile of American Jewry, intermarriage is making it blonder and blonder while Israelis are getting darker and darker. Last names are no longer a clue to Jew­ish identity. Even in Jewish parochial schools today, the student population is less ethni­cally identified than the population of public schools in Jewish ghetto neighborhoods fifty years ago. In many respects, then, American Jews are becoming part of the new ethnic re­ality called American whites.

What all this means is that North Ameri­can and Israeli strategies for Jewish survival cannot be the same. The Israeli strategy is na­tionalistic and linguistic, a powerful blending of Ashkenazic and Sephardic cultures within a shared territory and shared economy. The North American strategy is religious and cultural, blending Ashkenazic memory with the over­whelming presence of the American milieu. The only way to avoid this experience is to repudi­ate the blending process and to recreate segregation, as the ultra-Orthodox, like fundamentalist Muslims, have sought to do. Both groups repudiate American culture in their dress and in the roles they assign to women.

For the overwhelming majority of Ameri­can Jews, though, Judaism no longer exists in the context of Ashkenazic culture. It functions in the context of American white culture, a setting quite different from that of Israel. In such a context, Jewish identity will be less a matter of birth than a matter of choice. It will be less a matter of roots than a matter of a convincing personal philosophy of life. Jews who choose to be active Jews will need more than shtetl nostalgia, Holocaust-inspired alienation, and the Israeli connection. They will have to believe that the historic Jewish experience speaks to the human condition.

It may be that Israel will continue, for a while, to provide some support for Jewish ethnicity in America. But the self-image of American Jews and that of Israeli Jews no longer coincides. As a new “white melting pot” emerges in North America, the diver­gence will increase.

The Jewish future in North America will be the story of a people physically quite dis­tinct from the immigrant Jewish population of a century ago. This people will create its practices and beliefs in a setting of fierce com­petition, a free marketplace of appeals to the hearts and minds of the American public.

These new realities present a fundamen­tal challenge to secular Jews. It is important to remember that the first powerful expres­sion of a secular Judaism in the nineteenth and twentieth century was nationalism. Nationalism was built around the powerful bonds of Ashkenazic culture, Yiddish lan­guage and literature, and racial anti-Semitism. The Zionist movement substituted Hebrew for Yiddish, but it maintained with great fervor that Jewish identity was a national identity. Nationalism was a convincing and strong alternative to religious identity. In many respects it was stronger. Language and patrio­tism are even more time-consuming than religious ritual. Segregation and inmarriage were as natural to a community that was linguistically segregated as to one that was culturally isolated.

But while in Eastern Europe and Pales­tine a full-scale nationalism could be maintained, in assimilated Western Europe and North America nationalism degenerated into mere ethnicity. Initially, immigrant groups such as Ashkenazic Jews maintained linguistic segregation in ethnic ghettos, but public schools and linguistic conformity to the majority culture in a free society based on personal opportunity undermined linguis­tic uniqueness. Ethnicity came to mean a sense of common descent, with such cultural artifacts as ethnic food, ethnic music, and ethnic anxiety providing additional flavor. But ethnicity is not nationalism, and Yiddish culture in English is not exactly Yiddish culture. It is a variation on Anglo- Saxon American culture.

Ethnicity was a pale imitation of the original secular Jewish program. In an assimilationist environment with a dominant linguistic culture, ethnic uniqueness could not last. Like the smile of the vanishing Cheshire cat, it had very little substance. With the arrival of intermarriage it had very little future. Without racial distinction, ethnicity was hard to hang on to.

To base a secular Judaism on ethnic awareness is to set it up on a flimsy foundation. For fourth-generation assimi­lated American Jews, Yiddish culture is, at most, something to be studied and valued. But in the absence of Yiddish neighbor­hoods where Yiddish is spoken, it can no longer be experienced. Jewish separation can no longer be maintained by ethnicity; it can be maintained only by religion. The revival of a militant Orthodoxy is a response to this reality. Indeed, some ethnically minded Jews have chosen religion for themselves and their children, even though they do not believe in its theological premises, because they see religion as the only way to preserve a Jewish presence in an assimilationist society.

The challenge is clear. If a secular Juda­ism is to be viable in North America it can no longer rely on the national or ethnic strategy.

Humanistic Judaism, in contrast to the secular Judaism that preceded it, did not start out with the ethnic model. It started out with communities that were primarily philo­sophic in orientation and that connected a humanistic approach to life with the his­tory and experience of the Jewish people. The humanistic message was not uniquely Jewish, but it was powerfully tied to the skepticism, humor, and ambition that flow from the Jewish experience.

The project of Humanistic Judaism for the twenty-first century is to develop a secular Judaism without nationalism or ethnicity as its primary foundation. In order to do this, we need to develop two vital parts of our message.

We need to emphasize that our movement is more than an indulgence in ethnic nostal­gia. We have a message about human power, human dignity, and human responsibility that can help to transform daily living in a posi­tive and significant way, and this message, for both adults and children, can best be experi­enced and integrated within the framework of community.

We also need to become “historical” Jews. An identification with Jewish history is dif­ferent from an identification with Ashkenazic ethnicity. Jewish history features many ethnicities, from Ashkenazic and Sephardic to Oriental and Falasha. Jewish history also carries a clear humanistic message: in the face of overwhelming odds, survival and dignity can be achieved only through human effort. This modern, humanistic interpretation more accurately describes the meaning of Jewish history than did the establishment rabbis of earlier times.

Jewish history is attached to an interna­tional culture that unites its many ethnicities in the same way that a Christian culture unites the many nations that embraced Christianity. This international Jewish culture includes the Hebrew language, seasonal holidays, litera­ture and music from several ethnic sources, and an attachment to the national homeland from which this international culture sprang.

Humanistic Judaism cannot provide the intense group identity that the isolation of ultra-Orthodox Judaism provides. Nor does it want to. In an open and free society, such seg­regation undermines human potential. What Humanistic Judaism does provide is a “cultural religion” with a powerful philosophy of life and a powerful aesthetics drawn from the intense struggle for survival of an extraordinary people.

For many Jews with Ashkenazic nostal­gia, as well as for many Jews with no ethnic sentiment, this combination in an attractive community setting can enhance the meaning of life.

A Secular Yeshiva

Humanistic Judaism in Israel – Winter 1985

A secular “yeshiva” now exists. Yes, a secular “yeshiva”!

Headquartered in Jerusalem, the Inter­national Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism is in the process of becoming a full reality. Despite the existence of a century-old tradition of secular Jewish thought, this is the first school of higher Jewish learning to be committed specifi­cally to the presentation of a humanistic perspective on Jewish identity.

How did the institute come into exist­ence? Why was it established? What will it do? Who are the people involved with it? Who will support it?

Creation

In October, 1981, a delegation of 40 North American Jews from the Society for Humanistic Judaism met with an equal number of secular Israeli leaders and intellectuals at Kibbutz Shefayim to share ideas and plan for future connections. Among those present were Shulamit Aloni, leader of the Citizens Rights Move­ment and member of the Knesset; Yehuda Sobel, well-known Israeli playwright; Meir Pail, spokesperson for the dovish Sheli party; and Uri Rapp, professor of the sociology of drama at Tel Aviv University.

A statement of principles, prepared by me, structured the agenda. Out of the two day dialogue emerged a strong awareness of the wide diversity of belief that exists within the secular Jewish world. Never­theless, a short statement about a Secular Humanistic Judaism was agreed on and signed by most of the people in atten­dance. Many of the participants expressed the hope that something more concrete and more meaningful would follow.

In July, 1983, under the stimulus of Zev Katz and Yehuda Bauer, professors at the Hebrew University, an organizing cele­bration with 200 people in attendance was held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem to announce the establishment of the Israeli Association for Secular Humanis­tic Judaism. The Kibbutz Artzi movement, the more secular of the two kibbutz fede­rations, offered its support. Prominent academicians from the universities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv partici­pated in the program. Ultimately, seven small urban communities of Humanistic Jews emerged in the major cities of Israel.

In July, 1985, leaders of the Israeli association, together with leaders of the North American Society for Humanistic Judaism, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, and Americans for a Pro­gressive Israel — as well as Jewish human­ists from England, France, and Argentina — met at the Hebrew University to estab­lish a school and research center for Secu­lar Humanistic Judaism. Excitement was high; most participants saw the new inter­national institute as a joint project to bring secular Jews all over the world into a working relationship.

Why?

Why the institute? After all, estab­lishing and maintaining a school of higher learning is no easy task. Given the effort that would be required, the mere desire to create some kind of group solidarity was not a sufficient reason. When the idea of an institute first emerged some time be­fore the 1983 meeting, certain compelling reasons presented themselves.

Most secular and humanistic Jews in the world are unaware that they are what they are. The “believers” who do know what they are often lack the knowledge or training to give depth to their convictions. Both groups need education. And effec­tive education requires the planning and the focused creativity that only a school can provide.

Secular Humanistic Judaism needs an intellectual outreach. It needs to recruit and use the enormous number of Jewish men and women in the worlds of aca­demia, writing, and the arts who see them­selves as secular Jews but who are so dis­persed that they have no opportunity for dialogue with peers who share their out­look. They often have no motivation to promote their Jewish convictions because they are unaware of any audience or com­munity structure that would give their efforts any meaning. If it were possible to recruit one-tenth of the available secular Jewish academicians for the task of ex­plaining and enriching the humanistic point of view, they would constitute a for­midable intellectual voice in the Jewish community. Especially in Israel, where the secular commitment has been intense and widespread for many years, the number of potential recruits is significant.

Humanistic Jewish creativity is more than a century old, but most of the results are unavailable to the secular public. They are hidden away in kibbutz archives, cul­ture club files, historical memoirs, and the private collections of talented individuals. No effort has ever really been made to bring them together, to select the best of the secular past so communities can draw upon it for their celebration life. It is amazing how much of the holiday and life cycle creativity of the kibbutz experience is unknown both to urban Israelis and to Diaspora Jews. Only a concerted effort by a research institute can rescue these treasures for posterity.

New literature is an urgent necessity. There are no popular history books of the Jewish people that are unashamedly secu­lar and consistently choose to view the Jewish experience through the eyes of a scientific humanism. There are few popu­lar books on philosophy, ethics, and lifestyle that articulate the secular Jewish point of view and seek to awaken human­istic self-awareness in the reading public, especially young people. There are no readily available celebration manuals for holidays and life cycle ceremonies to offer guidance to humanistically disposed Jews in how to design a satisfying humanistic Jewish ritual. The dearth of pragmatic and inspirational literature is a dramatic deficiency in the effort to create any kind of effective movement. Only a school with ideological commitments can arrange for the creation of this essential literature.

The “monuments” of tradition need attention. In Israel, where the Bible is an intrinsic part of the national conscious­ness and public education, to leave Bible instruction and Bible interpretation to traditional commentators and ambivalent liberals is to forego an opportunity for creating secular self-awareness. No con­tinuous secular humanistic commentary on the Bible now exists either in Hebrew or in English.

Such a commentary is an enormous task. But it is essential for dramatizing the secular alternative in the eyes of the Jew­ish public. It is obvious that such an effort, which requires the mobilization of the best scholars in the world of Jewish studies who share the humanistic outlook, can be undertaken only by an institution of higher learning.

Training leaders and spokespeople, both professional and nonprofessional, is essential to the progress of any organized ideology. The continuing success of the religious sector, whether conservative or liberal, is, to a large degree, due to the presence of organized communities with well-trained full-time leaders. And the persistent failure of the secular Jewish world to put its act together in any effective way is partly due to the lack of such communities and the professional leaders that make them possible. The hos­tility of classic secularists to the influence of the “clergy” — the exaggerated egalitar­ianism that saw the threat of new elites behind any designated leader — often left urban secular Jewish groups in a perpet­ual infancy. Trained leaders are neces­sary, whether they are designated rabbis or madrikhim (guides), whether they serve congregations in North America or urban fellowships in Israel. Only a college with an appropriate faculty can provide that training.

The growing threat of religious fundamentalism is a terrifying devel­opment. In Israel, in particular, the bold attempt of the orthodox to assume political power and to turn the Jewish state into a theocratic dictatorship endangers the survival of the secular Zionism that established the modern nation.

The old secular smugness has dis­appeared. There is real fear now — fear for the democratic future of the state, fear for the ideological future of coming generations. Secular Jews in Israel are aware that they often have failed to transmit their humanistic enthusiasm to their children and their grandchildren, many of whom now have embraced the fundamentalism of their parents’ oppo­nents. Secular Jews are aware that they were too passive about their secular commitments and that they have allowed orthodox militants to penetrate the school system and the army without effective resistance. What the present crisis demands is a trained cadre of humanistic speakers and teachers who would be available to familiarize students and army recruits with Jewish alternatives to orthodoxy and conventional religion. Only a secularist college of Jewish studies can train this cadre.

The institute is the most effective way to create a visible presence for the human­istic Jewish alternative.

While it would be nice to have several humanistic Jewish institutes, each situated in a major Jewish community, such a vision is out of touch with reality. We are presently too few in number to afford more than one. If each regional enclave works separately on this problem, we shall have none. But if we pool our resources and talents internationally and focus on a single school and research center, we shall be successful. The location of the administrative center of that one institute has to be Jerusalem, both because of its Jewish primacy and because the largest number of available faculty are either at the Hebrew University or nearby.

It is clear that there are many compelling reasons for this new institute to be created. As it grows and flourishes, it will serve as a focal point for secular and humanistic Jews all over the world and will rally and unite them in the further­ance of a shared dramatic project.

Structure

There are four key figures in the new institute. The honorary chairman is Haim Cohn, former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, a fervent civil libertarian, a leading expert in traditional Jewish law, and a confirmed humanist who boldly states that “the kindest thing you can say about God after the Holocaust is that he does not exist.” The chairman is Yehuda Bauer, professor of history at the Hebrew University, director of the Center for Holocaust Studies, director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, and a major ideologue of the Kibbutz Artzi movement. The dean is Zev Katz, also a professor of history at the Hebrew Univer­sity, an expert in Russian studies, an inter­national “missionary” for secular Jewish self-awareness, and the person whose energies and determination helped to spark the creation of the Israeli associa­tion. The administrator is Youval Tal, native Jerusalemite, public relations maven, and an ardent worker for Jewish educational causes.

