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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘American Jews’

Jewish Support for Obama Not Mystifying

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Somewhere between 68 and 70% of American Jewish voters went for Obama, depending on whose exit poll you believe. Israelis that I talk to are mystified. “Are they crazy? What were they thinking?” they ask.

It’s not really mystifying. Here are some general facts about non-Orthodox and secular (the large majority) American Jews:

Although they will say that they support Israel, they do not know the history of the Middle East and the 100-year old conflict over Jewish sovereignty. They are well-educated, which means that they went to universities where, if they studied the conflict, they are likely to have been assigned books and articles by the revisionist (read: anti-Zionist) historians. They will certainly have been exposed to numerous lectures and films presented by Palestinian advocates and student groups. If they are left-of-center and engaged in antiwar or other ‘progressive’ causes, they will certainly be bombarded with extreme anti-Israel propaganda as well.

They tend to be liberal, which means that they get their news of current events from sources like the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, etc. What they will see and hear will generally confirm their mildly left-wing beliefs, but in one area — Israel — will be consistently and deliberately biased to an extreme degree.

They are very concerned about what they perceive as the danger of a Christian takeover of American society, in which Christian symbols and prayer will be officially sanctioned in public places, abortion and contraception will be prohibited on religious grounds, their children will be required to sing Christmas carols, etc. They associate Christianity with antisemitism — but do not seem to be alarmed by growing antisemitism on the Left, or in the black community.

They are less threatened by Muslims, whom they see as another minority in the US who suffer from discrimination, like blacks and Jews. They seek interfaith cooperation, and are not alarmed by the treatment of Islamist organizations as mainstream by the administration.

Although today many are financially successful, they are suspicious of “big business” and — not entirely incorrectly — feel that the population is being ripped off by corporations like banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc. They are pro-union. But they are not as worried by the fact that the tax burden on them is rapidly rising while government services that actually benefit people are falling. As liberals, they tend to be less concerned about the increasing power and intrusiveness of government than the loss of privacy to corporations.

Finally, as well-educated liberals, they find it hard to criticize Barack Obama, who presents himself as ‘black’, lest they be guilty of racism, a secular blasphemy punishable by total social ostracism.

Not everything I’ve said applies to all American Jews — there are conservatives among them, and some who take both conservative and liberal positions on various issues. There are Orthodox Jews who are more conservative, and even haredi anti-Zionists (who knows how, or even if, they vote). But I think my generalizations are, er, generally, correct.

So along comes Mitt Romney, a guy who represents corporate power if anyone does, who draws support from the Christian Right — at least, at the beginning of the campaign when he plays to the conservative base — and who complains about ‘big government’ and threatens to undo the only liberal success of the Obama Administration, Obamacare.

He is at a huge disadvantage from the start. And the issue of Israel has little or no power to sway American Jews, because, as I’ve argued, deep in their hearts they are not sure that Israel is not really a colonialist oppressor of third-world Palestinians. In an emotional sense, many of them are not with Israel.

We know that politics is mostly emotional, so when Republicans or pro-Israel Jews presented arguments that Obama was not a friend or Israel, they bounced off. Accepting and acting on them would mean going against their deeply felt liberalism and voting Republican, something many could not bring themselves to do. And their pro-Israel feeling is not strong enough to push them over the edge. So they looked for reasons to justify their emotional position.

The Obama campaign presented simplistic talking points to ‘prove’ that he is pro-Israel. They did not have to stand up to analysis. Liberal Jews were looking for a rational excuse to justify their emotional stance, and the talking points provided one.

The Jews of the United States

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Years have passed since Rabbi Kahane penned this essay, but it still rings sadly true today. Rabbi Kahane was known for saying uncomfortable things that comfortable Jews didn’t want to hear. In honor of his yahrtzeit, here’s another one of his brilliant and illuminating writings, which was published almost 25 years ago in The Jewish Press and was recently reprinted in the fabulous, opus, seven-volume collection of Rabbi Kahane’s short writings, “Beyond Words.”

The Jews of the  United States

March 25, 1988

Jewish leaders in Israel and the world have long warned that the Jewish State risks standing bereft of “allies.” That should Israel take “extreme” and provocative action, i.e., be prepared to do the difficult and painful things that it must do in order to survive, it faces the hazard of standing alone against a hostile world. What is just as clear to perceptive Jews is that, should the State of Israel do what is necessary to survive, i.e., take steps that go against the basic grain of liberal, Western democratic views, it risks splitting a large part of the United States Jewish community. And, indeed, the signs of dissent and hostility are there for all to see. They raised their ominous heads during the war in Lebanon, and, emboldened, are louder and more vociferous, today.

Once, in the wake of both the Holocaust and the establishment of the Jewish State, it was simply impossible for any Jew who sought to be recognized as a member of the community, to condemn Israel. The terrible Holocaust and the terror it meant for Jews who lived through that period gave Israel— as the haven for Jews from such future terrors — an immunity from attacks by Jews. But as with all things that are based on emotion, rather than logic and ideology, as times changed and as a generation changed and moved on to make way for another, so did the attitude toward and the status of the Jewish State.

There was always a built-in contradiction within the Jewish Establishment leadership and certainly within the intellectual community. While they supported Israel, they were essentially products of non-Jewish, Western culture and values. They were first and foremost liberals, before they were Jews. Not for them was “my people and Israel, right or wrong.” They wanted “right,” and the standards by which they judged morality were liberal ones. Indeed, they had persuaded themselves that they were also “Jewish,” since peace of mind and conscience — as well as awesome ignorance — demanded the equating of Judaism and Jefferson, the “Hebrew prophets” (sic) and liberalism.

In the first 20 years of the Jewish State, there were few abrasive moments and few opportunities for the ridiculous equation to be tested. But following the Six-Day War, and as the euphoria wore off, as the Yom Kippur War badly tarnished the image of the Israeli Superman, and, most importantly, as the distance from Auschwitz grew longer and a generation grew up that knew not the horrors — things changed. Liberal Jews, with their psychological inability to be winners (losing is so much easier and losers so much more lovable), began to squirm over the “occupied territories,” the use of force by Jews against “civilians, women and children,” albeit to save Jewish lives. Talk began to be heard in certain Jewish circles about Israeli “intransigence” and unwillingness to compromise. The poor “Palestinian” refugees were, more and more, the subject of Jewish concern (though not, apparently, how they had become refugees). The terms “moderate Palestinians” (and even “moderate terrorists”) began to find their place in the lexicon of liberal Jews and certain Jewish Establishment groups.

And then, of course, came Lebanon and Sabra and Shatila, and all the submerged and sublimated liberal hostility to Israel emerged. And that is, of course, the proper term. “Hostility.” And it was hostility on the part of many Jews, especially Reform and Conservative rabbis, who always sensed the impossible contradiction between Zionism and a Jewish State, and the liberal, Westernized values they truly believed in. And so, pulpiteers ordered their congregants to rise at Yom Kippur services and beat their breasts for Israeli sins against helpless “Palestinians.” And more and more Op-Ed pieces by Jews and Jewish leaders began to appear, dissenting from Israel and criticizing her. Until, today, a real and major split is before us. And the question is: What to do about it?

Israel Not High Voting Priority for Pro-Israel Student Activists

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

As college students prepare to hit the polls on November 6 – many for the first time – they will be considering a broad array of policy issues and party platforms. What drives young people to vote? How do they consider various issues? Does Israel play a role in the choices they make on election day?

Israel Campus Beat interviewed pro-Israel students on campuses across the country to gauge the impact their support for Israel has on how they are preparing for Election Day.

In RockTheVote’s latest poll of 18-29 year olds, jobs and the economy were the primary issues young people wanted politicians to address, with education and the cost of college taking second place on the priority list. The first issue of foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan, came in fifth. Based on ICB’s interviews with multiple campuses, it seems that these patterns hold true among pro-Israel young adults.

In the 2012 election, many pro-Israel American college students do not feel that their commitment to Israel must override their other passions. When pro-Israel college students were asked which candidate’s positions make them feel more secure regarding Israel, many were ambivalent.

George Washington University senior John Bennet, who interns for the Romney campaign, said he believes that Gov. Mitt Romney understands the vital importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. In light of continued unrest in Libya and Egypt, Bennet said this understanding will be crucial in the next four years.

“But regardless of who is elected, United States foreign policy really hasn’t changed drastically in the immediate past and I don’t anticipate that it will,” Bennet said.

Many students echoed Bennet’s confidence that America will remain committed to Israel’s security regardless of who is elected.

Professor Gil Troy, who teaches American history at McGill University, stated that although some people may feel that President Barack Obama’s stance on Israel seems less enthusiastic than some of his predecessors, it would be wrong to call him anti–Israel.

Troy noted that each time the President has said or done something that caused some Israel supporters to question his commitment to the Jewish state, he has responded with a reassuring move to strengthen the US-Israel bond.

For example, Troy noted, “When there is a power struggle between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama ensures stronger military cooperation soon afterward.” But Troy had a different rationale for college students prioritizing domestic issues over foreign policy related to Israel.

“In general, college students tend to be a mix of interventionist and isolationist,” he said. “They are anti-war, anti entanglements in foreign lands and interventionist in humanitarian causes like Darfur.”

With so many Americans deeming Israel a peripheral issue, should supporters of the Jewish state be concerned that the pro-Israel base is becoming less passionate about Israel?

Professor Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said that this is not the case.

“Were the President to come out against Israel, then American Jews might in significant numbers vote for the opposing candidate,” he said. However, he continued, because pro-Israel voters do not feel that there is a significant threat to Israel when choosing between Romney and Obama, they do not feel they need to consider Israel’s security more than other policy issues that concern them.

Among Jewish voters, a key bastion of support for Israel, the candidates’ policies on Israel may not have as large a role in determining voting preferences as some people think.

According to David Harris, the president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), support for Israel comes 6th, 7th, and 8th on Jewish voters’ priority lists. He termed this statistic a success story, noting that both candidates value Israel as an important ally and view protecting Israel against Iran’s nuclear threat as a priority. For this reason, he posited, American Jews do not feel they need to prioritize Israel as they decide which candidate to support.

“Only a handful [of American Jews] vote on Israel alone,” Harris said, adding that other issues that figure in Jews’ voting choices include social issues and the economy.

Harris noted that many American Jews put their concerns about social policies and the economy ahead of their concerns about Israel.

Harris called this a “litmus test issue: It would be a top priority if the presidential candidate came out against Israel poll after poll.”

Today in 1972 – Democratic Hopeful George McGovern Sends New Year’s Wish to US Jews

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic Presidential candidate, greeted American Jews today on the occasion of the High Holy Days. “Mrs. McGovern joins me in wishing our Jewish friends and Jews around the world a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year,” the South Dakotan said.

“Traditionally,” McGovern’s message continued. “the High Holy Days has been a period for reflection and rededication. Jews have chosen the Days of Awe as a time for the individual to look at himself to examine how he can better fulfill his responsibilities to his Maker and his fellow man.

“Rosh Hashana symbolizes a reaffirmation of the values that have shaped the Jewish role within the world community. It marks a renewed commitment to the task of improving the world unto the Almighty. I join the Jewish community in the prayer that the New Year 5733 will bring a time of peace, Justice and brotherhood for all men.” McGovern’s message concluded.

Fleisher on ShalomTV: ‘Let’s Not Live in Fear, Let’s Live in Reality.’

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Yishai Fleisher, managing editor of JewishPress.com, appeared on L’Chaim, a show that has been running on ShalomTV for years. The segment appears on their new live channel, as well as on-demand.

Fleisher spoke with Rabbi Mark Golub about the fear preventing a strong, united Jewish future. He described the challenges the Jewish people face today and split them into three categories – delegitimization, division, and most importantly, fear. “Fear is everywhere,” he said. “[People] go silent when I talk about fear because they realize how much fear they live with…we need to be proud.” Fleisher wants to eliminate the fear, and in doing so, bring Jews home. He touched on many subjects during the interview ranging from the reasons behind the fear in the U.S. and the problems in the Middle East that induce it.

