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Friday, November 28, 2008

What Israeli Jews don't get and what American Jews don't get

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/11/what-israeli-jews-dont-get-and-what.html

Another battle in the Jewish wars. See Jewish wars at the GA of United Jewish Communities for the previous one.
Who is right? The one who stops the wars is right, because everyone is hiding something, and everyone is being defensive about something.

Ami Isseroff

Last update - 05:22 28/11/2008
ANALYSIS / What American Jews don't get about Israelis
By Anshel Pfeffer
I am very sorry. I didn't attend last week's General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, the annual jamboree of North American Jewish federations and organizations. But I have an excuse. My current duties in London meant that I had to cover President Shimon Peres' visit to Britain. No matter, this newspaper was well represented at the GA even without me. Not good enough apparently for many GA delegates. My colleague at the Jerusalem Post, Haviv Rettig, published last Friday an excoriating account of how the leaders of American Jewry were hurt and indignant at the way the Hebrew-speaking media (including the Hebrew edition of Haaretz) appeared to ignore their gathering, which was actually taking place in Jerusalem.

According to Rettig, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, the Americans were so angry that they "lashed out at the Israeli media and society for failing to notice - and learn from [them]." Rettig gathered the responses of the Jewish world reporters on Israel's main newspapers and also called me as an occasional writer on the Israel-Diaspora divide, but I was too busy catching my breath from trying to keep up with Peres' frenetic pace to answer.


Let me therefore use this opportunity to disassociate myself from the disparaging remarks of those reporters who did find the time to answer. Unlike them, I think Israel's media should be extensively covering the affairs of the Jewish world in its many locations and certainly that of the largest Jewish community on earth. (I find the demographers who claim that there are more Jews in the United States more credible than those who say that Israel has more, but that is stuff for another column.)

Let me therefore use this opportunity to disassociate myself from the disparaging remarks of those reporters who did find the time to answer. Unlike them, I think Israel's media should be extensively covering the affairs of the Jewish world in its many locations and certainly that of the largest Jewish community on earth. (I find the demographers who claim that there are more Jews in the United States more credible than those who say that Israel has more, but that is stuff for another column.)

But I would also have said that this is not just the media's fault, but simply a reflection of a much wider gulf existing between Israeli society and the Jews of the world. And though they shoulder a significant portion of the blame, Israelis are not the only ones to have widened this divide. As if to answer the charges, just two days later, Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's most popular tabloid, carried an interview with one of the grandest grandees of the American community, dedicating a full double spread to the fulminations of Edgar Bronfman. Bronfman has just published a book in which he explores the question of Jewish identity in the 21st century and was using the interview to have a go at the religious establishment for their rejection of those who are not halakhically Jewish and who call for the inclusion of anyone calling themselves Jews into the tribe.

Bronfman justified his stance by saying that "Judaism belongs to every Jew. There is no need to belong to any religious stream. No need for belief in God or ceremonies and prayers." All very conventional, but here he had to make this dig: "Many Israelis who describe themselves as secular are effectively cut off from their people's tradition."

I'm not sure Bronfman is the best person to carry this particular torch but I don't want to get in to that right now, nor ask why, in his 30 years as President of the World Jewish Congress, he didn't see fit to address this issue. I am bringing up the interview simply because it illustrates exactly what is it that American Jews don't get about Israelis.

Ironically, Bronfman's complaint against secular Israelis is identical to that made by those very rabbis he so vehemently attacked in his interview; they also believe that the secular Jews are ignorant and have separated themselves from tradition.

A similar view is expressed by some of those interviewed for the report in the Jerusalem Post on indifference to the GA. What is it about secular Israelis that so aggravates these American Jews, many themselves irreligious?
I think deep down it's jealousy. While the Jews in America and other communities have been grappling for decades with the question of how to define a Jewish identity that is not tied down only to religion, secular Israelis simply don't have that problem. Sure, many of them lack a lot of Jewish knowledge and they certainly are not very aware of the Jewish world outside Israel. But they're not very bothered about it, because for them every moment in Israel is passed within a Hebrew speaking Jewish environment.

And that's also why, as some of those interviewed by Rettig said, when secular Israelis go off to the United States, they are not usually very interested in getting to know the local Jewish community. They have lived all their lives among Jews; once they get out of Israel they are looking for something different.

Israel, the Zionist project, was founded exactly for that reason, to serve as a secular Jewish alternative to life in the Diaspora. And while it's far from perfect, for most Israelis, it is still a credible option. They are not blind to its shortcomings, but they are still content with living their Jewish lives here.