Eight departments have been designed, seven for research and one for community outreach and leadership training. The research departments are: Humanism, Traditional Jewish Literature, Modern Jewish Literature, Jewish History, Jewish Holidays and Ceremonies, Law and the State, and Education. The eighth depart­ment is the Midrasha, a center for the sponsoring of adult education and train­ing seminars. The Midrasha will be re­sponsible ultimately for the preparation of professional leaders.

Each of these departments at present has an Israeli faculty, with certain additions from North America and Europe. It is hoped that, in time, the faculty will become truly international, embracing academicians, intellectuals, and artists from all over the world. It is also hoped that the programs of the insti­tute will be international seminars to be held in all the major cities where Jews live.

Two projects have been chosen for immediate pursuit. The first is the Holidays Project, a concerted effort to make available in Hebrew and in English the best of the century-old tradition of secular celebration. The second is the Bible Project, a mobilization of scholars to prepare a humanistic commentary on Bib­lical texts. Both projects, when completed, will have great pragmatic value.

Support

The secular “yeshiva” — despite all the preliminary planning and enthusiasm — will remain only a dream unless it re­ceives the emotional and financial sup­port of the secular humanistic Jewish world. And it deserves our support be­cause it is the most effective way that has yet been devised to create a visible presence for the humanistic Jewish alter­native. This moment in history — when both positive and negative forces have transformed the face of world Jewry, and when forces hostile to humanism are so powerful — is the time to organize this institute. The genuineness of our commit­ment to the future of Humanistic Judaism will be determined by what we do to make this school a reality.

Being a Secular Humanistic Jew in the Diaspora

1992 Conference Highlights, Spring 1993

The word diaspora has a problem built into it. It implies that the Jewish people is a people whose extension flows out from the land of Israel, and in many respects historically that was true. But the reality of Jewish history in the twentieth century was not the way it is with most diasporas. Normally the homeland creates the diaspora. In this case the Diaspora created the homeland.

Israel often reminds me of America. In America we are always asking people where they come from. In Italy, people don’t go around saying, “Where do you come from?” But in Israel, people have their roots in the Diaspora, and that is an interesting sociological and historical development. So I start out with a very important premise: that we are a world people. If we don’t start out with that premise, then the communities in the Diaspora have a very inferior reality, and if we accept that self-image, we cannot grow, we cannot be what we want to be.

The French Revolution is one of those dramatic events that changed the nature of the Jewish people. The Jewish people started out as a nation in our own land, a territorial nation. And even when we were dispersed, we still viewed ourselves as one nation, though in reality we had become several. The Jews of Eastern Europe were not Polish or Russian; they belonged to the Ashkenazic Jewish nation. It had a language all its own called Yiddish. It was dispersed over a discrete territory. There were certain towns and villages and shtetls that were completely Yiddish-speaking. That language and culture, which developed in Eastern Europe, is very different from the culture that developed in Spain, from the culture that developed in the Jewish Arabic world, from the culture that developed in the Jewish Persian world. Each was built around a Jewish language. The language written in Hebrew letters in Israel is a testimony to what happens when all these people come together.

So, although in our consciousness we were one nation, in our experience there was diversity. And then came the French Revolution. Up until that time, we were aliens. But the French Revolution (and to some extent the American Revolution that preceded it) changed the situation of the Jew. Until then, Jews were a civilization that embraced several subnations: Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Judeo-Arabs, Judeo-Persians, and so on. All of a sudden Jews had to confront a new situation. Somebody said to them, we welcome you into a secular state. Secularism altered the character of the Jewish people. Religion and culture became private matters. There are certain things that you as a citizen of the state must conform to, but your roots, your culture, and your religion are private matters.

And so, the overwhelming majority of Jews in Western Europe ceased to be a nation. The sign of losing their nationhood was that they gave up their language. Now, in North America, Jews are overwhelmingly secularized. Both Conservative and Reform Judaism are attempts to find some comfort in arbitrating between the nostalgia of Orthodoxy and the secularization of the Enlightenment.

One of the realities of life in the Diaspora is that Jewish identity is not always the primary concern of Jews. They are involved in the political, social, and economic life of their countries. In our country, in the United States of America, most people are in a sense the children of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment gave us reason, it gave us secularism, it gave us a loss of interest in the supernatural (though that is reviving to some extent on a personal level), and it gave us individualism. In fact, individualism, which is so pervasive in North American life, constitutes to a large degree one of the problems we have to deal with. The other is an intermarriage rate of more than 40 percent. That means that in two generations, people who identify with Judaism — and there is a fairly high rate of retention among intermarried couples — will not have the same kinds of ethnic memories (borscht and blintzes) that many of us grew up with. We’re already encountering that problem. So we’re struggling with effective ways to express our Jewish identity. Let me mention a couple of ways in which people do it.

First, people display an increasing identification with the culture of the State of Israel. That is a perfectly appropriate thing to do; the problem is that it is a vicarious experience. When the French Revolution came, the Jewish people responded in four alternative ways. One was to reject it, and that ultimately produced the foundation of ultra-Orthodoxy. One was to say, “We’re not a nation; we’re only a religious denomination.” That was Reform. But that approach ran into a problem: most Jews are secularized, so to say that God is the central idea of the Jewish experience for Reform Jews when most Reform Jews hardly talk about God obviously is foolish. The third response with which many Jews identified was socialism, and, of course, that came tumbling down. The fourth was Zionism. Part of the problem with Zionism for the Diaspora is that Zionism does not really allow for the Diaspora. The great wish of those who are committed to the Zionist movement is that ultimately all Jews who live in the Diaspora will come to the land of Israel. That relationship, therefore, creates a certain inequality. Nevertheless, one of the ways to express a secular Jewish identity — and it is very appropriate — is to increase identification with the culture of the State of Israel.

A second way is what I call “residual ritual.” You do Hanukka, you do Purim, you do Pesakh, you may do Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur. You do a series of holidays, and people feel very Jewish around the holidays, but the holidays aren’t attached to anything. They hang in limbo. And after a while, there are so many holidays coming from elsewhere in the environment that they simply fade into other holidays.

If we are going to preserve Jewish identity in the Diaspora, if we are going to remain effectively a world people, then we have to find something very intense that we can identify with. We are not, if we are Secular Humanistic Jews, ritualistic. We can create celebrations, but celebration has to be attached to something stronger and more profound.

It has been said that it is impossible to relate Jewish history without religion. Part of the problem — and certainly Zionism has added to that problem because of its great attachment to the Tanakh — is that we cannot distinguish between the story of the Jewish experience and the Jewish experience. The events that occurred from the beginning of our people’s history until now constitute the Jewish experience, and it can be empirically discovered. But the first place we normally go to find out about it is to people who had a vested interest in looking at that experience; and they wrote about it from the point of view that without the cooperation and intervention of God, nothing would have happened.

