Habonim Dror North America

Why I Cannot Lose My Love For Israel

In Israel on November 14, 2009 at 11:07 pm

By Lonny Moses

In a recent article in The Forward (http://www.forward.com/articles/114180/), Jay Michaelson engages in a heartfelt personal confession of the fading love he has for Israel. His explanation of this shift comes in four parts. First, he cites the difficulties of a relationship that requires constant re-evaluation and complex ethical dilemmas with no clear answers. The dance that Michaelson feels he has to do around his positions on Israel, especially in his left-wing social circles has, he says, become tiring. Secondly, the aspects of Israel that he loves, people who espouse secular ethics and the culture that they created, are disappearing. He sees them replaced with a fake, tourist-driven, myth and religious zealotry. Third, Michaelson writes that he has begun to question the reality of his love for Israel, in the same way that he questions the mythic Israel in point two. He questions if he is not merely an “American moved, and thus partially blinded, by religious and national myth.” Finally, Michaelson feels uncomfortable that he is implicated in the actions of those in Israel with whom he disagrees. Even though he has taken no part in the oppression of Palestinians, he still feels that the world community, as well as his personal social circles, associate him with the actions of the Israeli government. He wonders if it might just be better to say, “It’s your choice to make… but count me out.”

Jay’s confession is something that must have been very difficult for him to make public and I commend him for being willing to bring his concerns out to the Jewish community, in order that they might learn from his narrative and comment on his feelings. Israel, as a country, is one to which he has a lot of sentimental attachment, but it seems that the actions of the state, and the progress of the culture, are both things that are moving a way from what he wants. The point is coming in which he feels that he may have to let go of his emotional attachment. I recognize the pain that this is causing him. For me too, the direction that Israel often takes in regards to its neighbors, its identity, etc., can be troubling, even painful. Unlike Jay however, for me, this is a pain that can only strengthen my love for Israel. That’s is because my love for Israel is neither a love for a land, nor for a political structure, nor for a culture nor any physical or tangible thing that can be easily defined. My love comes from the core of my identity as a Jewish person. The fact is that Israel, as a state that is the embodiment of the Jewish people as a whole, and especially of those who live within its borders, is truly a symbol that represents me and which I have no choice but to actively shape. If Jay Michaelson acknowledges that the core of his identity is his Jewishness, then there is no way he can allow his love for the symbol and the people who are Israel to fade in the wake of exhaustion or ambiguity, without accepting a Jewish identity that is fundamentally fractured and incomplete.

I recently found myself reading an article by Ahad Ha’am, titled “Slavery In Freedom” which, though published nearly 120 years ago, still has something significant to offer on the question of modern love for Israel in the face of its changing nature. In his essay, Ha’am writes about the need that Jews felt in late 19th century Europe to ignore the national allegiance that they possessed towards other Jews, in other countries. Their road to emancipation and recognition by the country in which they were living required that they maintain Judaism as a religion only. As such, they could feel free only to identify first, as a citizen of the country in which they live and then as a Jew. This denunciation of Jewish nationalism is, to Ha’am, an impossible feat. “It is not”, he says, speaking of those who would give up their national identity, “in their power to uproot this feeling”. Nationalism, for Ahad Ha’am, is the force that connects the Jewish people, and it supersedes any religiosity.

So the question is, what does Israel represent? You see, when Jay Michaelson says that he is falling out of love with Israel, what he does not realize is that his love is, and has always been misplaced. If he loves Israel, it is because as a political entity, Israel has come to symbolize the Jewish national identity. Yet, I doubt that Jay Michaelson would say that his love for the Jewish people is fading. For me, as a child, I found comfort in Israel because it represented the whole of the Jewish people. Though I might not find that my synagogue’s practices, beliefs, etc., were ones which addressed my personal needs at all times, I recognized, in the concept of Israel, the idea that Judaism goes beyond these particular religious traditions. What I loved was not Israel the country, but Klal Yisrael.

Now, Ahad Ha’am did not support the creation of a political Zionist State in his time. Rather, he focused on the need for a spiritual, cultural and national rebirth within the communities in which Jews resided at the time. For him, the key component of Jewish life should be the unity of the Jewish people. Such unity, such a rebirth, has yet to be achieved, even as the state of Israel has been born. The Jewish community of the world has devolved into extreme sectarianism and political factionalism. Jews, both around the world and in Israel, often fail to seek out Jewish knowledge, history, culture, or any sense of communal Jewish life. Perhaps it is because of this fractured nature of the Jewish community that Michaelson finds it possible to consider himself Jewish, while still wishing to distance himself from the actions of such a large body of the Jewish people as Israel. Perhaps it is because to Jay Michaelson, his Jewish identity is defined narrowly, as a particular political and/or religious sect, to which he adheres as an additional element to his true, American national identity.

The question I ask Jay is whether he is first a Jew and then an American, or an American then a Jew. I ask him whether his humanism, which brings him together with the social circles about whom he talks, derives from his Jewishness or whether his humanism is separate from his Jewishness. There is no right answer to these questions, but the answer sheds a lot of light on why someone could “lose their love for Israel”. Its unclear to me, for instance, whether my humanist values have come from my Jewish roots or not. It is unclear whether my American culture or my Jewish culture has had a greater impact on the way I live my life. However, I have chosen consciously to be a member of the Jewish people first. My identity is wholly Jewish, even when it also includes all of these other things. And because of this, I cannot ever dissociate myself from the things that other Jews are doing anywhere. Thus, when millions of Jews act in the form of a political entity, as the symbol for the Jewish people, I have no choice but to love them, and to consider them an extension of my own identity. If what they are doing is difficult for me to handle, I have no choice but to embrace them further and work harder to push my community towards the path it should be taking. My love for the Jewish people is an extension of my love for myself, and even when I make myself angry or frustrated, all I can do is look deeper within myself to find the good, and work as hard as I can to bring it out. My attitude towards Israel, as a symbol of the community with which I identify, is no different.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: