Israel / Jews in America

“American Jewry and Israeli Jewry can both be success stories, even as the standards for thickness, moral integrity, spiritual health, political vitality, and continuity must be measured by different gauges”

By extension, it is time to take each of these communities seriously on their own terms, and not allow the successes and failures of each to be measured against standards created by the other. American Jewry and Israeli Jewry can both be success stories, even as the standards for thickness, moral integrity, spiritual health, political vitality, and continuity must be measured by different gauges.

These Jewish communities, emerging simultaneously and in parallel laboratory conditions, represent perhaps the most extraordinary success stories in Jewish history: the American Jewish community in an unprecedentedly hospitable Diasporic environment, and Israeli Jewry in unprecedentedly successful sovereign conditions. These twin experiences of success are lessening the mid-20th century codependency between the communities, when Israeli Jewry relied heavily on Diaspora philanthropy and advocacy for its survival, and Diaspora Jewry relied heavily on the Israeli success story as fodder for vicarious pride in precarious times.

If the strict measure of American Jewry is in the standards of Hebrew cultural production as has exploded in Israel, or in the standards of Jewish continuity as they manifest in a cultural context when exogamy is taboo, American Jews will wither in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Israeli Jewry is to be measured by American Jewish standards of moral pristineness incubated in the privatized control of religious institutions which do not need to operate as instruments of statecraft, Israeli Jewry will collapse under the weight of an impossible proposition.

This is a moment to ramp up our efforts towards greater understanding between these communities, with educational approaches that originate with greater insight into the strengths of the two communities and their separate characteristics. This requires transcending the usual stuff of mapping the identity of one community onto the other and identifying difference as failure. Too much of American Jewish Israel education is oriented towards affirming American Jewish identity through an instrumentalized, proxy version of Israel. To understand Israel is to come to terms with that which is exotic and sometimes alienating. Meantime, there is little education in the Israeli system about American Jewry altogether, and often Israelis find they don’t like what little they learn about American Jewry, for failures of categories of meaning and background with which to internalize why it is so different. It takes time to cultivate mutual appreciation and through that process, mutual responsibility. That process can start now.

Yehuda Kurtzer, “Minding the Gap: A Primer for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropy”, eJewish Philanthropy (18 July 2017) [http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/minding-the-gap-a-primer-for-jewish-professionals-and-philanthropy/]