I believe that the only way we can create any kind of intense commitment or intense feeling about being Jewish in the Diaspora is for people to feel they are part of an exciting world people. In fact, the reason Jews are interesting is that we are a world people. We are an interesting world people with an interesting history, and if you are going to be a Secular Humanistic Jew, you need to master the alternative history. You have to master the history of the Jewish people and of the Jewish experience from a secular humanistic point of view. Then you can tack holidays onto that if you want to.

I deliberately use the words “tack on” because people often ask me how do I do Hanukka, how do I do Pesakh, and it is not attached to anything substantial. With Orthodoxy, it is attached to a faith, and then it is an expression of that faith. For us, if it only floats with how we invent this little ceremony or that little ceremony, it won’t last. I feel very intensely Jewish because I identify with the world Jewish experience, and I try to transmit that intensity to other people. When I celebrate a holiday, it is because it expresses some aspect of that Jewish experience.

In order for Jewish identity to last, people have to feel that being Jewish is significant, and the only way they can feel that being Jewish is significant is if they feel that being part of the Jewish people is significant. And the only way they can feel that being part of the Jewish people is significant is to feel identified with Jewish history and informed of that history.

But the official history we now have is absolutely inadequate, and using the documents that are the foundation of that history is inadequate. One of the reasons why Reform Judaism has a hard time fighting Orthodoxy in North America is that the sacred documents of Reform are the same as the sacred documents of Orthodoxy. And since the documents are closer to the ideology of Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy always wins out because Reform Jews are always apologizing, explaining why they don’t do this and why they don’t believe that. They are always in a negative position.

If we told the alternative story of the Jewish experience, if we created it so it doesn’t appear only in scholarly journals, somebody who was a teacher in a school in the Diaspora or even in Israel could pick it up, and there would be the story told from the other point of view. Our story would say that being a world people is significant. If Judaism is identified only with the state of Israel and its concerns and culture, then there is no reason to make a distinction between Judaism and Israelism. Judaism means that the people of the State of Israel who are Jews wish to identify with the civilization that embraces this world people.

Our alternative history would pay tribute to all the people the old history doesn’t. I was raised in a city, on streets with sidewalks, and was told all my life that my heroes were shepherds. For two thousand years we have been an urban, bourgeois people, and we are embarrassed about it; in fact, many of the early writers of the Zionist movement were embarrassed about the bourgeois character of the Jewish people. I do not mind being bourgeois. That’s what I am. My parents were bourgeois, my relatives are bourgeois, and I do not feel that the bourgeoisie are a harmful element in world civilization.

Our problem is our self-hate. We can’t write about our history because the things we did for the past two thousand years are things we are embarrassed about. What we can write about are people milking cows on kibbutzim. Just show a Jew handling soil, and all of a sudden he is real, he’s useful. All the Jews I know, the psychiatrists, the accountants, everybody, they are not real. They’re not part of Jewish history. If we wrote that alternative history, we wouldn’t be trapped by the literature of the past. As secular Jews in the Diaspora, we live (as Mordecai Kaplan said) in two civilizations. We have the American civilization and we have the Jewish civilization. My heroes consist of two sets of people. The only way we will ever give Jews in the Diaspora a sense of strong Jewish identity is if they become masters of Jewish history; but if they become masters of the old history, they will either reject it or they will not want to be secular Jews. So we have to write a new history, and all the heroes of that history are my heroes. Those heroes include Baruch Spinoza, Albert Einstein, Theodor Herzl, and David Ben-Gurion. They include the vast spectrum of people, modern, medieval, or ancient, that are part of this tradition.

Finally, we need to make a connection between humanism and Judaism. There is a universal humanism, and I subscribe to its wisdom, but my humanism is reinforced by my identification with the Jewish experience. The meaning of Jewish history is not that we are in the hands of a loving and just Providence. The meaning of Jewish history is humanism. The meaning of Jewish history, certainly during the past two thousand years, is that we live in a world in which nobody out there gives a damn whether we live or die. The meaning of it is that we have to rely on ourselves. For me, Jewish ethics does not come from somebody coming down on a mountain. I don’t care how many thunderbolts he has — that’s not authority. Ultimately the authority for ethics lies in the Jewish experience. For me, it is inconceivable that we should oppress other peoples given the history of our people, given all that we have suffered and endured.

So, we have to find a way of connecting to Jewish history that’s very intense. We have to be the masters of a second Jewish history, and then we can attach whatever cultural items we want to that. Then we can live in a world that is multilingual and multinational as a world Jewish people. Unless we can achieve that, we in the Diaspora will not survive; if we do, then we will.

Israel Independence Day. It Came and Went.

TJH May 1977, vol. 14, no. 9.

Israel Independence Day. It came and went. 

Twenty-nine years of Jewish independence. 

How many more? 

David’s kingdom lasted for 400 years. The Maccabees’ dominion survived for 100. What about the Third State? 

I don’t know. All I know is that it is important for Israel to survive. The destruction of the Jewish state would undermine the existence of the Jewish nation as a world people. With the center dead, the periphery would be hard put to endure. 

Zionism has been the most successful Jewish response to the age of science and secularism. In an era when theological belief and ritual practice were no longer appropriate to individual survival, Zionism shifted the basis of Jewish identity from religious activity to Hebrew secular culture.  

The state of Israel is more than a refugee center for desperate Jews. It is a place where it is possible to be Jewish without being religious. The sign of Jewishness is not a set of outmoded theological statements and absurd ceremonial rites. It is the use of the Hebrew language, the celebration of national holidays, the creation of secular poetry, music and dance. Israeli culture is a viable alternative to Talmudic culture. It can be indulged full-time within Israel or part-time in the Diaspora. 

Unlike Yiddish secular culture (the national expression of Ashkenazi Jews), it has a territorial center where the national language can be used in everyday life. And unlike classical Reform Judaism it provides specific and concrete behavior-patterns instead of vague religious cliches. 

Israeli culture is not superior to other national cultures (After all, in a technological world personal lifestyles become International). But it is linguistically and aesthetically different. 

Hebrew culture is a twentieth century expression of the Jewish collective will to live. From the humanistic point of view, it adds one more ethnic style to the universal potpourri.  

But Hebrew culture will not live unless Israel lives. Israel will not live unless she makes peace with the Arabs.  

Israel has to make peace soon. The Jewishness of the Jewish state is at stake. If the present rate of Jewish emigration from Israel continues to increase because of inflation and war anxiety, and if the overwhelming numbers of Arabs in the occupied territories continue to remain within the unofficial boundaries of Israel, the Jewish state, by default, will turn into an Arab state. Like Detroit its ethnic character will be radically transformed.  

The time for making peace is now.  

Now the Arab world is deeply divided between the Arab Left and the Arab Right. The Arab Left is led by Gaddafi’s Libya, with its oil billions. The Arab Right is led by Khalid’s Saudi Arabia with its even greater wealth. Both sides despise and fear each other more than they despise and fear Israel.  