And at least on a sub-conscious level, this contentment is galling to many Jews in America and elsewhere, especially those who are struggling to come up with an alternative Jewish life of their own that will be sufficiently attractive to a disinterested young Jewish generation

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Israel's 12 tribes, per Bradley Burston

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/04/israels-12-tribes-per-bradley-burston.html

Bradley Burston, the Haaretz columnist, sums up Israel as 12 latter-day tribes comprising "the magnificent muck-up that's now about to hit 60." His piece presupposes some familiarity with Israeli politics. Like much of his work, it is amusing and insightful.

Haaretz / Last update - 09:20 25/04/2008
The new tribes of Israel
By Bradley Burston
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/977943.html

My life partner and I once found ourselves on a remote part of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We got to talking with a calm, perceptive and unusually grounded woman who told us she lived there. When she then asked us where we called home, and we told her Israel, she responded with what seemed to her to be the logical, natural, next question: "Oh ... what tribe are you?"

While we, taken aback, groped for an answer, she told us in a manner as matter-of-fact as an observation about the weather, that she was of the Tribe of Ephraim. Everyone at her church, she continued, knew which tribe they belonged to.

Perhaps the question is harder for us to answer because we no longer see ourselves, as the first 12 Tribes did, as the children of the children of Jacob. The tribes that make up the latter-day State of Israel are, in fact, the remnants of revolution, of a surfeit of concurrent revolutions, in fact. Together those revolutions have built and battered Israel into the magnificent muck-up that's now about to hit 60.

A field guide:

The Tribe of Beitar
Tribal lore blends Polish-Jewish culture of nursing grievances as a way of life, with multigenerational Mizrahi rage at the ghost of Mapai (see below).

Political orientation: Raucously hawkish, but once in power, tends to give away occupied land (for example, Sinai, Gaza, most of Hebron).

Religious orientation: Beitar-odox, a fundamentalist belief in Beitar Jerusalem and the redemptive power of soccer. Sabbath observance may include participation in Orthodox minyan, followed by a chain-smoking convoy drive - yellow-and-black Beitar scarf flying from car windows - to the match of the week.

The Tribe of Mapai
Once the proudly dominant clan, running everything from the Israel Defense Forces to health care to steel production. Now splintered, anemic, rudderless, vestigial, yuppified - barely an extended dysfunctional family.

Political orientation: Once strongly social-democratic. Once strongly dovish.

Identifying characteristics: Equivocation. Nostalgia.

The Tribe of Maran
Named for tribal elder Maran (Revered Rabbi) Ovadia Yosef.

Aim: To restore pride to Jews of Mediterranean and Mideast origin, who often faced discrimination and humiliation at the hands of Mapai.

Political orientation: Tough on religious issues, hard-line though occasionally flexible on matters of defense and diplomacy.

Identifying characteristics: By far the best dressed (and groomed) among the ultra-Orthodox. Not to be confused with the Ashkenazi Tribe of Mamaloshen, too varied (think pro-Gush Emunim to pro-Ahmadinejad) to be detailed here.

The Tribe of Tech
One of the newer clans. Believes in the redemptive power of long hours, innovative ideas, Nasdaq and eventual sale of the company to a global corporation for mega-millions.

Political orientation: Vaguely centrist. Believes in stability and furtherance of peace talks as good for investment and the economy.

Identifying characteristics: Bluetooth implant, polo shirt, car with company logo on back fender and bumper sticker reading "How's my driving?" - but with phone number too small to read when vehicle is traveling at warp speed.

The Tribe of Yesha
Includes many of the some quarter-million Jewish residents of the West Bank, plus a huge number of settler would-have-beens in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in, Brooklyn and elsewhere.

Political orientation: Vanguard of the religious right, but drifting. Youth are having second thoughts. The disengagement from Gaza shattered faith in the government, the state, the Yesha Council and national Orthodoxy, giving rise to the hardal - the Haredi Leumi amalgam.

The Tribe of Bil'in
A small, poorly organized but vocal clan, with offshoots in South Tel Aviv lofts and elsewhere. Signature ritual is protest against West Bank fence near village of Bi'lin.

Religious orientation: Personal anarchism. Antipathy to Israeli governmental institutions and policies. Antipathy may extend to Zionism as a philosophy, and/or to bourgeois parents.

The Tribe of Kach
The rightist version of the Bil'inist. Feels compulsion to spend all Jewish holidays in Hebron. Feels compulsion to spray-paint "Kahane was right" on all available bus stops.

Political orientation: Far right. Fervent belief in expelling Arabs from Greater Israel. Often characterized by excessive interest in and carrying of large handguns. Tribe has many fellow travelers, notably Women in Green.

Identifying characteristics: Oversized kippot. Oversized earlocks. Oversized sidearms.

The Tribe of Tibi
Israel's Arab minority, perhaps the most difficult grouping to typify, as it is made up of numerous minorities and clans of diverse religions, cultures, and political and social attitudes.

These include Christians, Muslims and Druze, Negev and Galilee Bedouin, IDF officers and firebrand Islamists. Their position also makes them vulnerable to the simultaneous suspicions of fellow Israelis and neighboring Palestinians.

