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May 05, 1995 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-05-05

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

This Independence Day
Brings New Perceptions

I've Seen The Hysteria:
It's A Major Warning



Yom Ha'atzma'ut
has been included,
by the Reform
movement, in the
calendar of holi-
Quarrel as the
other strains of
Jewish life might
with Reform Ju-
daism, we will, I am sure, in time
come to recognize that this day
celebrates a miracle and deserves
to be celebrated no less atten-
tively than Pesach or Chanukah.
This day, which we are ob-
serving beginning this evening,
is a kind of national rejoicing. We
as a people have, in the words of
Emil Fackenheim, "re-entered
history" with the re-establish-
ment ofJewish sovereignty in our
This particular Yom Ha'atz-
ma'ut finds us in a more radical-
ly new place than ever before in
Israel's 47 years. The Israel I fell
in love with when I visited it for
the first time in 1958 felt small.
Its borders were surrounded by
vehement enemies.
The state of siege
was palpable. Its
economy was small
and constricted.
As an adolescent I
did not, of course,
think in those more
abstract terms. What
I was aware of was
the scarcity of food,
the lack of amenities
and the seeming
primitiveness of ma-
terial life. But this
economic limitation
was more than com-
pensated for by the
pioneering spirit which domi-
nated the society I was visiting.
People radiated a sense of
sharing a great adventure, being
a part of a noble cause that en-
riched them spiritually for being
a part of it. The Israel of those
times seemed light years re-
moved from the life I knew in the
United States.
This "little Israel" was the Is-
rael that compelled the admira-
tion and affection of Jews around
the world for two generations
now. We have felt called to rally
to the assistance of our brothers
and sisters in jeopardy. We have
felt somehow ennobled by di-
recting our efforts to showering
our solicitude and support on the
Israel in need.
But time has overtaken this vi-
sion. The Israel that is celebrat-
ing this day of independence is in
the process of establishing polit-
ical and economic ties with the
nations on its borders. The state
of siege seems, in the main, lift-

Daniel Polish is senior rabbi at

Temple Beth El.

ed (of course, the threat of ter-
rorism continues as real there as
it does, tragically, in the United
States). Materially, Israel is re-
garded as having one of the
fastest-growing economies in the
Its standard of living far sur-
passes those of its neighbors and
many other nations in the in-
dustrial world. The pioneering
spirit has, sadly I believe, been
replaced by a sense of individu-
alistic aspiration and well-being.
People are preoccupied with cre-
ating good lives for themselves.
Israelis tend to think in the
same individualistic terms that
Americans do, rather than in the
collectivist terms that character-
ized the generations of our fa-
thers. Israel today is not that
different from the United States.
There are parts of Israel already
where one could be confused
about exactly where he is.
Many today are asking diffi-
cult questions about these
changed realities. Can the Israel
of today compel the same affec-

tion and concern from American
Jews that it did in the past? Will
we still worry about Israel today
and feel attached to it in the same
way that we did yesterday?
These questions seem to rest
on the notion that assistance and
concern are a river that flows in
one direction. The fact is that
things have changed so radical-
ly that we need to develop a new
paradigm for our relationship
with Israel.
There is no way of perpetuat-
ing the intensity of yesterday's
relationship or even its form. The
compelling reality of this Yom
Ha'atzma'ut is that we find our-
selves in the middle of reviewing
how the Jewish community of Is-
rael and the Diaspora are to re-
late to one another. It is
increasingly clear that help, con-
cern and solicitude will be flow-
ing in two directions in the years
to come.
For while Israel in the past has
been the beneficiary of American
material assistance, Israelis are
feeling increasingly a sense of
their own responsibility for our

well-being. Intimations of this
striking change can be heard in
the various statements made by
leading figures in Israel which re-
ject the idea that Israel contin-
ues to need American material
No less significant are the
statements made by people like
Prime Minister Rabin and For-
eign Minister Peres that talk
about Israel's need to reach out
to the Diaspora. Israelis on all
levels talk with concern about
what is happening in American
Jewish life. They see as alarming
the increase of intermarriage and
other indications of assimilation,
the decline in Jewish education
and knowledge among American
youth and the general erosion of
the institutions of American Jew-
ish life.
Remarkably, the Israelis are
seeing the deterioration of our
community as a source of chal-
lenge to themselves. Israelis are
recognizing the need for the Jew-
ish state to become the spiritual
center of the life ofJewish people
around the world.
Many Israelis speak
about their responsi-
bility to help us re-
build our institutions,
develop programs of
education that are
more compelling for
our children and are
successful in fulfilling
their mission, and
work with us on
strategies to assure
the survival ofJewish
life here.
What a remarkable
transformation'in 47
years! Not just the
transformation in political and
economic realities, but the trans-
formation in self-perception and
understanding. Israel has gone,
in its own eyes, from being a so-
ciety in need to being a society
that gives aid to Jewish commu-
nities in need.
It will be a harder challenge
for us in America to see our roles
differently than we have in the
past. But if we can allow our-
selves to let go of our sense of our-
selves as "lady bountiful" and
come to understand ourselves as
involved in a more complicated,
reciprocal relationship, then we
and the Jewish community of Is-
rael can grow out of the ties that
characterized us in the past and
into a new level of mutuality that
can benefit both our societies.
A Yom Ha'atzma'ut very dif-
ferent from those in the past? Ab-
solutely. But this is not reason to
mourn. We greet it with the sense
that we are at the dawn of a new
and, we pray, exciting, produc-
tive time in the life of the State
of Israel and other Jewish people
wherever they live. E