Now the Arab Left has suffered an enormous defeat. Syria has defected to the Right. the Palestine Liberation Organization was decisively defeated in Lebanon. Algeria and Iraq have suffered loss of face because of their failure to adequately support their Palestinian allies. 

Now all the Arab states on the borders of Israel belong to the Arab Right. For the first time in Israeli history, the governments of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are politically compatible and are able to act in unison.  

Now the Arab Right is willing to accept the reality of Israel and to recognize its political existence. This recognition is no Act of charity. The leaders of the Arab Right know that if they do not make peace with Israel, the continuing militancy will feed the terrorism which will enable the Left to underline the government of the Right.  

Now the Arab Right has tamed the Palestine Liberation Organization. Arafat and his allies are willing, because they have no other choice, to accept a truncated Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza federated with their old arch enemy, Hussein’s Jordan. This Jordan-Palestine state is the best ultimate deal the Israelis can achieve on their eastern frontier.  

Now Israel does not have to negotiate with the Soviet Union. The Russians hold no power base on the Israeli frontier. Syria still uses Soviet arms, but it has passed over to the American camp of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  

Now American public opinion is still strongly pro-Israel. Continued energy crises may make the American public more impatient with the Middle Eastern controversy.  

The public price of the Arab Right for peace is the return of the Israelis to the 1967 frontiers. The private price may be lower.  

The risk of peace without defensible frontiers is great. But, as Sadat appropriately point outs, the concept of defensible frontiers is Irrelevant in the age of missiles.  

The risk of continued war is even greater. If the failure of the peace initiative fails, new impetus will be given to the Arab Left. And the Arab Left is unequivocally committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.  

Israel needs courageous leadership now. The courage to make peace is sometimes more important than the courage to fight.  

The Rabbi Writes: Shula is Coming

The Jewish Humanist, November 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 4

Shula is coming. 

Shula is the famous Shulamit Aloni, the fiery Shulamit Aloni, who transformed the politics of Israel. Founder of the Ratz party, she was the first champion of individual freedom and women’s rights in the Knesset arena. Her courageous voice rallied thousands of Israelis to push for separation of religion and government and to demand the civil liberties that we as Americans take for granted. 

When the Labor government under Yitshak Rabin took power in Israel four years ago, she was appointed Minister of Education. Her predecessors for fifteen years had been the tools of Ultra- Orthodox Rabbis and the “yeshiva” lobby, funneling millions of shekels into the hands of religious fanatics. Her attempt to reverse the process was met with fierce opposition. Her bold articulation of a secular vision for Israel was labeled ” blasphemous”. In the end, Rabin was forced by panicky Laborites to shift her to the less controversial Ministry of culture. Even members of her own party turned on her for her “indiscretions” island sought to find more timid leadership. But the nature of Shula is to speak honestly and never to be intimidated. 

With the arrival of Netanyahu, Shula became part of the opposition.  She understands that there are two urgent causes for those who are concerned about the survival of Israel.  The first is the development of a strong secular humanistic movement in Israel, which will offer effective resistance to Orthodox demands and which will provide a positive Jewish alternative.  Shula was instrumental in helping to launch Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel after her 1979 visit to the Birmingham Temple.  The second is the defense of the peace process which Rabin and Peres initiated and which Netanyahu is in the process of destroying. 

The threat to the security and survival of Israel provided by the intransigence of Netanyahu is enormous. Bibi talks peace but he is unwilling to make any concessions which will make peace between Jew and Arab possible. This inflexibility flows both from personal conviction and political necessity. He is totally dependent on the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset to guarantee the viability of his government. 

The consequences of his intransigence are frightening. Credibility and authority of the government will collapse. Chaos among the Palestinians will ensue. Some Palestinians will renew the Intifada. Many Palestinians will turn to the fundamentalist Hamas as an alternative leadership. The moderate Arab regimes of Mubarak in Egypt and Hussein in Jordan, which committed their prestige to the peace process, will be in danger. The Israeli army, prodded by the insecurities of Orthodox settlers, will engage in a campaign of repression which will alienate American and world opinion. Israel will be isolated, surrounded by fierce and fanatic enemies, fighting a war that cannot be won. The conflict will stimulate fear and chauvinism in the Israeli public and make them prone to increasing Orthodox control. The vision of a free secular democratic Jewish state will die. 

The peace process was intended to initiate a different scenario. The Israelis would evacuate Gaza and the West Bank, including Hebron. A Palestinian state would emerge next to the Jewish state. Peace would strengthen Mubarak and Hussein in Egypt and Jordan, who would offer their support to guarantee that Arafat behaved and that the fundamentalist were restrained. The reality of Peace would persuade other Arab and Muslim states to abandon their hostility and to enter into a friendly relationship with Israel. The intransigent government of Gadhafi in Libya, Bashir in the Sudan (sic) and Assad in Syria would be isolated. In time the Arab and Muslim worlds would open up to Israeli know how and technological skills. Israel would function as a high-tech Hong Kong or Singapore in a Middle Eastern Muslim sea. The secular forces in the Arab world would be encouraged by these transformations to resist their fundamentalist enemies. Israel would be smaller but safer, a partner in projects of economic cooperation. Hate and distrust would continue. But they would be controlled by the growing possibility of mutual respect and mutual dependence.  

The dream of this second scenario cannot be allowed to die.  Israelis who supported the peace process and who suffered the cruel disappointment of losing the May election need to know that there are thousands of Jews in the Diaspora who support their cause and who are prepared to act on behalf of the vision of Rabin and Peres.  Many of these Jews are in America the nation that has the power and vested interest to pressure the Israeli government to change its course. 

On Monday evening November 18 at 8:30PM Shula will be in the Birmingham Temple to speak to us about Israel and peace.  This meeting will be a Rally for Peace.  All members of the Birmingham Temple-all members of the Jewish community-all concerned citizens who believe that the peace process must not be allowed to die and that Netanyahu must be persuaded to reverse his course of self-destruction are urged to attend. 

We must join Shula in offering resistance to this act of national suicide.  Those in power, in both Israel and the United States must hear our voice.  Silence and resignation are ethically unacceptable. 

Rabin died because he would not surrender to the demands of inflexible nationalism.  Today his assassin, Yigal Amir, is being honored by Orthodox fan clubs who celebrate his act of “patriotism”.  If we are appalled by this indecency, if we do not believe that these demonstrators speak on behalf of most of the Jewish people.  If we are passionate about the long-run survival of the Jewish people, then we will make it our business to attend the rally on November 18 to hear Shula and to offer our support to the struggle for peace. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Relationship between Israel and American Jewry

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 10

Israel will be 41 years old this month. As the Jewishs state it has served the Jewish people well. The Diaspora has acquired both pride, culture and identity from its achievements. 

But all is not well.  Enormous problems confront Israel that often seem insoluble (sic).  The intifada, the Palestinian rebellions int eh West Bank and Gaza, is still strong after seventeen months.  Although its fury has somewhat abated, the Israeli reserves are still mobilized to suppress the uprising.  The cost of coping is high.  Military deficits, the wear and tear of unpopular police duty and the frustration with adverse world public opinion have taken their toll. 

