Israel, A country like the ones almost all of us came from?

Foam "Growing up at Congregation Olam Tikvah, Michelle Pearlstein remembers how Israel was taught at religious school: "Black and white — you can’t trust anyone, and it was a united front in support of Israel." Today, Pearlstein, 35, is the Israel specialist at the Fairfax (Virginia) synagogue, where she teaches what is now the mainstream approach: "We call it ‘Israel, warts and all.’ "

The change in curriculum is but one manifestation of the changing relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state, even as the country celebrates its 60th birthday this week.

Multiple new polls show that younger American Jews feel less of a connection to Israel than older Jews. And while there is heated debate about some of the polls’ methodologies and conclusions, most Jewish leaders are very concerned about the data. The leaders see them as a long-term byproduct of intermarriage, assimilation and controversial Israeli policies, including settlement expansion in the occupied territories."  Michele Boorstein


In Alexandria, Virginia (my home town)  There is a beautiful Episcopal Church, one of several actually.  It is called Christ Church.   There is also a regrettably modern looking but suitably ancient synagogue, Beth El.  For as long as anyone can remember these two congregations have been celebrating Thanksgiving together.  They alternate between sanctuaries.  Although not congregants of either, we were invited by a VMI classmate to the joint service at Christ Church one year.  He is a member of Beth El.  It was as satisfying an experience as one could hope for. 

"You can’t trust anyone?"  My God!  Here?  What was the justification for teaching children such a thing?  Not everyone liked Jews?  So what!  I have an original sign in my office from 1908 that reads "Help wanted.  No Irish Need Apply."  My father used to laugh about a sign he saw over the door of a women’s dormitory at Hunter College in New York back in the 1930s.  It read "No dogs or soldiers allowed within."  Fortunately we did not need jobs in 1908 and my father had no interest in Hunter girls.

"You can’t trust anyone."  Let us hope that we Americans are coming to end of that kind of idea.  I am not surprised that young Jewish Americans are not so gullible as to cower before the fears of their ancestors.  They have looked around them and have seen that there is no need.

I congratulate the Israelis on the birthday of their country.  I hope it prospers in justice and freedom for all.  pl

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32 Responses to Israel, A country like the ones almost all of us came from?

  1. arbogast says:

    Could someone tell me how many states there are the world that whose entire identity and raison d’etre is a religion?
    The great irony is that our country should be the staunchest supporter of a country founded on religious intolerance.

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    “You can’t trust anyone.” is quite apt in connection with Jews – a comparison with the Irish in US is irrelevant since Irish are nominally Christian and the possibility of inter-marriage between Irish and others exists. Nor were the historical experiences of any other group of people – to my knowledge – approximates that of the Jews – except perhaps the Africans in Congo de Belgique in the 19-th century during the reign of King Leopold of Belgium and his Government.
    The sentiment behind “You can’t trust anyone.” is distantly echoed among African-Americans: “The Black Tax”, etc.
    The do-gooders who wish Israel and Jews well are best advised to put their collective efforts into strengthening the legal and constitutional framework of the United States – the only protection that Jews and assorted other minority people who insist on remaining separate have.
    One nit: the State of Israel is not “the Jewish State”; otherwise it could have called itself “The Hebraic Republic of Palestine”, the “Judaic State of Palestine” or some such combination. No, that state lays claim to be Judaism & the Jewish People; i.e. every time “Shema Israel…” is invoked the person is now addressing the “State of Israel”. I cannot emphasize this enough: it is like a Christian state calling itself “Corpus Christi” or “The Church” or a Muslim State calling itself “The Ummah”.

  3. Montag says:

    Even their vaunted “Birthright Tours” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. By one estimate only 33% of the young American Jews who are given the dog & pony show become pro-Israel. Another 33% remain apathetic, while the last 33% actually become anti-Israel! Apparently they measure one-size-fits-all-or-else Israel by U.S. multicultural standards and find the Zionist Paradise wanting.
    For instance, here in the U.S. you don’t need to be board-certified by the government as a Jew in order to get married. Since there are no Civil Marriages in Israel that can be a problem. But when Massachusetts Governor James Curley tried to ban Civil Marriages in the 1930s he became a laughingstock. As one newspaper opined, “Even Atheists have the right to marry.”

  4. R.L. says:

    Controversial Israeli policies are turning off younger American Jews.Seems like a hopeful thing to me.

  5. JohnH says:

    Actually, the “you can’t trust anyone” meme is just an exquisite implementation of fear mongering. The main beneficiary is the government of Israel, that small group of insiders who periodically play musical chairs with each other to divvy up cabinet positions. Peace is very threatening to the incompetent, corrupt Israeli leadership and their sinecures.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Do you really live in the USA? The greatest “threat” faced by those Jews who wish to remain apart in the USA is intermarriage.
    Ask them. pl

  7. Dan Pasternak says:

    The assimilation of the Jews in Diaspora is the second holocaust. What a shame. What a cowardly. What an escape from responsibility. What treason in themselves. What treason in their brothers that left them fewer, weaker in their struggle to survival. I DESPISE YOU.

