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June 13, 1986 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-13

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2

Friday, June 13, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Israel's 'Centrality' Claim Is Now Being Brutally Tested

In the past decade, at least, emphasis
in dealing with Israel when American
identification was most notably pleaded
for, was the centrality of the Jewish State.
It has been treated with great respect.
Centrality became a rallying call. The fact
that such appeals were most usually re-
sorted to in fundraising is not such a nota-
bly self-respecting credo in the search for
mutually admiring relationships between
Israel and Diaspora Jewry. This is an as-
pect in current discussions dealing with
Israel-Diaspora relations that will surely
merit continuing discussions. There are
more challenging occurrences at the mo-
ment.
"Centrality for Israel" in Jewish ex-
perience receives a serious blow in the
current developments. The Zionist idea is
under challenge. In an era that follows the
years when the American official friend-
ship and support for Israel invited the sob-
riquet "Fifty-First State" for Israel, there
now is the panic created by the United
States threatening to supersede Israel as
the great Zionist attraction in Jewish life.
More Jews have left Israel in 20 years
than have settled there, and the yerida is
frightening for many, both in the U.S. and
in Israel. Officially, it has been announced
that 170,000 have left Israel in two de-
cades. Unofficially, the figure mounts to
300,000.
The reasons are obvious: the state of

war always confronting Israel, the Ameri-
can economic temptations, the luxuries
that are constantly glorified in the Israeli
advertising pages whenever an American
product is portrayed.
What has happened to halutziut, to
pioneering, which was the central theme
in Zionism? How does the Zionist ideal of
fulfillment of Prophecy function in the
current developments and discussions?
The problem emerges in all its- aggra-
vations in the feature article by Thomas
L. Friedman, "America in the Mind of Is-
rael."
The opening sentences of that article
are featured as the front cover of the New
York Times Magazine of May 25:
For Israel's founding fathers,
America was supposed to be a be-
nign distant giant, and the Jewish

State was supposed to become
self-sufficient, independent and so
attractive that Jews from all over
the world, including the United
States, would flock there. But
now, as the recent hit song in Is-
rael 'puts it, "Everyone is dream-
ing about America."
The details of Friedman's analyses
are surely frightening for dedicated Jews
for whom the Zionist ideal is uppermost in
their spiritual aspirations. Many opinions
are quoted. The one to be given special

The Jewish Press As A Powerful
Instrument In American Life

When the American Jewish Press
Association's editors and publishers as-
semble in Boston next week, a major
item on the agenda will be a report on
the surveyed status of the Jewish press
in America. Dr. Henry LaBrie, professor
of journalism at Boston University, con-
ducted the study resulting from oral his-
tory interviews with the knowledgeable
in the profession.
Many links with all aspects of
Jewish life in this country will surely
find echoes in such a survey. There is
always an urgent need to keep history
alive, and the Jewish press has most
powerful identifications with the adven-
tures imbedded in Jewish history.
Ther American Jewish Press Asso-
ciation already has to its credit a rich
chapter in American Jewish history. It
has grown in recent years and its accom-
plishments are impressive.
The American Jewish Press Asso-
ciation became the abbreviated name of
the journalists' movement which first
was organized as the American Associa-
tion of English-Jewish Newspapers. It
grew from an original membership of
less than 20, because of the limitation
then to the large cities status, to the
more than 100 today. At the very begin-
ning, your commentator, as the associa-
tion's first president, could define the
English-Jewish weekly newspaper
under the title "It Happens Every Fri-
day."
In view of the emphasis given the
movement's background at the current
conventions a viewpoint expressed by me
at the convention of the then American
Association of English-Jewish Newspap-
ers in Atlanta May 20, 1965, could serve
as an addendum to the study conducted
by Prof. LaBrie.
Providing an outline of the services
rendered the communities, in the syna-
gogues, the social circles, the world
phenomena, I pointed out that the jour-
nalistic instruments became the inevit-

able "Every Friday" phenomenon for
American Jewry.
Without quotation marks, what I
said then could be judged as a truism to
this day. I pointed out:
The English-Jewish newspaper —
as the topic assigned for me as The Liv-
ing Jewish Newspaper — is an instru-
ment in American Jewry which causes
American Jews in tens of thousands of
hmes throughout the land, to await the
postman, every Friday, for the arrival of
their newspaper, giving reality to the
truth that something happens Every
Friday — bringing you the news of your
rabbis' sermons, the successes of your
children and your neighbor's children in
education, in science, in industry, in
government and in private service; tel-
ling you about births and the inevitable
passing of friends or kinsmen, giving you
the news about consecrations and com-
munal developments in your midst.
But your newspaper is much more
than that. It is the guardian over the
welfare of our people. It is the historian
of Israel. It is the reporter of events af-
fecting the health, education and recrea-
tion of Jewry. It is the chronicle of our
time and it may well be considered the
third volume of the Biblical Book of
Chronicles —.the Divrey Ha-Yamin. It is
the sentinel that watches over our free-
doms, the defender of our basic Ameri-
can ideals and of our sacred Jewish tra-
ditions,
Without this watch-dog over Jewry's
destinies, the great movements which
operate in behalf of the downtrodden and
which support Israel would not be able
effectively to reach out into the com-
munities which supply the funds for
creative efforts and for redemption.
Without your newspaper there would be
no links between the Jewries of Atlanta
and Memphis and Nashville and Miami
and Detroit and Pittsburgh and
Philadelphia and Los Angeles and St.