The confrontation between the religious and the secular continues.  While the Who is a Jew? Issue has been temporarily defused, the fanaticism of the fundamentalists fuels new incidents.  Secularists are beginning to despair that they will ever be able to regain their primacy.  The new immigrants are mainly orthodox and their birth rate is high. 

Economic difficulties are everywhere.  Tourism has slumped because of the intifada.  Unemployment is on the rise.  There are insufficient funds to support the health and education programs that Israel needs.  In fact, the underfinanced school system is a disgrace to a Jewish state. 

The surge of Zionist idealism that gave Israel its special moral character at its inception has waned.  Old people have become cynical.  Young people have joined the ranks of the consumer culture.  Zionism has “normalized” the Jewish people to its disadvantaged (sic). 

One of the mor4e serious problems is the disintegration of the special relationship with American Jewry., the most powerful of Diaspora communities.  In the past American Jewish leaders were content to defer to the will of the Israeli government as an expression of Jewish solidarity.  The prestige of Israel was so high in Jewish eyes that this deference seemed natural.  Today rebellion is in the wings.  The connection is more abrasive. 

There are many signs of this new abrasiveness. 

American Jewish leaders have publicly expressed their reservations about Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.  Newspapers and the other media regularly report these disagreements.  In the past any conflict would have been kept secret.  The facade of unity would have been maintained. 

Advertisements by Jewish dissidents denouncing Israeli policy appear in major newspapers.  The signers are often leading intellectual and philanthropists who would formerly have never given their names or their money to such as assaultive exposure. 

Conferences of dissidents now attract thousands of participants.  Just recently, Michael Lerner, the found and the editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun (who will be speaking for us on May 22) held a major meeting of protest in New York.  He challenged the American Jewish leadership to listen to the dissenting voice in their constituency.  This challenge received wide publicity. 

Delegations of American Jewish leaders now travel to Israel to “lobby” the Knesset and the government.  During the Who is a Jew? controversy dozens of organizational heads took the time to go to Israel to express their indignation over proposed legislative changes.  Their protest was effective in undermining the conservative coalition with the orthodox. 

Many local welfare federations hage threatened to withhold their financial support from Israel unless the fundamentalists are restrained. Such threats would have been inconceivable in the past and would have been regarded as “betrayal”. 

American Jewish philanthropy has decided, independent of Israeli counsel and in direct opposition to Israeli policy, to raise millions of dollars for the absorption of thousands of ew Soviet Jewish immigrants by the United State.  The world Zionist Organization ad the Jewish Agency are fit to be tied.  They simply assumed that Israel would have prior claim to special funds raised for immigrant absorption. 

The recent unity conference called by Prime Minister Shamir in Jerusalem was less an expression of solidarity with the policies of the present administration than a show attempt to cover up the differences that everybody knows exist.  The drama of unity lacks the substance of agreement that would make it effective. 

Many factors have contributed to this new abrasiveness. 

Ever since the Lebanon War American Jews no longer see Israel through the reverential glasses of earlier years.  The “moral intimidation” power of Israel has seriously declined.  Israelis no longer appear, in American Jewish eyes to (sic) be as noble as they once were. 

 A modicum of disillusionment has set in. 

The growing power of the orthodox and their strident bid for political control have frightened many American Jews, most of whom are not orthodox.  It was easier for liberal and secular Jews to identify with the “old” Israel than with the present one. 

Adverse publicity concerning the Israeli handling of the intifada fills the American media and embarrasses American Jews.  Accustomed to seeing themselves as victims of oppression the Jews of the United States are very uncomfortable in the role of military repressor.  They are ambivalent.  While they are concerned about the future security of Israel, they want the bad publicity to stop. 

The Israelis have often behaved arrogantly, counting on American Jewish support without ever consulting with American Jews or eliciting their opinions.  While claiming to be the “voice” of the Jewish people, Israel reflects only its own electorate with no real input from Jewish constituencies in the Diaspora.  The insensitivity to American feeling in the Who is a Jew? issue is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

The responses in the American community to this new dissent have varied. 

Many American Jews view it negatively.  They believe that public arguments give ammunition to our enemies, to all the antisemites who seek our destruction.  Families should not wash their “dirty laundry” in public they say (sic).  Freedom of speech yields to the need for survival. 

Many are enthusiastic.  They feel liberated from the fetters of an irrational control.  They maintain that open discussion will energize the Jewish people and lead to the new and creative solutions to problems.  They also maintain that the old leadership, attached to outmoded responses to problems, will never yield power unless publicly challenged. 

Others are simply ambivalent.  They agree with the protest.  But they are uncomfortable with Jews arguing with Jews in public.  They would prefer a quieter assault, although they are not quite sure how to engineer it. 

Which of these responses is the most valid? 

While many positive thighs can be said for solidarity it is no logger possible-either pragmatically or morally.  But dissent has to be responsible too-not simply a vehicle for a power-hungry new elite to replace a power-hungry old elite.[Text Wrapping Break] 

Four criteria ought to guide the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.                

  1. American Jews are the equals of Israeli Jews.  No special status of nobility attaches to living in the Jewish homeland. 
  1. The voice of the Jewish people is more than the voice of Israel.  When what Israel chooses to do affects the welfare of all Jews the leaders of the Diaspora must be consulted.  A regular forum or “congress” for the formulation of joint policies ought to be established. 
  1. The agenda of American Jews and Israelis are not necessarily identical.  Not every issue in Jewish life, including the disposition of Soviet immigrants, needs central control. 
  1. Publicity is no substitute for dialogue. 

Our relationship to Israel is entering a new phase.  We need guidelines. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Palestinian Uprising

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 10

The state of Israel is 40 years old. 

Normally an anniversary like this would be a time of great rejoicing. But the Palestinian uprising has cast a shadow over the celebration. It is difficult to be euphoric during a Civil War.  

The Palestinian Rebellion is no trivial matter. The future of the state of Israel is at stake. 

At stake are the democratic institutions of Israel. On 40% of your population do not want to be part of your state and are under military occupation, democracy is endangered. 

At stake is the moral image of the Jewish state. Using guns against civilians armed with rocks is not calculated to win word opinion or to reinforce the sense of ethical superiority which has been so much a part of Israeli self-awareness. Suppressing a movement of self-determination seems sadly ironic for an old historic people that demanded its own. 

At stake is the survival of Israel. If no boundary adjustments are made, within a few decades Arabs will constitute a majority of the Israeli population and the Jewishness of the Jewish state will begin to vanish. Time and status quo politics will make Israel another Arab state. 

Israeli Jewish opinion is deeply divided on how to respond to the uprising. Despite the smallness of the Jewish population there is no national consensus. Confrontation politics are as intense as those between the orthodox and secular. 

One segment of the population (maybe a majority) is opposed to any Palestinian State and to giving up any territory. They include both orthodox Jews and secular nationalists. The orthodox maintain that the West Bank and Gaza have been given by God to the Jewish people and that it would be both immoral and sinful to surrender them. The secular nationalists assert that the pre-1967 borders of Israel provide no adequate security for the Jewish state and that the Jordan River boundary is the minimal safety requirement for Israeli survival. 

