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December 10, 1993 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-12-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

.1611 0174.

The Pea ce CIO i v i CI e n cl

event. Israel's existence, he said, "made the
issue of taking power as a people a moral and
religious issue. How do Jews exercise pow-
er over a minority? How do they treat the
stranger?' How does one create power in an
era of affluence? We all know that fasting can
be religious. How about feasting?"
Israel achieved such centrality for Jews for
numerous reasons: It showed that the Holo-
caust had not severed God's covenant with
the Jews, as some "God is dead" theologians
proclaimed. It gave a traumatized people a
positive, constructive goal: Creating some-
thing out of nothing — the "something" be-
ing a nation, the "nothing" being the
undeveloped potential of the new Israel.
It also "gave" Jews an "old country." Un-
like other ethnic groups in the United States,
noted Professor Green, American Jews could
not point to a country from which they had
come. Their shtetls had been wiped out; their
pasts had been eradicated; and "there was a
sense," said Professor Green, "that Israel
would take the place of the
Poland that was."
In its broadest sense,
said Rabbi Greenberg, Is-
rael "gave mean-
ing to life. Even for
those who on the
surface were only
for Israel [to the exclusion of other Jewish
values or activities], Israel had much deep-
er import. But you had to scratch the surface
to find it."
Yet, Egon Mayer of the City University
of New York believes that, for all the bene-
fits American Jews gained from Israel, it also
distracted them from problems at home.
"What American Jews wanted was not just
a crisis," he said, "but preferably a crisis that's
far away. That's not a crisis, that's an op-
portunity. No one likes to deal with Crown
Heights, but the West Bank? That's another
"Israel, Soviet Jewry, Ethiopian Jewry ...
These were the great, objective targets. But
they are not the routine problems of daily life,
which are enormous."

"Unless we find a way
to pass on Jewish values,
Jewish culture will be diluted."
David Teutsch

professor of Jewish
thought at Brandeis University in Waltham,
Mass. "It let them assimilate as much as they
thought they needed to — and still have a
certain Jewish identity."
But Rabbi Shira Lander of Baltimore's In-
stitute for Christian-Jewish Studies is not
certain that such reliance on Israel was nec-
essarily misplaced.
"These people," she said, "need to express
their Judaism secularly, just as some Jews
get involved with Jewish hospitals or other
forms of social service. I'm not convinced that
all people are religious people."
And Rabbi Irving Greenberg, executive di-
rector of CLAL, the National Jewish Cen-
ter for Learning and Leadership, considers
the very creation of Israel to be a religious

Half a million Jews could rally in Wash-
ington for the cause of Soviet Jewry in 1987,
but most synagogues were lucky if one-sixth
of their members attended Shabbat services.
One thousand Jews could lobby Congress
in the fall of 1991 to get billions in loan guar-
antees for Israel, but only 18 percent of Jew-
ish baby boomers regularly light Shabbat
candles on Friday night.
With a laser-like precision, American Jews
focused on Israel; with a candle-powered im-
precision, most, it seemed, attended to the
rest of Jewish life. Even rabbis succumbed to
the lure of Israel, whose mythic-like power
made it the ultimate touchstone for Jews of
all stripes.
"American Judaism, for two generations,
has devoted its energies almost exclusively
overseas — to communities in peril. We've
shortchanged ourselves," said Rabbi Daniel
Polish of Temple Beth El. "American Judaism
has been given the challenge to look at the
nature of our own cultural life, to ask the right
spiritual questions, to make demands on our
temples, synagogues and schools for more
cultural and spiritual experiences that nour-
Rabbi David Nelson of Congregation Beth
Shalom added, "I think it could be a won-
derful problem, to have to refocus our spiri-
tual energies — one we could solve. We
should welcome peace with great enthusiasm
and help to build this new state. I think it's
negative to say we're only involved when a
crisis is erupting.
"Now is the time for a new commitment to
organizations within our own community .We
cannot be one-dimensional, but instead must
support the many aspects of our Jewish life."
Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the Na-
tional Jewish Center for Learning and Lead-
ership, agreed.
"Israel did eclipse our own spiritual
progress," she said. "The fact that we can now
relax somewhat means that we can focus
more on religion: How it affects our careers,
our families, our entire lives. For many years
now, our community was largely defined by
such external issues as Who Is A Jew? or Or-

How Will Peace Change Israel?

lasting peace will re-
vamp the organized
American Jewish
community, which
is already in a kind of shock,"
says Jacob Ukeles, a New York
consultant to Jewish commu-
nal organizations around the
But how will peace affect Is-
Perhaps most important is
that peace may give Israel the
psychological breathing space
it's needed since 1948 to de-


termine just what it means to
be a "Jewish state" — and
whether such a state, as Rabbi
Shira Lander said, is inherent-
ly different from others.
David Teutsch, president of
the Reconstructionist Rabbini-
cal College, believes the dis-
appearance of Israel's occupier
status will "stabilize" its Jewish
population and make it more
similar to America's.
Peace, he said, also will give
Israel a chance to become a
"center of Jewish culture and

values," a role that has eluded
It until now because it had to
attend to survival.
But Brandeis University pro-
fessor Arthur Green painted a
less rosy picture: "Israelis may
start tearing each other apart."
Orthodox may squabble with
non-Orthodox, Sephardic with
Ashkenazi, feminists with anti-
feminists — and all will appeal
to their American counterparts
for help.
"The probability of this hap-
pening is great," he said, "Nev-

er underestimate the
ability of Israelis to
fight with one anoth-
er. If it does happen,
American Jews will
have to save Israel —
But in other
ways, he said, Arthur Green:
"Israelis may
American Jews tear
will be drawn clos- other apart."
er to Israel: The
end of terrorism
may sway more U.S. Jews to
travel to Israel. More might have

second homes
there. A greater
pattern of dual
citizenship might
evolve. And the
stigma may be
lifted from the
yordim, those Is-
raelis who emi-
grate elsewhere.
— A.J.M.

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