Continued on Page 34

attention is the view of Rabbi David
Hartman, director of Shalom Hartman In-
stitute for Advanced Judaic Studies in
Jerusalem. Understandably, Friedman
used the following Hartman statement to
conclude his article:
"When the ear,ly Zionists
spoke of life in the Diaspora,"
argued Rabbi Hartman, "they
never had America in mind, with
such a vibrant Jewish community
and such a vibrant American
community. What this means is
that Israel can't anymore simply
say to American Jews, 'Come be-
cause you are either going to as-
similate or suffer a pogrom.' That
isn't sufficient, especially when Is-
rael's own future depends in a
way on there being a vital Ameri-
can Jewish community.
"No, the challenge of America
to Israel is to revitalize itself, to
build a society that will be compel-
ling, meaningful and attractive
and make living here as a Jew sig-
nificant and exciting. It is not
enough anymore for Israel to pro-
claim its 'centrality.' With America
out there, it is going to have to
prove it."
Is there an end to "centrality?" With-
out halutziut — the Zionist pioneering
spirit — how can there be a "revitaliza-
tion" . . . "to build a' society that will be
compelling, meaningful and attractive
and make living here (in Israel) as a Jew
significant and exciting?"
Back to halutziut? That requires reat-
tainment of the Prophetic Spirit of Rede-
mption, without the fears of anti-
Semitism that drove so many Jews to
Palestine; with a Holocaust to create anew
the "revitalization" so urgent for a strong
Jewish existence.
Is there a necessary inspired spark in
the Jewish youth, in both the United
States and Israel, to lead to the newly-
needed redemption? Surely a direly
needed and newly inspired and revitalized
educational system is an urgency. Thomas
Friedman has inspired consideration of
new appraisals to fulfill the needs.

Israel: The Guilt?
Diaspora: The Testing?

Thomas Friedman invites serious at-
tention to the most challenging Israeli de-
velopments. Factual, drawing upon the
realities of life, leaning upon opinions of
prominence in Israel's life, his scores of
revelations, brutal as they may sound,
must be treated with sincerity. They must
not irritate.
They are only introductory to
evaluating the relationships between Is-
rael and the United States. They are also
the definitive about the peoples in Israel
and in the Diaspora, with emphasis on
this country.
In more than one sense, Friedman's
presentation warns that Zionism does not
continue as the triumphant liber-
tarianism in Jewish life. His factual
statements may even say to his readers
that Zionism is either on the decline or
even on the way out as a great force in
Jewish experience. This is where the chal-
lenge begins for Israel, the testing for
American Jewry.
Into the discussion enters the historic
obligation that involved Zionism and
Prophecy. Is it possible that any portion of
world Jewry could or would contribute
toward the annihilation of the Zionist
ideal? How can one ever think of Judaism
without the Zionist call to action?
Yet, aliyah as a movement is bank-

rupt: less than 50,000 American Jews
have settled in Israel since the founding of
the state 38 year ago, and more Jews leave
the country than settle there. Even the
Russian phase of hopeful settlers from the
USSR has collapsed.
Who is at fault? Is the American
Jewish community to be blamed for the
transfer of the historic area of redemption
from Israel to the United States?
Furthermore, why did the self-
respecting Israelis submit to an end to the
sanctity of pioneering and instead permit-
ted the entry of sinfulness into the Israel
scheme of things.
Is Israel "sinful"? Is resort to. this
term permissible? Let a portion of the
Friedman NYTimes article speak for it-
self. On the painful religious issue he
wrote:
This is only one reason why in
the coming years Israel could be-
come religiously, and maybe polit-
iCally, unrecognizable to many
American Jews. The Orthodox
stream of Judaism, which is the
only stream recognized in Israel,
has been trying for several years
to pass a law in the Knesset, the
"who is a Jew" amendment, which
would in effect undercut the
legitimacy of Reform or Conserva-
tive rabbis by stipulating that
anyone converted to Judaism by
them would not be considered
Jewish, and would be ineligible
for automatic Israeli citizenship.
The vast majority of affiliated
American Jews are associated
with either the Reform or Conser-
vative movements.
"There is a danger of a real
religious schism," said Rabbi
Richard G.. Hirsch, who repre-
sents the Reform movement in Is-
rael. "We are creating two
Judaisms, one for ISrael and one
for America and the rest of the
world. If the who is a Jew'
amendment passes, there is no
question that a lot of American
Jews are going to be turned off to
Israel." The Rabbinical Assembly
of Conservative rabbis in America
has already passed a resolution
banning from speaking in its
synagogues any Knesset member
who voted in favor of the who is a
Jew" amendment. The ban in-
cludes representatives of religious
parties as well as most Members of
the Likud Party.
There is astonishingly little
awareness on a popular level in
Israel of just how serious the situ-
ation might become. The majority
of Israelis are nonobservant Jews
who express their Judaism
through living in a Jewish state,
not by praying. But when Israelis
do think of religion, they think of
the Orthodox Jews who have
monopolized religious life in their
country. American-style Reform
and Conservative Judaism are to-
tally alien to them.
Before the who-is-a-Jew
amendment came to a vote last
year (it was narrowly defeated), a
delegation of American Reform
and Conservative rabbis went to
lobby (vainly) Yitzhak Shamir, Is-
rael's Foreign Minister, against
voting in its favor. Mr. Shamir
began the meeting by asking the
delegation, "Is it true that in
America you can get a conversion
to Judaism over the telephone?"
In a way, the 71-year-old Mr.

Continued on Page 34

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