The other segment of the population is either ambivalently or enthusiastically in favor of giving up land for peace. But they are gravely divided over the issue of how much to give up. Some will return the West Bank to Jordan, but they will not accept a Palestinian state. Some will accept a Palestinian state, provided that is not fully independent and is federated to Jordan. Others will accept an independent demilitarized Palestine so long as there are appropriate boundary adjustments. Still others would be willing to give all the occupied territories to a legitimate Palestinian government for the sake of a guaranteed peace.  

But the arguments of the “peaceniks” do not end there. In the process of negotiating the surrender of territory do you not talk to the PLO? Do you or do you not consent to an International conference to initiate the talks and to guarantee the outcome, especially if that conference includes the Soviet Union?  

The “land of peace” people have not been overwhelmingly successful in recruiting domestic support for their policy.  

Their disagreements hardly inspire confidence. They do not know how to deal with the post-Holocaust mentality that insists that Jews are always victims, never oppressors. They generally avoid the issue of what to do about Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. 

Above all they receive little help from Palestinian and Arab leaders. The PLO covenant, never repudiated, still calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. No PLO spokesperson has ever publicly recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. No PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 which guarantees safe and secure boundaries to Israel as a basis for negotiations, has been given. No Arab movement, of any kind, has emerged in any of the 22 Arab states, to offer encouragement to the Israeli moderates. Terrorism, directed at unarmed civilians, still continues. Extremist propaganda calling for the expulsion of the Jews still flourishes and receives no denunciation from Palestinian moderates. No conciliatory statement recognizing the almost unanimous Israeli desire to retain a united Jerusalem has been made. 

However, the Jews calling for no territorial concessions are having their troubles too, even though defending the status quo is the easiest position to maintain emotionally.  

The uprising continues and will not go away. Only severe military repression will keep the Palestinians in line, but that repression creates severe emotional strains and economic disruptions. The spirit of rebellion has spread to Israel proper and to the Israeli Arabs who support the Palestinian brothers. So intense is the hatred that is developing between Jews and Arabs that in a few years, any form of negotiations will be impossible 

Moreover, the disturbances are frightening away badly needed tourists and immigrants. They are also souring the relationship between Israel and its chief benefactor America. The American government is losing patience with Israeli intransigence. And the public is losing respect for the morality and wisdom of Israeli leaders. Short of expulsion, which is morally and pragmatically impossible, how does one suppress a native population with military force over an indefinite period of time and in the full view of the world public opinion and still retain some shred of approval from the allies you need? 

As you can see both alternatives prevent their risks. But there is no doubt that the status quo no concessions approach presents the greater risk. 

An enlightened Israeli policy should include the following steps. 

1. An early election should be held. Israeli public needs to replace the present coalition government, with all its paralyzing infighting between Shamir and Perez, with a government that has a consistent policy. Land for peace cannot proceed if it does not receive the support of the  Israeli electorate. If the no concessions people win, then the Israeli public will have voted for its own self-destruction. But if the “compromisers” win, then the road to conciliation and survival may be possible. 

2. The new Israeli government should openly declare its willingness to give land for peace. Even if neither the PLO nor other Arab states respond to that offer the mere declaration of this policy will place the moral onus of rejection on the Palestinian leadership. 

3. The Israelis should postpone the resolution of the recognition issue. The Israelis would be foolish to offer acceptance to a Palestinian state at the outset, without knowing what form this state would take. And the PLO will never offer recognition of the Jewish state until the Israelis, in the spirit of mutuality, extend this recognition to the Palestinians. Mutual acceptance will have to emerge from the negotiations. It cannot precede them. Otherwise they will never start. 

4. It is to the Israelis (sic) advantage to use a moderate state like Jordan as much as possible. Since Israeli public will not endorse direct talks with the PLO without prior recognition (and the PLO is the only credible Palestinian leadership around), the PLO needs to be attached to a Jordanian negotiating team. If enough pressure is applied from moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, Arafat might consent to such an arrangement, despite what he presently says. 

5. The Israeli government should work in cooperation with the United States, its chief ally  to formulate a context for negotiations. It should consent to an International conference if this conference is the only way to bring Jordan (and ultimately the PLO) to the conference table. One of the advantages of such a conference is that it may provide an opportunity to secure Soviet guarantees for the outcome of the negotiations. And Russia is the key to securing restraint from Syria.  

6. The fanatic ultra-orthodox need to be restrained. Armed West Bank Jewish settlers seeking provocations to force the expulsion of their Arab neighbors, are responsible for the Beita incident, where an Israeli girl was killed. 

Jewish children have no business wandering through rebellious Palestinian areas on nature hikes, with gun-happy armed escorts.If hiking is the true agenda, countless opportunities exist in safe areas. Ultra – orthodox fanatics who are civilians should not be armed. They will only create the incidents which will make negotiations impossible. They are as dangerous as Arab extremists. 

Of course, the burden of responsibility for peace is shared by both Israelis and Arabs. Even moderate Israelis can do nothing if they receive no encouragement from the Palestinian side. Without the courage of Palestinian moderates who are willing to defy their own extremists and the courage of Hussein of Jordan who is willing to risk his own life, nothing is possible.  

Time is of the essence. If the intransigents (sic) maintain the status quo, the prospects for Israel at the time of the 50th anniversary will be worse than now. A continuing Palestinian rebellion will radicalize resistance forces in modern states in Egypt and Jordan and will lead to the overthrow of modern Arab governments. Without them no peace will be possible. 

The future of Israel is up to the Israeli public. The government they will elect in the next election will determine their future.  

The Rabbi Writes – Israel in 1988

The Jewish Humanist, March 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 8

25 years ago, when the Birmingham Temple was established, the state of Israel was quite new, only 15 years old.

It did not control the West Bank and Gaza. Its population was overwhelmingly Jewish. Its ruling Elite was overwhelmingly secular. It’s Orthodox Church few in number and politically insignificant. Its government was liberal and open-minded. Is the Army was a Defense Force, not a police force. 

For American choose Israel was a utopian state were blond cortical cool sabra’s work the land and live the ascetic life of idealistic Pioneers. It was also the quote on Middle East who’s Brave Army has driven away Wicked Arab aggressors and whose citizens live with the memories of the Terrible Hulk cost. There was a pure moral or at Israel they had her many friends throughout the world acknowledged and admired. 

The times have changed. Israel of 1988 is not the Israel of 1963. Its population is almost half hour. Its ruling Elite pretends to be religious. Orthodox Fanatics are great in number and politically powerful. Its government is conservative and intransigent, and its Army has been turned into the police force to control civil disorder. 

American Jews are not as comfortable with the Israel 1988 with the Jewish state of the 60s. The recent riots in the West Bank and Gaza and the military regression repression of Arab descent – beatings and all I sent him medicine comfortable. Since December the news from Israel has become embarrassing. 