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Is it the Jews of the diaspora that you despise or is it just everyone in general? pl

  9. People interested in this thread ought to read Philip Weiss’ blog, Mondo Weiss. He is a big advocate for assimilation and a persistent critic of those Americans who slavishly support Israel over the interests of the USA.
    Mr. Weiss frequently discusses issues of dual loyalty and assimilation.
    He has also recently discovered the Nakba and covers changing media attitudes towards the subject.

  10. Paul Hartvigson, Denmark says:

    Dan Pasternak,
    I claim my right not to follow the faith of my fathers. I’m lucky to live in a country where that was possible.
    My Jewish great-grandfather converted to Lutheranism. The family was just lucky enough to live in Denmark, where the jews weren’t deported by the nazis 50 years later.
    In other countries the holocaust was for converted and assimilated jews and descendants as well. So I understand the “trust no-one” bit. And there are some reasons I can’t just be flip about Israel. And certainly not fall into the trap of despising anyone.
    Someone who had a personal stake in Israel is Swedish Writer Göran Rosenberg, who had an immigrant youth in Israel 1847-1961. Unfortunately his book on Israel “The Lost Land – a personal narrative” isn’t in English, but some of his articles can be found here:

  11. mo says:

    Ah that old Zionist myth of the Diaspora, expelled from there homeland and now returning to the Promised Land. Except of course its a total fabrication that never happened. But don’t let that trouble your sensibilities Pasternak.

  12. American Jews may love Israel but have no real wish to live in a Sparta!
    The next 100 years and not the first 60 will be the most crucial to Israel’s survival. Unfortunately, like the US they appear to be without real leaders that have a vision that might be successful over the next 100 years and make for a strong base for the next 100. Should the US adopt a policy of no-dual citizenship which I recommend the stress on Israel would be enormous. Why?

  13. Seymour Samuels says:

    I agree with Pat’s conclusions “I am not surprised that young Jewish Americans are not so gullible as to cower before the fears of their ancestors. They have looked around them and have seen that there is no need.” However, I think some other commenters need to understand the historical context of the “You can’t trust anyone” mentality.
    Taking a view of the way the world was in the in the late 1940s and 1950s. Leo Frank was lynched in Marietta Georgia about 35 years before – about one generation. Private facilities such as country clubs and Fraternities were restricted so Jews had to found their own. Great universities of the Ivy League would not admit Jews. In New York City I was denied a room in a hotel room because the hotel was “restricted” even though I was wearing my VMI cadet uniform.
    When WW2 ended and the true extent of the extermination camps was reveled there was a great impact on American Jews. There was also an influx of Holocaust survivors into the American Jewish community. Each had their numbered arm and horror story. The founding of the State of Israel gave some people an outlet to say “Only in Israel are we safe.” Because Israel seemed to be a safe haven, there was an understanding that Jews could not publicly criticize Israel. Those who did were ostracized by many members of the greater Jewish community.
    I think, for whatever reason, many Jews have gone over to the “warts and all” philosophy. We can criticize (or at least discuss some of the uncomfortable truths about) Israel.
    As an American Jew (family fought on both sides of the Civil War, WW 2, Viet Nam) I think the ability to criticize Israel is a positive thing.

  14. Dan Pasternak says:


  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Iran exists because of Shia Religion.

  16. J says:

    while individuals like hagee, olmert, peres and others were celebrating israel’s 60th, others (including u.s. and other anti-zionist jews from around the world) were mourning 60 years of the nakba persecution, murder,apartheid, and ethnic cleansing of the palestnian people. anti-zionist orthodox and other conservative and reform jews have repeatedly said that israel is supposed to be created by a higher power than man, and that ‘zionism’ is a work of evil and is unclean and anti-torah/bible.
    Neturei Karta – Orthodox Jews United Against Zionism
    there are numerous protests against the existing state israel by u.s. jews that the mainstream media refuses to show to the american people as the msm are bought and sold by zionists. ant-zionist jews maintain that judisim and zionism are an anathema to one another. anti-zionist jews protest at israeli consulates, trade representative spots, and their embassasy in the u.s., and are documented in both video and photo easily located on the web.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I respectfully disagree. The NAZIs went after people with Jewish ancestors as well as the converts.
    Inter-marriage is a threat to the group identity but not a threat to the physical well-being of an individual.

  18. jonst says:

    Dan P provides me with one more small, very small, reminder of why it is I am glad I am an atheist.

  19. Montag says:

    There’s an excellent book about Irish-Catholic identity politics and how it evolved, “The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874-1958)” by Jack Beatty, 1992. Curley built his political career on waving the Green Shamrock Flag and rabble-rousing the Boston voters. For a time they believed that electing a corrupt Irish Mayor who would dispense patronage jobs to them was the way to go. But as they rose into the Middle Class the Irish-Catholics began to share the attitudes of the Episcopalian Brahmins, that having an honest, efficient city government with low property taxes was the way to go. They stopped voting for Curley because he had become an embarrassment to them. They came to agree with one of his political opponents that, “Nothing Curley is straight.”

  20. Nancy K says:

    I believe many Jews are fearful, and with good reason if one looks at history. However I think their government like ours, capitalizes on that fear and in fact stokes it. A fearful people can be motivated to do all types of horrible things they would not normally do. Look at the US and the camps the Japanese Americans were put into. Look at Germany under Hitler. Look at the deplorable conditions the Palestinian people are forced to live under.
    I believe people in the US and I hope Isralis are waking up to the truth that the only thing to fear is fear itself.

  21. Michael says:

    Question – “Could someone tell me how many states there are the world that whose entire identity and raison d’etre is a religion?”
    Answer: The Vatican City State, definitely.
    Arguably perhaps Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, The Islamic Republic of Iran, Taliban Afghanistan until the invasion, and maybe Pakistan.

  22. Peg says:

    Col. Lang,
    I read your blog to get info that I don’t get anywhere else.
    This question is off topic, but I’d like to know what your opinion is on THIS opinion piece in the NYT today, “President Apostate?”
    Thank you,

  23. Walrus says:

    I detest all religions equally. The evil they do seems to outweigh their charity.

  24. Green Zone Cafe says:

    The play/movie/radio show Abie’s Irish Rose, about a Jewish man/Irish woman couple, was a dominating hit from the 1920s through the 40s.
    America is the great assimilator and miscegenator – in that way it is a threat to strongly varigated cultures and “races.”
    Still, it will be a long time before everyone looks like Vin Diesel, The Rock, Halle Berry or Rae Dawn Chong.
    Also, here’s an interesting piece by Christopher Hitchens on Israel:
    Can Israel Survive for Another 60 Years? Perhaps, but not necessarily as a Jewish state.

  25. Panken says the questioning is in a sense, just typically American. “I think it’s sort of the ultimate application of American individualism. Everyone gets to decide what they believe, and just because your parents cared about something doesn’t mean you will.”
    As generations pass, the “mother land’s” culture slips away. The third generation of x-American usually has completely assimilated into American life compared to their immigrant grandparents, having abandoned everything but maybe the religious traditions and a few cultural tidbits. As an example, Scots-Americans may have a few occasions to don a kilt and think their Scottish for a day but they truly are American deep down. (Nothing wrong with drinking whiskey and tossing a caber here and there, though!) A quick trip to Scotland will drive that fact home.
    Perhaps the American Jews have been able to hang on longer for a variety of reasons. But it is inevitable – any emotional connection to Israel will dissipate more and more with each generation.
    Israel better be thinking of what to do within the next couple of decades.
    It would be interesting to see if support for the IRA dried up in Boston and New York as the old-timers faded away. Did the second and third generation of Irish-Americans care that much about The Troubles? Did that force the peace process forward?
    There might be parallels.

  26. zanzibar says:

    It is only natural that as the direct experience of Auschwitz and Treblinka fade, succeeding generations living in relative affluence will not respond with similar fervor to the call for existential survival.
    I am actually surprised that the Likudniks have been so successful in roping the jewish diaspora to pursue their political program. As I am equally surprised at how the neo-cons have successfully hijacked our republic and continue to be the go to guys for our corporate media despite being colossally wrong in every instance. Just shows how much I know?

  27. Considering my last post, it’s a start:
    The Irish journalist Conor O’Clery, who has followed Irish-American relations for more than a decade, says the IRA has “always looked to the diaspora for moral backing” as well as money. That meant that when, in the 1990s, prominent Irish Americans began to advocate “constitutional nationalism” (meaning the political process) instead of “armed struggle” (meaning terrorism), the views of many in Northern Ireland shifted, too. The IRA’s announcement last week that it would finally abandon armed struggle was at least partly the result of a decade of Irish American pressure. Which means, of course, that if Irish American pressure had been applied much earlier, the whole thing might have been over long ago.
    Ann Applebaum Op-Ed
    Maybe there are some parallels to keep an eye on. Some of my fellow SSTers are seeing some too.
    Oh, and here’s an edit from my last post:
    …Scots-Americans may have a few occasions to don a kilt and think they’re [not “their”] Scottish for a day…
    Ugh. It’s the Mad Cow kicking in. But those sausage rolls were sooooo good in the late 1980s and mid-1990s!

  28. J says:

    Letting Iran have nuclear arms “unforgivable”: Bush
    bush fails to mention the over 400 ‘nuclear arms’ that the state of israel has in its inventory. iran is working in the arena of civilian nuclear (3.4% enrichment)development, not weapons (80% plus enrichment) production. all of the israeli ‘intel’ regarding iran has fallen on its face, when confronted with ‘if you have such proof regarding iran then show me the beef’, israel intel has failed on every occassion to ‘show the beef’.

  29. taters says:

    To Seymour Samuels,
    Thank you for an excellent post.
    A couple years ago, a dear friend of mine (he’s Jewish) who is a broker on Wall Street, received an invite from a wealthy client of his (who had done well by him) to an exclusive private club in NYC to play handball.
    From what my friend said, the invite was rescinded once the client found out he was a Jew. Bob is a straight shooter and I’ve never heard anything but the truth from him.
    I seemed more outraged than he did.

  30. LeaNder says:

    One of the books on my present pile is Robert Michael’s Concise History of American Antisemitism (2006).
    In the introduction he estimates/speculates that 50% percent of Americans are antisemites, and gives a series of sources on which this estimation relies.

  31. LeaNder says:

    One of the books on my present pile is Robert Michael’s Concise History of American Antisemitism (2006).
    In the introduction he estimates/speculates that 50% percent of Americans are antisemites, and gives a series of sources on which this estimation relies.

  32. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    I raise a glass to honor the Jewish youth of America and to celebrate their moral courage. Nowhere was this more evident than at Brandeis when it hosted former President Jimmy Carter after he wrote his most recent book: Palestinian Peace, not Apartheid. The student body treated him with respect and dignity, despite many students having a different opinion. One could certainly argue that Brandeis outclassed Emory. ‘Tis true.
    George Washington made it unmistakably clear in his 1790 letter to the Touro synagogue that the American experience would always include the Jewish people, from beginning to end. And John Tyler, the 10th President of the US (and , I shoehorn in, a Confederate voice for the Virginia Peace Conference in 1861) only confirmed this aspect of the American experience when in 1843 he penned one of the more eloquent statements concerning religious liberty in the US:
    “The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid… and the Aegis of the government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.”
    The Washington-Tyler tradition perhaps constitutes an idea somewhat akin to a secular convenant, and I do not believe that I am alone when I say that on many ocassions a Jewish American has made me proud to be an American. (One recent example, for me, was when I listened to Seth Waxman make oral arguments in the Boumediene case on CSPAN).
    It seems to me that one of the more beautiful aspects of this American covenant is that a Jew in the United States has the choice to “assimilate” or not. And you see it at work today. We have those who assimilate, such as Philip Weiss and (former South African) Tony Karon, and those who don’t, such as those who are part of Satmar.
    When speaking of Satmar, it seems of significance that Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum decided to settle down in the United States And one can certainly ask — is there anyone who was more Jewish than Rabbi Teitelbaum? Is there anyone who loves the Jewish faith and the Jewish people more than he did?
    I mention Satmar for another reason as well: increasingly I am seeing evidence that certain secular Jewish writers are relying upon assumptions that arise out of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s views. Rabbi Teitelbaum, in my opinion, had a very sophisticated and nuanced view of the anti-Semitism. It is almost as if he predicted the disaster that neoconservatives would bring to America and the world. Not only are the New Historians (Pappe, et al) from Israel echoing some of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s insights, but secular Jewish Americans are as well. One example is Tony Karon’s essay on Israel’s 60th anniversary. Whether the reliance is unconscious or conscious, I do not know.
    So what poses the greatest danger to this “secular” covenant first articulated by George Washington? It’s an open ended question but I offer for consideration the Wurmser option. It is the greatest threat since the founding of our nation and here’s why: check for yourself but the Wurmser option, promulgated by Cheney’s office, is designed to increase the number of deaths of US soldiers to force a massive retaliation by the US on Iran.
    If the Bush administration implements some version of the Wurmser option, then body bags will come home in increasing numbers. And people will ask why. Cheney may shrug his shoulders and say, “So”, but grieving mothers, families, and friends will want answers. And what are they going to remember?
    I fail to understand why the AIPAC crowd has not thought this through. Do they fail to understand the tremendous pain and suffering that will accrue for everyone? Do the members of AIPAC truly believe that John Hagee is their friend? Do they fail to understand that the Wurmser option will create blowback, actually a backlash, that may very well threaten the secular covenant that has served us so well?
    It seems to me that our best hope to avoid such a disaster comes from two sources. One is the military and intelligence community pushing back against Cheney and company. They did so once with the 2007 NIE. The other is the American Jewish community doing the same. Perhaps the J street lobby is a start but who knows…as Philip Weiss once wrote, we live in a time of ideological disarray.

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