The Tribes of Sheinkin and Bombamela

Two sides of a similar coin, this group - largely native-born Ashkenazi in origin - may tend toward artistic/New Age/yuppie commercial ventures on the one hand, and patchouli-flavored hippie dropout status on the other.

The Tribe of Vesty
More than a million strong, "the Russians," as immigrants from ex-Soviet lands are collectively known, have created a subculture of their own. In some disciplines, notably music, they have brought a level of formality and seriousness, which may put them at odds with the more offhand approach of the native-born.

P.S. After almost two decades here, I still have little idea which tribe is truly mine. Perhaps a little perspective is in order. Perhaps another visit to Kauai.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Who is a Jew?

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/01/who-is-jew.html

Who is a Jew?

You probably will want to read all of this article by Vic Rosenthal , and we can all agree with some of it. Vic wrote:

For example, there may not be a single set of facial characteristics common to me and the rest of my family, but in some sense we look alike: a nose here, eyebrows there, etc. A family resemblance may be more or less intense, and the decision to include or exclude a person becomes harder to make as the resemblance weakens.

For example, which of the following photos exemplifies the famous Jewish physiognomy, and which does not?



Doesn't the gentleman at left look like he should be Gabbai of your synagogue? Which of these fine fellows would you cast for the role of American tough guy? Jewish intellectual? Concentration camp victim? I promise a reply to those questions in the future.

Vic wrote:

In other words, if an Ashkenazi Jew has certain 'Jewish' characteristics and a Sephardic Jew has other, different, ones, then the result of mixing them -- both in terms of children and of culture -- will tend to have more of the overall set of 'Jewish' characteristics than we'd get from all Ashkenazim or Sephardim.


Well I don't know about. My aunt is Sephardic, my uncle is Ashkenazi. They live in Tel-Aviv. Their son ought to be much more "Jewish" than they are according to Vic's theory, but he lives in New York and has an African-American girl-friend, goes hitch-hiking in India, and doesn't eat either gefilte fish or couscous when he can help it. And nonetheless he is Jewish of course, and identifies himself as "Jewish."

What is my point?

Identity has two aspects: how others see you, and how you see yourself. It is not a collection of "characteristics." The important part of identity is how you see yourself. It should be the factor in deciding if someone is Jewish, or Greek or anything else.


Ami Isseroff



http://fresnozionism.org/archives/85

By Vic Rosenthal

One of the most persistent issues among Jews today, especially non-observant Jews living in the Diaspora, is that of Jewish identity: what is it, do I have it, are we losing it, is that bad?...

So exactly how are the Jewish people a people or a nation? Is it the same sense in which, for example, the Dutch or the French see themselves as a people?

No, it's not the same. The Dutch or French have lived in the same place for hundreds of years. They speak the same language (or dialects thereof). They do share, more or less, a culture. Maybe if modern Israel can survive Ahmadinijad etc. for a few generations there will begin to be this kind of national culture – in Israel. But it still won't explain the Jewishness of those in the far-flung Diaspora.

...human language is a tool for doing practical things in the world, not a formal structure like mathematics. So the way that we make definitions of practical concepts, like Jew, is not necessarily as neat and closed as the way that we define complicated mathematical concepts in terms of simpler ones. Wittgenstein found it explanatory to talk about family resemblances.

For example, there may not be a single set of facial characteristics common to me and the rest of my family, but in some sense we look alike: a nose here, eyebrows there, etc. A family resemblance may be more or less intense, and the decision to include or exclude a person becomes harder to make as the resemblance weakens. But that doesn't mean the idea of the family resemblance is meaningless -- language is meaningful insofar as it is useful, and a degree of uncertainty is part of life. Wittgenstein thought that concepts like 'game', for example, which are notoriously hard to define, are best understood as applying to things having a sort of family resemblance.

So I think it's not unreasonable -- and also quite appealing – to think of the Jewish people as a large family, with family resemblances. Some of the features that we find among Jews are Judaism, certain values (e.g., a respect for learning), certain languages (especially Hebrew, which unites observant and Israeli Jews), certain customs, foods, even a preponderance of certain DNA sequences...

... the overall pool of diverse Jewish characteristics is amplified when the group includes a more diverse mix of Jews. In other words, if an Ashkenazi Jew has certain 'Jewish' characteristics and a Sephardic Jew has other, different, ones, then the result of mixing them — both in terms of children and of culture-- will tend to have more of the overall set of 'Jewish' characteristics than we'd get from all Ashkenazim or Sephardim.

Of course, the place in the world where there is the most diverse mix of Jewish people and cultures is Israel. So in another sense, added to the religious and political ones, we see the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. Perhaps A. B. Yehoshua was not entirely wrong when he said that it's necessary to live in Israel to live a fully Jewish life.



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