American Jews Belong in Israel, Declare Israeli Authors Yehoshua and Halkin

Article excerpt

At a meeting celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua told the audience at the Library of Congress that American Jews belong in Israel.

According to the May 4, 2006 Washington Jewish Week, "Yehoshua dominated the panel discussion on 'The Future of The Past: What Will Become of the Jewish People?'... insisting that one could fully be a Jew only by living in the Jewish state. 'This is the success of Zionism-the Jews took responsibility/ Yehoshua said at one point, arguing that the everyday decisions of Israel-whether to withdraw from territory, or 'are we going to torture?'-are the important 'Jewish decisions' of our time. 'You are not doing any Jewish decisions/ he told the crowd...'You are deciding, according to an American framework. . .You are playing with Jewishness.'"

Yehoshua's chief sparring partner was Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, who declared that "people are not stupid servants of the state." Nor is it the case, he said, that everything a Jew does is a Jewish act. "What matters is whether [Jews] are actively engaged in one's Jewishness," he said. When challenged by Yehoshua to name "an act of Jewishness," Wieseltier responded with such examples as teaching Hebrew and learning about the history of the Jewish people. "These are not meaningless activities," he said. Without them, "Jews will not survive, even if the state of Israel will."

Wieseltier argued that "territory is not what kept Jews alive. The civilization of Jews was formed after the exile, after the destruction of the Temple...My pride in being Jewish has nothing to do with where I live."

Discussing Yehoshua's declaration that Jewish life in America is "meaningless," J.J. Goldberg, editor of The Forward, noted in its May 12, 2006 issue that "Yehoshua expresses, in extreme, distilled terms, an essential truth about Israeli Jewish identity. Israelis tend to know very little about the reality of Jewish life in America. It's not taught in their schools, rarely appears on their television screens and is seldom discussed in their newspapers. For Israelis, being Jewish consists of living in a Jewish country, speaking a Jewish language, serving in a Jewish army. What, they wonder, can it possibly mean to live as a Jew in Cleveland?"

Writing in the May 7, 2006 edition of Haaretz, correspondent Amiram Barkat declared: "The heads of American Jewish organizations do almost nothing to alter the perception common in the Israeli public... They come here several times a year and then return to their country brimming with delight, having heard the prime minister, foreign minister and head of the Jewish Agency pay lip service in speaking about Israel's obligation to the Jewish people." Instead, he writes, they should be asking why Israel isn't teaching its children about the Diaspora and "conducting a genuine dialogue between Israelis and Jews living overseas."

Concluded Forward editor Gold berg: "It ought to be obvious to both sides that Israelis are not wrong in their way of being Jewish, any more than Americans are wrong in their way-joining organizations, attending events, giving to charities and trying to live by what they understand as Jewish values. The two ways are merely different."

In Israel, author Hillel Halkin, who has long called upon American Jews to emigrate, wrote in The Jerusalem Post's International Edition of May 19-25 that "...deep down, I think that Yehoshua, manners aside, is more right than wrong. Israel is the only place in the world in which one can live a Jewish life that is total-in which, that is, there is no compartmentalization between the inner and the outer, between what is Jewish and what is not. It is the only place in the world in which Jews are totally responsible for the society they live in, for the environment that surrounds them, for the government that rules them. It is the only place in the world where Jewish culture is not a subculture in a greater culture but is rather that greater culture itself. …