First, many American Jews fear that their own relationship with America will suffer if they move to Israel, or even develop a stronger connection with it than their own country. He revealed his desire to connect the American Jew with the Israeli Jew. Citing the Atlantic Ocean as one of the deepest physical boundaries between the two cultures, he said that he wants to make that border feel smaller. American Jews push their connection to Israel aside, due to a fear that choosing Israel makes them appear disloyal to the country they have lived in for years. “We’re culturally American, we watch Seinfeld, but the Jew always feels that at the end of the day, this is not his home,” he said. Fleisher’s determination is the reason he continues to appear on television and speak at college campuses and other communities throughout America. ”We have to put Israel first,” he said. “…We have to get together to build the Jewish state.”

Further, there is a duality among American Jews. They not only fear the Arab nation, but feel conflicted about how the Israelis treat them due to the negative media coverage. Fleisher pointed out that most American Jews are liberal. They’re liberal because they believe in the “intrinsic value of every human being.” He doesn’t sugarcoat it. There is a clear understanding that some liberties need to be abrogated in order for Jews to protect themselves. But what many American Jews don’t understand is that there is a mitzvah in place that sanctions such self-defense. It’s written in the Talmud that when someone intends to harm you, you have a responsibility to fight back. Jews want to live as a righteous community, but in order to do so they must survive first. It’s immoral for Israel to allow rockets to be amassed by people who will use them, Fleisher explained. “We are only 60 some odd years after the Holocaust,” he said. “It’s not a joke. Let’s not live in fear, let’s live in reality.”

Fleisher was born to Russian parents in Haifa, where he lived until age 8. His family moved to America for economic reasons. Although he went to Jewish schools, he craved more of a connection to Israel and couldn’t stay away for long. He skipped his senior year and at 17, went back to Israel to study in Yeshiva and serve in the army as a paratrooper. After an injury, Fleisher returned to America to study at Yeshiva University and obtain a post-graduate degree at Cardozo Law School. There, he met his wife Malkah. The two moved to Israel to get married and establish their home. In the interview, Fleisher didn’t deny that there’s an atmosphere of tension in Israel and that they have to be vigilant, but living in Israel and raising a family there is something he never questions.

Fleisher emphasized that at the end of the day Israel is the homeland of the Jews. Residents can be critical of the nation’s politics and of the current state of warfare, but they should do it without fear and argue about it in their own nation. There are many enticing countries out there, Fleisher said, but Israel needs to be number one.

Watch the interview with Yishai below:

Mendelevich: ‘Educating Young Jews Is at the Core of my Being’

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir, internationally renowned former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich tells a compelling story of struggle and victory. He spoke to The Jewish Press during his recent U.S. book tour.

The Jewish Press: You’d already published your memoir in Hebrew years ago. Why an English version at this particular time?

Rabbi Mendelevich: A group of American Jews who were involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry came up with this idea about a year ago. Pamela Cohen, the president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews from 1986 through 1996, called and asked me why I never published my book in English. She and others like her saw my life as more than a simple story. It is the story of a young boy struggling to find his Jewish identity in a spiritual wasteland and of a young man challenging the draconian dictates of the Communist monolith in a struggle for freedom.

She came to the conclusion that my story published in English would inspire young and often alienated Jews searching for their own identity.

Describe your life as a young child in Stalinist Russia.

I grew up as an atheist. My parents were not interested in me having a Jewish education. My father was involved in the Communist underground in Riga, but both my parents spoke Yiddish and I was taught Jewish history. Back then in the Soviet Union Jewish tradition did not exist but Riga was the center of the renaissance of the Jewish movement. Before World War II, books were published in Russian about the great Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

In the 1960s an underground movement of Jews supporting Israel began to take hold. One could tell the difference between life under Stalin and life under Khrushchev. You could sit in jail forever under the Stalin government for learning about Jewish culture, language and thought. In 1963, the first book on Jewish vocabulary was printed and many books on Hebrew poetry served as a catalyst for Jews to become closer to their identity. It was like a miracle.

When did you take an interest in activism on behalf of Israel and Jews?

While still a teenager, I gravitated toward activism in 1964. I attended a technical college for four years and studied electronics and computers. I worked as an engineer in a big plant in Riga, and in terms of technology it was advanced. The moment I became an engineer, I wanted to leave the Soviet Union and go to Israel. I had a big decision to make. If I obtained my degree I would have to stay in the Soviet Union forever, so I sacrificed my career by not getting the degree. It boiled down to either staying in the Soviet Union or living as a free man whose destiny is in his hands.

