As Israel rises, American Jews sink into irrelevance and assimilation.
If Canadians have a national sport, it is not hockey. Rather, it is “Spot the Canadian”. They are obsessed with finding the Canadian roots of every actor, performer, athlete, or generally a person of the slightest fame or notoriety. Kim Cattrall? From British Columbia, of course. Sidney Crosby? Nova Scotia. There are entire documentaries that deal exclusively with Canadians who at the very first blossoming of their talent abandoned the frozen North with its limited opportunities, high taxation, and a culture that encourages polite mediocrity and moved to LA, New York, or Boston. These people are not frowned upon in Canada, on the contrary, they are admired. “We wouldn’t live here either, if we were talented enough or hardworking enough, seems to be the general Canadian consensus.
Growing up in 1970’s Israel, I have experienced a similar attitude by us, Israelis, towards what many considered our luckier, more advanced cousins, the American Jews. Israeli media considered it obligatory to mention the remotest Jewish origins of an American who for any reason was the subject of their reporting, be it Henry Kissinger or Madeleine Albright or Bob Dylan. A famous 1970’s song by the great late Arik Einstein longingly talks about the San Francisco, as yet human excrement free, waterfront. While the song is infused by nostalgia for Israel, it leaves little doubt that San Francisco is where it’s at.
When I first came to America not as a tourist, but as an immigrant in the late 1990’s, the situation was already changing, but the changes were as yet invisible. America was still the “goldene medine” (a golden country in the Yiddish), a land of unlimited opportunities. American Jews felt confident, powerful, and unconcerned with who knew of their Jewishness and who didn’t. Two decades later, the situation could not be more drastically different. For this website and because I feel every bit as Israeli today as I have ever felt, I scan with a fine tooth comb all Israeli media. Everything is there, except one thing: diaspora Jews. The only time non-Israeli Jews are reported on with regards to anything other than their personal achievements and outside of the roles they play in human affairs is when there is an attack on Jewish interests such as the one on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Israel, Israeli media, and simply Israelis, seem utterly unconcerned about the fate of diaspora and specifically American Jewry on a personal level. On the communal level, there is concern, but it is the concern of a free, secure, and prosperous person for his enslaved and poor cousin, a concern that in every way echoes the feelings that Jews in New York circa 1910 felt for their cousins who stayed back in Poland. I had the opportunity recently to speak with an Israeli entrepreneur who developed a system for people to enjoy self-guided culinary tours of famous markets in Israel and around the globe. His business is now present in Barcelona and in Singapore with plans for Tokyo and Hong Kong. When I asked about New York, he chuckled. “That’s not where it’s at,” he said. “Israelis don’t go there any more”.
In a somehow related, though I struggle to explain exactly how, development, many American Jews are now proudly wearing the social media equivalent of the yellow Star of David badge of Nazi vintage: the ((())) sign around their names. With respect to this phenomenon, it is important to remember that the notoriety of the yellow patch came not from the patch itself or from its function of identifying who was Jewish and who was not. As someone who spent the first ten years of his life in a European diaspora, let me assure you that from the moment anyone lays eyes on you or hears your name they have no doubt as to your ethnic identity. No, the yellow star obtained its notoriety not because it identified Jews, but because of the ends to which this identification was made: persecution, enslavement, death.
Unless you are willing to live with your head firmly buried in the proverbial sand, as a Jew you must acknowledge that the end purpose of the ((())) badge is yet unknown, but in any case, it cannot be good. I know that many American Jews embrace it as sign of defiance, but they are as weak as they are misguided. The objective of this sign is humiliation and the marking of one’s doorstep with a lamb’s blood, though not, as in the Passover story, to be passed over for slaughter, but as in a death camp, to be selected for it.
(((Americans))) are busy having a discussion in every possible forum about how they feel with regards to Israel; what it does, who leads it, how it lives its life, how it should live its life. In the mean time, Israel simply doesn’t give a damn. Not the slightest echo of this discussion finds its way to the Hebrew language media, media that is diverse, vibrant, and chock full of anything that will gather even the least number of clicks from Israelis. American Jews and even America itself, have simply stopped being of much interest to Israelis. Of course, as a great superpower and a great ally, America is the center of many news and analysis pieces in the Israeli media, but it has nothing to do with American Jews. Nothing at all.
American Jews have been, to this point in time, an incredible success story, but they forgot to what they owe this success. They owe it to the deep and unique culture that their grandparents brought with them from the East European stetl (from the Yiddish: a small town, used to describe Jewish majority towns in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe); a culture of traditionalism, tribalism, and national survival above all else. This culture has established the State of Israel and its abandonment by the bulk of American Jewry spells its rapid descent into irrelevance. Pretending that anyone in Israel would shed a tear for their soon to come assimilation into what our prayer book calls “the families of the Earth” is not going to do American Jews any good. They are on their own.
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