April 15, 2013
Seven thoughts for Yom HaAtzmaut
Today is Memorial Day and tomorrow is Independence Day. And there's always temptation to say something new about the nature of Israel, or to attribute special meaning to 65 which wasn't yet there at 64, or to battle those who only care for Independence Day as an opportunity to say something nasty about Israel. But this year I've decided to resist all temptations and keep it simple. It is Israel's Independence Day, and the Jewish Journal is read (mostly) by Jewish Americans, so I'm going to list seven things that Jewish Americans should keep in mind as they think about Israel.
Israel needs you, even if it doesn't always communicate its need in ways which you can understand. It needs you because it is rather alone. It needs you because you are the next of kin. You are family. It needs you not just for political or financial support, but also to have someone with which to have a serious conversation about things that matter, about what it means to be Jewish. A conversation doesn't necessarily mean that there will always be an agreement, but some measure of mutual influence is expected. I see such influence wherever I go.
You need Israel too. As much as some of you hate to admit it, a Jewish America disconnected from Israel will be duller. A Jewish America alienated from Israel will also be lonelier.
Running Israel and maintaining it is a serious business. Israel is a country with many people, and even more problems, in a tough neighborhood. Israel is not a Lab in which ideas can be tested and retested without risk, it is a place where people raise children, go to work, live lives, hope to be able to grow old. The margin for error is small, the risks are many. This means that we can't always conform to Jewish-American ideals born under very different circumstances. Israelis, if they are smart, should forgive those of you who have naïve views about Israel's nature – and you should forgive them for not being able to level with your expectations.
You tend to patronize Israel, as if it were a slow-witted place with less than adequate processes for achieving goals. Admittedly, Israel can improve itself, but please remember that it has achieved quite a lot in its 65 years, using the unruly processes that Americans find hard to understand. On the flip side: Israelis also tend to patronize you, as if you're the last remnants of a dying Diaspora. They should also remember the fact that the American Jewish Diaspora is one of a kind, one which the Jewish world has never seen before. They should have respect for such great achievement.
Don't get lost in Israel’s heated internal debates. Israelis tend to be blunt and use harsh rhetoric when they make their cases. This often results in exaggeration, a tendency to scandalize trivialities, an inclination to see things in black and white and avoid necessary nuances. Take Israeli claims with a grain of salt, especially when they debate with one another over matters of politics and policy. No, Israel doesn't have a war-mongering coalition, it is not ruled by religious zealots, or by the settlers, it is not becoming less democratic, it is not racist, it is not immoral – it is no less moral (and possibly even more so) than most other countries.
Israel is still very young. The fact that its character isn't yet set in stone is not a problem, it’s a reality, and one that should be expected.
Israel is also becoming older. It is not a temporary arrangement for misplaced Jews. It is no longer just the pipedream of kooky visionaries. Think about all of Jewish history and feel blessed: you get to see a Jewish sovereign prosperous state in your own time with your own eyes.