Maybe I shouldn't
How callous, how cold, we
write this note- scolded.
book this week.
The popular "Seinfeld" show
Maybe my ex- made light of it all when Jerry
pectations are missed the entire movie while
too high.
making out with his girlfriend.
I don't know.
Now comes the story of a
What would movie shown before Jewish stu-
you say? What dents in a synagogue sanctuary.
would you do?
It happened in our neighbor-
Here's the scene. You have hood. It probably isn't exclusive
your hands on a movie that to one synagogue, however. It
deals with Anne Frank and the happens more than we want to
secret annex and the Holocaust. admit.
Let's say you give it to your sev-
Where it occurred is far from
enth-grade child to take to important. But should Jewish
school for his class to learn. You children be above misbehaving
find out when the class is held, in religious school, especially
then you slip into the back of the when it comes to an issue like
auditorium to watch the movie. the Holocaust? Or is it too much
But instead of focusing on the to expect?
movie, you are taken by the
Please, most of the students
"theater" you see in the class.
in the class were behaving beau-
Here's what you witness. tifully. They were distracted by
While people in the film are be- the ones who weren't.
ing interviewed about their role
Do we punish the Jewish stu-
saving Jews during the Holo- dent who makes light of the
caust, a class member starts Holocaust? What is that pun-
whispering to another. Laugh- ishment? Do we tell his parents?
ter breaks out.
Or do we help sensitize him,
Nervous laughter is to be ex- maybe with the aid of his fam-
pected when anyone, a child or ily.
an adult, is reminded of the
Howard Gelberd, executive
Holocaust. After all, to defend director of the Agency for Jew-
against the hurt some of us need ish Education, places 20 percent
of the blame on the children
But the scene in the audito- themselves. The other 80 per-
rium did not end with "nervous" cent he sees as the fault of the
laughter. Instead, more disci- system.
pline problems among the stu-
"Many kids today don't see
dents arose. An elbow in the what's happening in a Holo-
ribs, taps on the shoulder, more caust movie as their story," Mr.
giggles. There were issues of Gelberd said. "They don't iden-
students being taken out of the tify with the people as them-
class and separated from the selves. The link is gone. That
rest. A young girl on the televi- should be an alarm for all of us.
sion screen told her story of hid- It's the ultimate slap in the face.
ing. She was around their age. I blame the kids less than the
Is it too much to ask young community, because if there
teens to sit around and watch a was more of a value system and
movie about the Holocaust and respect for Jewish life taught by
expect them to show respect for our families and our schools,
the topic? Maybe the expecta- this apathy wouldn't happen.
tion level is too high for us and
"You can't bring kids in a
for these kids. Maybe there's too room and say you must em-
much pressure to offer respect. pathize with this right now, this
As one of the students said, minute," Mr. Gelberd continued.
"We've pretty much had the "It has to be a result of their ex-
Holocaust drummed in our perience to bring them to this
heads all of our lives." Are they, point in their lives. We as edu-
therefore, tired of the Holocaust? cators and parents need to deal
I don't know. Maybe I would better with these issues both in
have acted the same way if I and out of class. What do you
was their age.
want from these kids? "Many of
If any one of us had learned them are already turned away,
that a group of Christian stu- because there weren't good Jew-
dents were misbehaving during ish role models who made them
a Holocaust film, we likely part of the Jewish story. And we
would have been upset enough expect them to choose a Jewish
to make all sorts of assump- spouse, join a synagogue and
tions. They don't have "owner- give money to Federation? Why
ship" in this, we'd say. "It comes are these kids more excited
from their homes," we might about the Pistons or going to the
mall? Because we need to do a
A high school in Oakland, better job delivering for them."
Calif., made national news
Still, Jewish students misbe-
when its students, largely black, having during a Holocaust film?
laughed and talked their way
There's just so much to be
through Schindler's List.
HYSTERIA page 12

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