So how do Americans use deal with this discomfort? Do they publicly berate the government of Israel and cyst on a change of policy? Do they withdraw their financial support until the government assumes are more moral and less embarrassing pasture or, in the face of adverse public opinion, do they continue to defend and support the decisions of the rulers of Israel? 

The American Jews who counseled solidarity with Israeli government resent the following arguments. 

Number one who are we to judge Israelis on the safety of our American Haven? Israelis know best what is needed to preserve Law & Order. 

Number to Israel is not a perfect democracy. But it is far superior, in terms of personal freedom, than any Arab or Muslim state in the Middle East. Comparing Israel to America is inappropriate. Number three repression is unavoidable, since the Palestinian leadership will not recognize the right of the Tuesday to exist. You cannot negotiate with people who will not negotiate. 

Number for Israel has been at war with the Arabs in the Arab States since 1948. What is morally unacceptable in peacetime maybe come and unavoidable necessity of War. 

Number 5 Israel stands alone, with only the sport of the world Jewish people to Reliant. If America to the legions of anti-semites who seek Israel’s destruction. American Jews cannot allow the weakening of the Jewish State and the second Holocaust that would follow. 

How would we as human is to choose respond to these parking is? 

Number one the main reasons to Israeli government policy is from the Israelis himself. Thousands of years wheels of Israeli subject to the present progressive policy and have organized massive public protests. There is no single Israeli position. American Jews who support the opposition or supporting Israelis. If we judge the military repression adversely, we are only at going judgement of many citizens of Israel. 

Number to there is no doubt that is really democracy is far superior to any democracy that presently exists in the Middle East. But that democracy only applies to the Jews and Arabs of quote-unquote old is real. It does not apply to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza remain in a permit disenfranchised population. In occupied territories Palestinians are no better off than Kurds in Iraq. The government is military, not civil. New. number three it is true that the pill has not officially recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. But, then, neither has a Jewish state recognized the right of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to have stated their own. The first will only happen if second does. The give-and-take must be neutral. 

Number for if it is true that the Israelis and the Palestinians artwork, and Palestinian terrorism is Justified as an instrument of War. One cannot be at War when it is convenient and at peace when it is not. New pier number 5 American Jews who speak out against the present policy and Military Prussian status quo means by the Shamir government are not seeking to weaken Israel. They’re seeking to strengthen it. And Israel, happy hour with will ultimately be destroyed by its own internal dissension. 

Only an Israeli government brave enough to negotiate the return West Bank and Gaza to Arab hands will rescue the Jewish State. Those who truly love is real I’m not afraid to speak unpleasant truth when they survive or there for a lot of it is at stake. 

In 1988 Israel is still very close to the hearts of American Jews. But it is no longer the infallible Paragon of Jewish virtue. It has problems. And it needs both financial and moral help to sell them.  

The Rabbi Writes – Hanukkah 1988 in Israel

The Jewish Humanist, December 1988, Vol. XXVI, Number 5

Hanukkah time 1988 is crisis time for the state of Israel – and massive anxiety time for the Jews of the world who support it. 

As far as world opinion is concerned, the Jews have become the persecuting Greeks. And the Palestinian Arabs have become the Maccabees fighting for their freedom. The roles have been reversed. 

Israelis are confronted with overwhelming problems. The intifada rebellion of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continues. The PLO has accepted UN resolution 242 (with its implicit recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist) has renounced terrorism, has proclaimed a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, and has called for an international conference where issues can be resolved. The militant orthodox continue to grow in number and power and are threatening to “steal” the state from the secularists who established it. And world public opinion, which overwhelmingly supported Israel before 1967 is increasingly turning against the Jewish state and isolating it. 

The happy vision of the Zionist pioneers has turned into a nightmare. 

Now all these crises have been aggravated by the recent Knesset election. The dovish Labor party and its leftist allies have been defeated at the polls. The ultra-orthodox religious parties have substantially increased their representation and are energized by victory. The right-wing extremist parties (despite the taming of Meir Kahane’s Kach) have recruited more supporters and stand confident against concessions. 

It is quite clear that any future government will have to be a coalition government, since neither of the two major parties commands a majority. If the conservative Likud unites with the religious parties, repression of the Palestinians will become more severe and Israeli Jews will be forced to endure more and more theocratic intrusion. If the Likud unites with Labor again, Labor will lose the power to push for territorial concessions and will be compromised by association. 

At this time it is very important that both Israelis and we, as American Jews, accept the realities at this crisis. American Jews need to accept the following facts. 

1. The Israel of 1988 is very different from the Israel of 1948. The secular, liberal, Ashkenazic state of David Ben Gurion is gone. It has been replaced by a nation that is gradually becoming more religious, more conservative and more Sephardic than ever before. The forces in Jewish life that had repudiated Zionism are now the arbiters of its fate. 

2. Israel public opinion is deeply divided. On both the peace and religion issues extremist opinions are on the rise. It is often difficult for Israelis to talk to each other about politics and stay cool. Each group simply withdraws into its own corner. The old centrist consensus is collapsing. 

3. The intifada is beginning to concern Israeli society. Repression tends to elevate military virtues and to lessen concerns for civil liberties. HaHate and paranoia become respectable.And a wartime survival mentality takes over public discussion and makes compromise difficult. 

4. The youth of Israel is growing more conservative. Occupation duties, with his confrontation with rebels and rock-throwers, has turned young soldiers bitter and resentful. Dovish and  liberal sentiments are hard to retain when you are dealing with violent rejection and hostility. 

Israeli Jews need to face the following realities. 

1. American Jewry, the most powerful Diaspora support of the Jewish state, is finding it more and more difficult to identify with Israeli government policies. If a Likud regime yields to the Orthodox political parties and revises the Law of Return to turn over the determination of Jewish identity to Orthodox rabbis, then Israel will lose the effective support of American Jews, both (sic) Conservative, reform and secular. 

2. Israel cannot hang on to the West Bank and Gaza without destroying itself. A state that will ultimately have an Arab majority will not be a Jewish state. Nor will it be able to tolerate democracy. Nor will it be able to provide security for its Jewish citizens. A hostile population of violent Palestinians cannot be repressed without the terror that will cost Israel the support of the West. And without the support of the West she cannot survive. 

3. The only Palestinian Authority that Israel can negotiate with is the PLO. No other authority presently exists. And the PLO has won much of world public opinion by its dramatic concession. If the PLO is willing to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist (even though it is only implicit) and to renounce terrorism, on what moral ground will the Israelis resist talking? Talking does not mean giving up Jerusalem or surrendering all of the West Bank and Gaza. After all (sic) final boundaries are a matter for negotiation. But it doe imply that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to some kind of state of their own. 

The beliefs that peace can come without territorial concessions and without talking to the PLO is a dangerous illusion. An isolated theocratic Israel, feeding on fundamentalist passions, will arrange for war and national suicide. To avoid this catastrophe requires courageous statesmen. It also requires bold public pressure by the Israeli government by Diaspora Jewry and by Western governments, to respond positively to the Palestinian initiative. 

Without peace the stranglehold of the militant Orthodox will never be broken.