Monday, September 25, 2006

The discomfort of American Jews

Ezra and Matt both have interesting accounts of their visits to Synagogues which ended up being explicitly Zionist and made them both, to say the least, uncomfortable. I have nothing in particular to add, but they're both interesting. Ezra:
The "partisanization" of Judaism, however, doesn't strike me as a particularly unique phenomenon. I assume the complaints of Matt and myself are fairly close echoes of those voiced by liberal Christians whose congregations have become wings of the Republican Party. The difference, as my girlfriend pointed out, is that the average few miles in DC, or Kansas, or California, will contain a multitude of churches, while the religious "market" supports fewer Jewish options. So there isn't an obvious place for many Jews -- myself included -- to turn.
If you stopped by an Italian-American organization you would, of course, see Italian flags. Similarly, an Irish-American organization would feature Irish flags. But here's the rub -- Americans Jews aren't Israeli-Americans. I mean, some of us are. My one friend actually was born in Israel and he and his family moved here when he was young. But that's not typical.

Most American Jews -- and specifically American reform Jews -- aren't in any sense offshoots of modern Israeli society in general or of modern Labor Zionism in particular. Indeed, it's rather the reverse. Diaspora reform Judaism and Ashkenazi Jewish culture in North America represents an alternative conception of modern Jewish identity. An alternative conception that is, in many ways, directly antagonistic to the model represented by traditional Zionism and the kibbutz.
This really is an interesting point: American Jews are more numerous than Israel-resident Jews, and I can only assume that American Jewry is both older than Israel and older than modern Zionism. (Wikipedia says the first major wave of Jewish immigration to the US came from Germany in the 1840s. Any better sources?) The idea of the American Jewish community in any way taking a back seat to Israeli Jews is odd to me. But I'm not Jewish, so what do I know?

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