The fact that Israel is now the largest Jewish community in the world, or close to it, should have been a source of joy for Zionists around the world. Instead it is a source of alarm. According to Gidi Grinstein, Zionism Needs a new narrative
At present, the dilemma of Zionism stems from its own success. By the late 19th century, the number of Zionist immigrants was negligible. By 1948 and after the Holocaust, only 600,000 -- barely 5 percent of all Jews -- lived in the newly established State of Israel. By 2005, the Jewish community in the State of Israel became the largest in the world consisting of 40 percent of all Jews and 50 percent of all Jewish births. These statistics represent
The symbolic moment of demographic parity between Israel and Diaspora should be a call for an ideological reevaluation of Zionism. Do we really want all Jews to live in the State of Israel, in Eretz Yisrael, putting all Jewish eggs in one geographic basket? Is it really in our interest to dismantle the
Diaspora? It is time for some Zionists to begin to be careful of what they wish for in case they get it.
In the Diaspora, runs Grinstein's narrative, the Jews built a great network, and now Israel and Zionism are dismantling that network. To be sure, Grinstein notes that there was at least one other slight interference with the Jewish network, the Holocaust. A tiny technical detail. Greinstein doesn't note another tiny interference with the Jewish network, the Soviet revolution, which all but stamped out Judaism in Russia. And yet another tiny interference with the network is forgotten - the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, which cast a pall over Jewish life their too.
Success breeds envy and enmity. The Arabs of Palestine contemplate the glass and cement towers of Herzliya Pituach and Ramat Gan, and are certain that this wealth was created by robbing them. In their imagination, all these things existed in our country under the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the creation of Palestinian Arabs who had made an oasis in the Middle East, and they were all stolen by the "greedy, evil Zionists." Some Diaspora Jews are beginning to look with envy apparently, on the relatively thriving Jewish life of Israel. In their minds and in Grinstein's narrative, Israel and Zionism are somehow responsible for the reduction of the Jewish community in the United States. If all the Jews are not in the Diaspora, they must've all gone to Israel, according to his reasoning.
The paradox of Zionism is that, while striving for security of Jews, it compromises the national security of the Jewish people. By working to bring all Jews to the State of Israel, it accelerates the diminution of the Jewish network, which has been the secret of our continued existence through two millennia.
But that is not the case. Only a tiny minority of American Jews have come to Israel. Israel was populated by the Jews of Eastern Europe, Russia and Arab countries, all of whom escaped before they were engulfed by the rising tides of history. The "Jewish Network" was not dissolved by the Jewish Agency or the IDF. It was dissolved by the Red Army, by the Wehrmacht and the Tottenkopf SS, and by assimilation. Ben Gurion and Herzl did not annihilate the magnificent Jewish communities of Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Holland and Germany. That was done by Messrs Hitler, Eichmann and Himmler and their helpers. There are over 650,000 Israelis living in the United States, many times more than the number of American Jews living in Israel. For many Jews today, the only thing that keeps alive the "Jewish network" and the feeling of belonging to a people is Israel and the Zionist organization.
Grinstein and some others have apparently failed to grasp the central thesis of Zionism, which has nothing to do with "narratives" and everything to do with historical vision.
Judaism was born into the ancient world, when nationality, peoplehood and religion were inextricably confounded. Christianity, insofar as it became a successful religion was the state religion of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. When organized national life dissolved, Christianity tried desperately to retain its temporal, national character through the forged donation of Constantine, whereby sovereignty over the Roman empire was supposedly donated by the Emperor Constantine to pope Sylvester, and through the fiction of the Holy Roman Empire. This rubric was dissolved with the rise of nation states, and Christianity had to reinvent itself when the European peoples rediscovered nationalism, which they think was invented, perhaps, by Henry VIII. In the Middle East, the ancient empires with their state religions gave way to an Arab-Muslim empire, on the ancient model. The separation of religion and state, with all that this means both for religion and for national culture, was never really accomplished.
Judaism could exist as a separate people - an amalgam of a nation and a religion - within the stratified and segmented society of feudal Europe and the Ottoman Empire. This had to end with the rise of nationalism. The modern nation states claimed the loyalty of each and every one of their citizens to their own national flag, and their devotion to their national culture, just as they gave equal rights to each of those citizens. One way or the other, the dawn of the modern age had to spell the end of Judaism as a sub-people within the landed peoples of the world. Either the Jews would assimilate to modern life, or they would be penned up in ghettos and eventually would become irrelevant if they were not exterminated. Zionism is to Judaism as Reformation is to Christianity.
There were many attempts to cope with this new reality. One of them was Reform Judaism, which originally insisted that the Jews are not a nation, and that they are Germans or Americans or British "of the Mosaic persuasion." The results of this experiment were fatal. The attempt to build Jewish culture in the Diaspora, precisely as Mr. Grinstein favors, was made by the Jewish Bund in Poland, who ridiculed the attempts of Zionists to get Polish Jews to leave. We already heard that "narrative." We were already in that movie. One showing of that nightmare was enough. The complaint of all these people was that Jewish settlement in the land of Israel was impractical. It turned out that Jewish settlement in the land of Israel was quite practical, while staying in Warsaw, Lodz or Hamburg was hazardous to your health and quite impractical.
Now the complaint is that Zionism succeeded, and that somehow this success threatens the Diaspora. It is not so. Nothing prevents those Jews who remain in Russia, and who remember that they are Jews, from practicing their Judaism in any way they see fit. Nothing prevents the Jews of the United States and Canada from doing the same. But Israel and Zionism cannot force these people to be Jewish if they do not want to be, and Israel and Zionism cannot really protect these Jews from the violence and dangers of anti-Semitism. It is absurdly pitiful to see Jews, and even former Israelis, in Denmark and Armenia, France, Germany and elsewhere lamenting anti-Semitism. They are like the man who was offered fillet Mignon in a restaurant, but ordered cold boiled carp instead. When the order came, he complained that it smelt of fish, but that is what comes with the order. You can't have boiled carp that tastes like fillet Mignon, and you can't have Diaspora without anti-Semitism and assimilation.
Suppose that we could somehow set up Israel as a factory to manufacture and export Jews to the United States? Would there then be more Jews in the United States, or would they, like large numbers of American Jews today, leave both their faith and their nation after several generations? Are these Jews leaving the fold because of Israel and Zionism, and can Israel or Zionism provide an answer to this problem?
Of course we should not strive to bring every Jew to Israel. We should, in the best of all possible worlds, wish for a community of hundreds of millions of Jews throughout the world. The land of Israel cannot contain so many Jews, and we poor Israelis cannot produce so many Jews. Some of those Jews would be anti-Zionists, some would live in Israel, and some would support Israel from abroad. This would be a wonderful development were it to occur, but it is unlikely to happen. In the current reality, every Jew brought from Russia or Ethiopia, India Europe or America was retrieved either from the clutches of eventual assimilation or from physical extinction.
Israel can provide a cultural center for Judaism and it should provide better spiritual and cultural leadership. But the central tenet of Zionism, the reason for Israel's existence, is the proposition that in a world of nation states, the Jews cannot exist as a nation-religion in the Diaspora. As long as Judaism does not change, Diaspora Jewish life may be doomed, not because Zionism wants to doom it, but because historical forces that are not under our control have made it difficult, impractical and undesirable, to maintain the Jewish way of life, as practiced in Warsaw, Vilna or Medzhibezh in 1600, in the cities and towns of modern Europe and America.
Zionism is in an unpleasant situation with respect to Diaspora Jews, like the mother in law who insisted that if the daughter-in-law moves to Yonkers she won't find a baby sitter there. The daughter-in-law moved, and now she is angry with her mother-in-law because there are no baby sitters.
The problem of Diaspora Jewish communities must not be ignored, indeed. But it is a problem that can only be solved, of necessity, by those living in the Diaspora. Even if Israel could find the perfect solution, it is unlikely that anyone living abroad would consent to have that solution imposed on them. It is up to those who insist that Zionism was incorrect to find a formula that will allow the Jewish people to thrive in the Diaspora. Zionism doesn't prevent the Diaspora from thriving, but it cannot make it thrive. It does not have an answer to that problem and never pretended to have one.
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Replies: 2 Comments
Go to my site and read my blog respose
Yakov Marks, Monday, November 13th
But the central tenet of Zionism, the reason for Israel's existence, is the proposition that in a world of nation states, the Jews cannot exist as a nation-religion in the Diaspora. As long as Judaism does not change, Diaspora Jewish life may be doomed, not because Zionism wants to doom it, but because historical forces that are not under our control have made it difficult, impractical and undesirable, to maintain the Jewish way of life, as practiced in Warsaw, Vilna or Medzhibezh in 1600, in the cities and towns of modern Europe and America.
Amen and lets hope it is also true for the Islamist nation-religion.
Joseph L. Klein, Sunday, November 12th
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