Monday, September 14, 2009

Casual Observations and Some Thoughts on Lost and Found Jews

Casual Observations:

- Fall is in the air. The late afternoon breezes are cooler, the nights are more pleasent, the Chatzav (the tall flower that symbolizes the coming of autmn here) is in bloom, there are the first flocks of birds flapping their wings over our ponds and beach and there were even a few drops of rain the other day. As I wrote to friends, it seems as though nature is aligned, even if I am not so sure about us.
- All the talk here today was about the death of the pilot Asaf Ramon whose father, Ilan, was the first and only Israeli astronaut who died when his capsule burned up re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The picture of the handsome father and son together in the paper was so tragic that it was really hard to even read the articles about them on the front page of the paper. Those who eulogized them spoke about their excellent, the simnilarity of their paths through the Air Force andso tragically in death. There is a sense of an almost familial relationship that we all have with them At breakfast we talked about our inability to even begin to comprehend the tragedy that the mother/wife must feel.
-On Shabbat morning we went for a bike ride up the coast through the fishponds to Moshav Habonim and back. Not that strenuous, but real and important excercise. We came back on the road. I had always been very fearful of riding on the roads in Israel becasue there was so little safe space on the boundaries, but all that has changed. The improvements in roads here and their suitability to biking is really impressive, even if there is still alot to do.
- I was driving back to the kibbutz last night and saw the railway guard who makes sure that we don't cross the tracks when a train is coming praying to Allah. Our security is in his hands, Allah is in his prayers and while that may sound contradictory to some, it made sense to me. He is guarding us whether it be in the name of Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or Bahai. Such are our lives intertwined here.
- If we are talking transportation, I have to admit that I am petrified that I will come to a red light and just go right even though the law here forbids it. It seems so ingrained at this point that I am happy every time someone is in front of me at a red light!

MASA sends a message - Jews in the Diapora are disappearing. According to the MASA ad campaign more than 50% of the Jews are assimilating (they use the Hebrew word להתבולל ) and are lost. Many commentators have responded strenuously to the accusation that assimilation is inevitable and that it can only mean leaving the fold of Jewish peoplehood. Commentators have also asked what does assimilation mean? If it means not speaking Hebrew then nearly all Jews in America are lost. If it means not visiting Israel then two thirds or more are lost. If it means belonging to the Reform or Conservative movement (and let us not forget the Reconstructionists) then probably 75% of the Jews who belong to congregations are lost. If it means intermarraige then around 50%. Is all change assimilation? Hopefully we can agree that that is not the case.

The vagueness of the ad is disturbing as is the positive reception that it seems to have received in my immediate surroundings. I live in a world in which the financial disaester overtaking the Jewish world in the Diaspora is completely unknown with the exception of the ability to blame Madoff for everything. Yet the MASA ads reverberated well among my neighbors and sparked interest and conversation.

Is it because they are concerned about the status and future of Jews in North America or the Diapora overall? I do not believe so, unfortunately. The ad resonated well with them because if those Jews out there in Galut are lost - then we must be found. Lost means having no direction. Lost implies lack of definitive identity. Lost means being adrift and anchorless. If the Jews in the Diaspora are like that, and we are not them, then that means that we are anchored in our identity, clearly on the right path and not adrift.

I can believe that in the US many Jews were deeply offended by the ads which totally ignore the ways in which Judaism and Jews are changing to renew and revitalize. The ad basically says -here is a negative phenomena without explaining any of its nuances and thereby gives comfort to an Israeli audience that has no concept of Jewish life in the Diaspora on the whole. For those Israelis who understand that they, us, are the cure, this is a moment of revelation. We are the cure to their affliction, if only those Diasporan Jews could realize. Let us only hope that those who are assimilating reach out to us, the answer, before it is too late. That is what my neighbors seem to be conveying to me.

I wish that there was more interest here in understanding Jewish life in the Diaspora. We have raised a generation or two of Israelis who do not understand the essence of Jewish life in the Diapora. As a result they do not understand half of the Jewish people in the world and over time this will not lead to that Diasporan half "finding" themselves here. It will lead to them finding Jewish answers in their native lands, dare I imply homelands, where the level of aceptance is greater and where the Israeli harbormaster is not telling them that the choice is between drowning at sea or finding sanctuary in the Israeli port.


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