Where was your life heading after you finished your studies?

In 1968 I was fired from my job as an engineer for inquiring about emigrating to Israel. At that juncture I was also heavily involved in various Zionist organizations and in 1969 I assumed the position of editor of a national journal on Jewish issues. Everything had to be top secret so we met clandestinely in forests or perhaps in someone’s apartment. I was in charge of deciding what to write and what articles to publicize, and it was sent all over the Soviet Union. We had only published two issues before my arrest.

Why did you hijack a plane in 1970?

Soviet antipathy toward Israel continued to increase in the years following the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli soldiers were called hooligans in the Soviet press but we in the Jewish underground only yearned for the freedom to go to Israel, study in yeshiva and be part of the Zionist dream. We decided to hijack a plane to the West to spotlight our plight, even though we knew how risky it was. While undertaking this action, we dreamed about fighting in the Golani Brigade in Israel. We also wanted to counter the incessant Soviet propaganda that told the world there was no Jewish issue in Russia and that Jews were very happy to be proud Soviet citizens. We wanted the world to know there was a growing number of Jews who wanted to connect to their Jewish heritage, to study Hebrew and dedicate themselves to studying Torah.

Happy Birthday, My Other Home Country!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

I love America.

Having arrived at JFK in September of 1975, I remained on a small Island next to mainland USA for 37 years, most of my adult life.

I’m not sure I could take life in the U.S. itself, in, say, Kansas City, or Chicago (brrrr…) or even Los Angeles. But in Manhattan I found just the right combination of a relatively civilized life and enough Mediterranean color to keep me happy.

I love the poetry of Baseball.

I am one of the few Israeli born men who actually understands Football. It had to do with too many hours spent in bars with fellow taxi drivers.

Ah, yes, I totally fit the stereotype, I actually drove a yellow cab in New York City, for two and a half years.

I’m a registered Democrat, which is a bit unusual in a publication like the Jewish Press, but we don’t have Republicans on the Lower East Side. We ate them during the blizzard of 1978.

I thought Jimmy Carter was a terrible president, but I also believe Reagan is to blame for much of the evil America and its friends are facing today. Reagan practically invented the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and at the same time took major steps to bankrupt the Soviet Union, the only policeman in the region with the will and the means to keep them down.

I have no idea why so many Americans idolize Reagan. I think our economy started to die when he took over. From facing double-digit inflation, which, granted, threatened our stability, we moved, over two decades, to facilitating the shipping of our industries to China and impoverishing millions at home. It can all be traced back to Reagan. What a loser.

But I’m digressing. I often do. This column is about how I love America.

In all the world I haven’t met a nicer bunch of goyim. The best goyim in the world, many of them my personal, dear friends. I don’t believe we ever experienced such a reality before, being loved by our gentile neighbors.

I’ve traveled by car across much of the country over the past three and a half decades, and I know first hand how decent Americans are. Sweet and honest and friendly. Even when they spot my New York State license.

I’m awed by the American democratic system. Nothing like it in the world. The best that the human mind could conceive, despite all the myriad accidents of cheating and thieving and crookedness – it’s still the most resilient and reliable system of government in the world.

Having said all that, I’d love to see my fellow American Jews come here, to Israel, where I’ve returned to stay some six months ago. I think they’ll have a ball. I think Israel would become a Garden of Eden if it were flooded by, say, two million American Jews.

Jews who understand a policeman is there to serve them, not the other way around.

Jews who know how to make businesses work.

Jews who are not ashamed to drop everything and engage in spiritual pursuits.

Jews who are genetically polite.

Jews who drive their cars simply to go from point A to B, not as part of a morality play.

Jews who demand that someone freaking bag their groceries at the checkout counter.

I’m far from thinking that America is a bad place for Jews. I only know that Israel is by far, and I mean by many miles, better.

You can stay in my office until you find a place of your own. Rents are relatively cheap. I’ll give you fresh coffee and a danish in the morning.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/happy-birthday-my-other-home-country/2012/07/04/

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