Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
There was a time when American Jews not only put their pennies in their pushkas to help the struggling Jewish homeland. They put their lives on the line. I’m talking about Lou Lenert and Leon Frankel, Gideon Lichtmann and George Lichter, Harold Livingston and Al Schwimmer and Bob Vickman, American Jews who thought it wasn’t enough that they helped defeat the Nazis, they needed to join their brothers in Israel so that the Jewish people would have a place to go when the next Nazis came to power. They left behind businesses and girlfriends and created the Israeli Air Force, without which I and six million other Israeli Jews would not be living in our own country, but spread out all over the world waiting, like the Jews of France, and the Jews of Great Britain, and the Jews of Belgium, for the next horrible Islamic atrocity to hit them and their families.
Without these American Jews, there would be no Israel.
But like the children of the heroes of the “Saving Private Ryan” generation who think patriotism is wrongheaded, this generation of American Jews don’t really feel all that connected to Israel. I can’t tell you how many times very nice, educated, caring American Jewish women have told me that even though President Obama wasn’t great for Israel, he was a wonderful president for them as Americans. “You don’t live here,” they tell me. “We have other priorities.”
I remember when former President Obama was bowing to Saudi Arabia, interfering in Israel’s election of Prime Minister with his cash and his handpicked “specialists” sent over to make sure Israelis voted in the Left, those same people who brought us the Oslo nightmare and the shameful and wrong-headed disengagement from Gaza, the same people who almost got my family blown up in the Park Hotel on Seder night. But Israelis, like Americans, aren’t listening to electioneering slogans anymore.
Hence, President Trump.
We elected Netanyahu, and we were thrilled when he went to America to convince Congress about the existential threat to our people of allowing Iran a nuclear capability, and incensed that our American Jewish brothers thought he should have stayed home.
These same people did their best to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite clear evidence of the anti-Israel bias of her party, and her endorsement by the very, very anti-Israel Obama.
And now, here we are. The Jews of America are incensed. The good ones, who come here on vacation and support all manner of Israeli charities, and the bad ones who have never been here once and who allow strangers to give their kids all expenses paid vacations on Birthright in order to do us the favor of allowing their children to experience first-hand what we in Israel have died for: a Jewish homeland with an army and an air force and a flourishing economy, and lovely parks and pretty homes, after thousands of years of persecution, murder, and homelessness. Still, I’m glad they come to see, rather than spending their vacation in Cancun or joining the JStreet anti-Semites.
For those who are filled with fury, I say this: I agree with you about how disgusting it is that the haredimhave wormed their way into power so that they can distort Jewish laws and control Jewish holy sites, making life miserable for the rest of us, including Orthodox Jewish women like myself.
But I am even more sorry that you have raised your children not to care about being Jewish, or about the Jewish State of Israel. If you had raised them differently – or been raised differently yourselves – then a million American Conservative and Reform Jews making Aliyah would have completely changed the entire political system in this country, and the haredim would be out of luck.
But as for now, it is we who are out of luck.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Naomi Ragen