I want to start off by saying I agree with much of what you’ve written about Jewish identity and America. American Jews do face serious assimilation and identity issues as they waver between whether they are Americans or Jews first, and all that implies.
In the arguments I saw you have offsite about this, it is abundantly clear that some Jews seem to no longer identify with our daily prayers to return to Israel and to regain our national independence. But consider this, even in Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus) only 20% of the Israelites left – obviously we should aim for more.
My criticism lies in that I don’t believe you offered enough ‘Hakaras HaTov” (acknowledgement of the good) for what America has given the Jews, and that bothered me.
My grandmother told me that we have to thank God for America, and for all it’s done for us.
Not that it hasn’t done bad by us at different points, or made mistakes, just look how its shamefully using Jonathan Pollard as a loyalty warning to Jews; but still, there have only been a handful of countries that have consistently been good to us and offered us refuge and freedom, and the USA is one of them.
Yes, being in an open society has exasperated the challenges that the Jewish community already faced. But it didn’t create them. It’s not responsible for them. The Enlightenment and assimilation weren’t created in America, it just more easily continued there.
If non-Torah observing Jews are assimilating and disappearing at super-fast rates, they need to consider why (though this sentence does answer the question). While Orthodox Jews need to ask themselves, why have they given up on our 2000 year dream to return home to Israel, while short-sightedly ignoring the very blatant lessons of Jewish history?
The Lubavitch Rebbe, in an answer to a question once said that the US could turn on the Jews overnight.
As strange as it sounds, for a period of time even Poland was once a place of refuge and religious freedom for Jews.
Just like in every other country, no matter how long we’ve been there (particularly ironic if you subscribe to the theory that Columbus and much of his crew were Jews), and how much we’ve given back, we’re still considered guests by our hosts.
So Tzvi, you’re right, America is not the permanent home of the Jews. And our identity is a very different one than America’s.
But also consider this, the Midrash tells us that Moshe Rabeinu refused to strike the water to bring about the plague, because the river has protected him as a baby.
All the more so, America, which has given us the freedom to keep Judaism – even if not all Jews were up to the challenges freedom brought with it.
On July 4th, I will have my frank and beer and proudly say “God Bless America” (TM Irving Berlin) – while I’m at home in Israel.
About the Author: Stephen manages JewishPress.com, The Jewish Press Internet Division.
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