From the J-Vault: An American Zionist Vision from 1948

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This week from the J-Vault: Implications of the New Developments in Palestine for Jewish Culture (September 1948)

Today Israelis, Jews, and Zionists all over the world (both Jewish and non-Jewish) celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, and this week's J-Vault selection was published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service in September 1948 during a cease-fire between the second and third phases of Israel's War of Independence. In the midst of that uneasy lull in battle, which would yield to open war again one month later, Alexander M. Dushkin focused not on the immediate military, diplomatic or humanitarian situation of the newly declared State, but on the place of that new State in the wider scheme of Jewish history and culture, as well as in Diaspora life -- particularly in America.

"My thesis," wrote Dushkin, "is that the reconstituted Jewish Homeland—both in the State of Israel and in international Jerusalem— will have a three-fold effect on Jewish cultural development in America. It should help us (a) clarify the character of our culture; (b) change our attitude toward it and (c) enhance our own cultural creativity." The result, he predicted, would be that world Jewry will assume a new overall shape. "Our Jewish world of today and tomorrow is like a great ellipse with two foci—one focus is in ourselves, in American life and effort; the other is in the Hebraic cultural center in the new Palestine. Culturally, they are both necessary to each other, and their spiritual symbiosis is our grand task in the days ahead."

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Steven M. Cohen on the HUC-JIR Rabbinical Student Year in J'lem

A post from BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen:

A recent (and very admirable) JTA article by Sue Fishkoff on the strengthening of Reform Judaism in Israel contains a rather peculiar observation by an anonymous individual, as follows:

“One World Union for Progressive Judaism leader, who spoke anonymously, suggested that the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rabbinical program is partly to blame for its policy of sending first-year students to Jerusalem where they “live in an American ghetto,” and return home convinced that Israel is hostile to Reform Judaism.”

I am a part-time resident of Jerusalem, a member of the HUC-JIR faculty, a life-long Zionist, and hold dual citizenship, and am as concerned as anyone with the attachment of young Jews to Israel. From my perspective, it is positively loony (i.e., meshuggeh) to think that having first-year rabbinical students spend a year in Jerusalem -- where the 25-acre HUC-JIR campus is located -- is somehow responsible for convincing students that "Israel is hostile to Reform Judaism." Had they only spent the year, instead of Jerusalem, in, say, Afula, or on Shenkin Street, or the beaches of Eilat!

A very long literature on the impact of travel to Israel demonstrates two effects with respect to Israel. One is that people grow more attached to Israel (see “Beyond Distancing,” by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, or “Still Connected,” by Charles Kadushin, et al). The other is that they learn to be more critical of Israelis as individuals and of Israel as a society. In other words, they come to resemble Israelis, developing an unromanticized and non-idealized portrait of Israeli life (for an evidence of these trends as early as 1983 , see Survey of American Jews and Communal Leaders).

Steven M. Cohen

"Resisting Re-ghettoization" Recap

Wagner Today, the student blog of NYU Wagner, provides a useful summary of yesterday's BJPA roundtable ("Resisting Re-ghettoization: From Without and Within") with journalist Yossi Klein Halevi:

The great post-Holocaust achievements were power and integration into the world community (and for American Jewry, the public space). Now both those achievements are under assault -- from without and from within. The legitimacy of Jewish power is questioned not only by the UN Human Rights Council, but also by increasing numbers of Jews. The integration of Jews into the world community is also under assault from without and within -- the diplomatic ghettoization of Israel, the growing power of the haredim and the religious right in Israel.

He emphasized that we need to re-commit the American Jewish-Israeli relationship to reaffirming Jewish power and the Jewish place in the community of nations. This means resisting the demonization from without -- and strengthening Jewish pluralism, especially religious pluralism in Israel.

Click here for their full summary, with a few pictures.

Tablet Magazine also covered the event.

Here came, for me, the most useful part of the conversation, because I got to see, in Halevi, something I had heretofore only read about: The widespread Israeli understanding of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza settlements and a few in the West Bank as a complete disaster, which must never be repeated. “I don’t want Netanyahu to give anything away for free,” Halevi insisted, his voice carrying a harsh undercurrent for the only time that afternoon. The problem with extending the freeze for nothing in return, he said, is that the last time the settlements were put on hold—indeed, they were eliminated—in exchange for nothing, there were rockets; and then there was an attempt to stop the rockets; and then there was a near-total absence of international support for stopping the rockets; and then there was the Goldstone Report.

Read Marc Tracy's excellent overview of and commentary on the roundtable: Resisting ‘Re-Ghettoization’

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