What Israel Hasn’t Tried

From Haaretz:

The French literary critic Roland Barthes said that only things that seem obvious can be shocking. To this category belong the repeated failures of strong Israel. The Palestinians are also failing, in their own way. Violence is the only thing winning in this play, whose subject is the conflict between two peoples. And Israel is responsible for the violence. Anyone who does not see in an agreement a supreme interest from Israel’s point of view, and a very essential interest from the Palestinian point of view, and does not work to bring it about, transforms the obvious into a deep historical swamp. From time to time we hear Israelis describe Palestinians as champions at missing opportunities. Someone should warn the Israelis so they do not become the champion of lost opportunities.

Also, apparently Zach Braff has a thing for Israel:

Braff: “As an American Jew it’s an amazing feeling to come to a place where you feel you belong. You know we’re such a minority in the U.S. Even though I grew up in New Jersey, which was very Jewish, and then I went to school in Chicago, which was Jewish, and then I moved to New York, which is very Jewish, and then I went to Hollywood, which is very Jewish. But they say we’re only 2 percent of the population and shrinking because of intermarriage.”

Braff says that when you come here, “you just feel this amazing sense of community. We hear so much about Israel and politics with the Palestinians and you feel so separate from it. So I really wanted to see for myself.” He says he was “lucky” to be able to come and see things firsthand and to talk to Israelis. “As a Jew I think it’s really important to come to this place. There is such a tremendous sense of community, tremendous bond for obvious reasons. I don’t know if Israelis have a sense of it because they live here, but I love it.”

A tremendous sense of community, yes. Unless you’re half-Jewish. Or not converted the right way. Or married to a non-Jew. Or supportive of Palestinian autonomy. I’m officially not Jewish enough to emigrate to Israel (not that I have plans to) because I don’t adhere to religious law. So where’s my community? What does it say about the Jewish state that California, not Israel, is the place where I feel I belong? I really liked being in Israel when I visited, but come on.

Also, I know Braff isn’t saying this, but could we please get away from the myth that Israel is the center of the Jewish world? I know lots of Israelis like to believe it is, but it just isn’t. Especially when ultra-Orthodox white guys are beating women and keeping Jews of color in poverty because only ultra-Orthodox white guys are qualified to decide who’s a “real” Jew. (Fun thought experiment: let’s say Ethiopian Jews declared themselves the authorities on Jewish identity, and announced that all other Jews on Earth had to look, act, and think like them in order to be Jewish. That would seem pretty ludicrous, wouldn’t it? So what is it about European Jews that everyone agrees is more authentic?)

Also, I’m with Jay – could we please cool it with all the Christmas music? Please? I’ll pay you.

12 Responses

  1. OMG get rid of Snap — it is the blog application from hell!

    Post is fine too. Although I’m pretty sure that Israel very consciously does not apply a religious test for emigrants — a nod to its status as a haven for all oppressed Jews. That’s, in part, responsible for the many Russian immigrants who aren’t Jewish under any definition (including self-identification), but who have Jewish roots.

  2. So where’s my community?

    Ugh. I so feel that. : (

    Regarding Israeli citizenship, though — I thought just having a Jewish mother `(or converting) constituted being “Jewish enough” for Israeli citizenship. There’s a standard for level of religious practice…?

  3. I’ve never (yet) been to Israel, but I feel a bit set apart from the American Jewish community because I don’t feel that Israel is the be-all and end-all of the Jewish world.

    While I don’t think there’s a observance test to make aliyah, there are a lot of issues with marriages – there was an article in the NYT a year or so ago about the official rabbis refusing to issue marriage licenses unless people could prove they were Jewish, which sometimes involved getting photos of tombstones. I doubt I could prove my Judaism by those standards, and I was the first in my family to intermarry.

  4. The rabbi at my family’s synagogue — I often attend on the holydays, but not always; I have issues with observance in this city — once gave a sermon about some trip he made to Israel and how, since his last trip, many of the religious places to visit were restricted: women have to stand back behind a wall so they cannot see or be evil distractions, or can go the fifth Tuesday of any month between 11:04 and 11:12, or other rules like that. And I thought, you know, I don’t want to visit a place where women are so heavily second best, where religious extremists have taken over, where people can say that my beliefs are not true Judaism, that a wedding in my synagogue is not a religious marriage, etc. So I have decided I will not visit there, because clearly they do not want me.

    Further, it’s why I won’t join a synagogue on my own, because the Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues here all give money to Israel. You’re not acknowledged as real denominations! Stop giving them money until they acknowledge you. I guarantee that if all American Jews did that, by the end of 2009 there would be a change in laws. But no: we’re good enough Jews to give money, not good enough to practice.

  5. Re: Snap – yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that for months…

    The mother requirement is the religious test I’m talking about. The requirement for matrilineal descent comes from Halakhic law, and since I don’t know of any secular means of converting to Judaism (Judaism itself being the religious aspect of Jewish culture), you basically have to adhere to their religious standards in order to move there, even if you’re not observant.

  6. Julie, you’re right. I had forgotten the details of your heritage. For aliyah, as far as I know, Israel only honors Orthodox conversions and yes, you’d have to commit to Orthodox observance in order to do that. By Reconstructionist standards, you don’t need to convert at all, of course.

    Turtle, you make an interesting point about donations. While the overarching Reconstructionist body, JRF, does support Israel by donations, my synagogue does not, in part because we are divided about just this issue.

  7. The eligibility for immigration to Israel is ONE Jewish GRANDPARENT. It’s not based on the religious law but on the practical experience of what gets you politically/culturally branded as a Jew in the rest of the world

  8. Actually, you’re not right about the Law of Return. The Law of Return honors non-Orthodox conversions and will allow anyone who is related to someone Jewish to come on aliyah. They completely circumvented the problem of patrilineal descent when they made relatives eligible for aliyah in 1970. You can check out the text of the law here:


    The problem is that once you have moved to Israel, the Israeli state rabbinate controls your status as a Jew. They control marriage and divorce. So you could theoretically come to Israel and get to be a citizen under the privileges of the Law of Return, but not be considered Jewish for all other purposes, like marriage or religious education or burial. This has created situations for immigrants from the former Soviet Union where family members can’t be buried together.

  9. IIRC, Israel’s Law of Return has a provision for people “of Jewish heritage,” i.e. whose Jewish heritage is paternal. (Though maybe that’s not what you’re talking about at all.)

    Anyway, point taken.

  10. I have been educated. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for the corrections – I concede the point about matrilineal descent. (It’s odd – I’d only recently read that that was the case, but now I can’t remember where.)

  12. Daisy’s correct — you could emigrate to Israel, you just wouldn’t be “Jewish” once you got there.

    Which, I might add, is bullshit, and I firmly support secularization efforts to end that, but on emigration at least the problem isn’t manifest.

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