Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Welcome to Obama's Jewish America

                                                                                   (Theodore Herzl - Father of Zionism)
                                                                                              Picture credit here

As Salaamu Alaikum and Greetings of Peace:

Not along ago, I read an article/opinion piece on the JTA website written by Ron Kampeas entitled, "Welcome to Obama's Jewish America."

Mr. Kampeas wrote the article in response to the May 27th White House celebration of "Jewish America Heritage Month". He wrote:

"The athletes, the astronauts, the alternative music, the black rabbi, the white dress uniforms, and above all, the left-handed baseball immortal: Welcome to Barack Obama's Jewish America."

Mr. Kampeas maintains that the first-ever celebration "underscored the Obama administration's determination not to be locked into Washington's conventional notions of Jewish leadership."  In other words, he means Zionist and pro-Israel leadership.  He writes that Obama "did not exactly snub" the usual guest list of Jews like those from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, etc., but asserts that they were probably included because both were major fund-raisers for Obama's campaign. He claims that the White House purposely sought to convey an image of American Jewry that was not necessarily organizational or pro-Israeli. Instead, he writes, "Obama presented an array of Jewish heroes and celebrities who pronouncedly defied Jewish stereotypes."

After reading the article over a few times, I'm still not sure whether the tone of Mr. Kampeas's article is positive or actually critical.

One thing is clear for me, though: it's about time that Judaism and Jews are starting to be defined separately from Zionism and Israel. That many Jews in America can be seen for who they are as individual people, be defined by their accomplishments as individuals, and not be perpetually defined by their allegiance to Israel or lack thereof. 

"The lack thereof ..."  Herein is the problem for American Jews.  To talk about this, it is necessary to give you a little Zionism 101.

ZIONISM 101 (Compiled from Wikipedia Sources)

Judaism is not necessarily Zionism. And not all Jews embrace Zionism. In actuality, and especially since World War II, not all American Jews are religious. Some of them don't even believe in God, and many identify themselves mainly as cultural, ethnic, or secular Jews.

Zionism (or "Tsiyonut" in Hebrew) originally had anti-religious sentiments and actually had more to do with diaspora politics.  It is a nationalist and political movement, originally having NOTHING to do with the religion of Judaism.  It has more to do with self-determination of the Jewish people, and a desire for a sovereign national Jewish homeland based on its historical and religious ties of the Jewish people to the land in Palestine.

Zionism was founded in the late 19th century, mainly by secularist Jews as a response to anti-semitism and persecution of Jews in Russia.  It encouraged Jewish immigration to Ottoman Palestine until finally in 1948, the state of Israel was born.  "Aliyah" (think hijrah) to the Land of Israel is a recurring theme in Jewish prayer.  In current day, the world's Jews are about equally settled betweeen Israel and America.  

All Zionism is not equal.  Categories of Zionism include: labor, liberal, nationalist, and religious - with the religious category coming on board last.  According to Wikipedia, "In the 1920s and 1930s Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) and his son Rabbi Zevi Judah Kook saw great religious and traditional value in many of Zionism's ideals, while rejecting its anti-religious undertones. They taught that Orthodox (Torah) Judaism embraces and mandates Zionism's positive ideals, such as the ingathering of exiles, and political activity to create and maintain a Jewish political entity in the Land of Israel. In this way, Zionism serves as a bridge between Orthodox and secular Jews."

But not all Jews believe in and embrace the concept of Zionism; many Jewish groups are strongly anti-Zionism.  The ultra-orthodox Jews (Haredi) reject Zionism as a doctrine and some among them reject the establishment of a religious state as being against Jewish laws.  Haredi Jewish communities are non-Zionist but willing to participate in Israeli coalitions. A minority of other Orthodox Jews, (the Satmar Hasidim and the small Neturei Karta group) are strongly anti-Zionist.

The early Zionist rejected a good deal that traditional Jews in the diaspora embraced.  For example, the Zionists revived Hebrew as the everyday language of the new state, and branded Yiddish, which most Ashkenazi spoke, as "contemptible."  The new Hebrew language was adopted with the Sephardi, not Ashkenazi, pronunciation.  The Zionists even abandoned the traditional clothing that the Jews of Europe wore.

But the biggest bone of contention between the Zionist Jews and Jews from other places (including America), was/is that the Zionists view aliyah as a duty of every Jew.  Rejection of life in the diaspora is a central assumption in Zionism; living in the diaspora is seen to be restrictive of the full growth of Jewish individual and national life.  Jews who refused to make aliyah to Israel were seen as not being "real" Jews.


This attitude is the one that dredged up feelings for me from my life as a Jew.  Particularly, about the arrogant question of "Who is a Jew?" and the resulting stereotypes and divisions among Jews in America (and elsewhere) and Zionists.

Isreal was created in 1948.  I was born in 1949.  The Holocaust was fresh in the mind of every Jew when I was a young girl.  It seemed that our entire identity, as an individual and as a people, revolved around our Holocaust experience. 

Add to that the fact that Jews did not enjoy the popularity  in America that they do nowdays when I was a young girl.  Synagogues were fire bombed on a regular basis.  Jewish men with long beards and sidelocks were accosted and assaulted on a regular basis.  Having a Jewish name sealed your fate and kept you back from opportunities and even jobs.  Even living in a Jewish neighborhood didn't guarantee peace.  I remember going to the commercial district of the Jewish neighbood of Skokie (near Chicago) with my dad on the weekends.  We would get out of the car and do shopping.  When we returned, we would often find anti-semitic literature under our car windshield wipers.   

Most non Jewish children really did believe that Jews killed Christian children around the Jewish holidays and used their blood to make matzo.  Many Jewish children were asked by non Jewish children if they could pull down their pants so they could see the tails of the Jewish children.  Non Jews used to pass around the "joke" that Orthodox Jewish men wore their big hats to hide their horns.

Many people had no problem with calling us names:  Kikes, Yids, Yehudis - to name a few.

To make matters even worse, the Zionists and the Aliyah-bound did not consider those of us who wished to remain in America as "real" Jews.  Kind of reminds me of some Muslims who believe that every Muslim in America should have hijrah as their goal.

So, when I read the article, it was refreshing:

1.  For America to recognize the contributions of everyday Jews
2.  To ackowledge Jews outside of the context of Zionism and Isreal.

Zionism is not neccesarily Judaism.  To be against Zionism IS NOT anti-semitic.  It IS anti-Zionism.

I consider myself ethnically Jewish.  Even though I have reverted to Islam, I am still an ethnic Jew.  My people have a culture - language, genetics, food, music, and yes, some of us practice the Jewish religion.  More importantly, some of us don't ... (even us Muslims).  If an ethnic Arab Muslim were to leave Islam, wouldn't they still be an Arab?

Many people say there is no such thing.  That if you are a Jew, you practice the Jewish religion.  Nonsense.  Not all Jews practice Judaism, but they still identify as being a Jew.  Even the "secular" Jews will tell you that they are every bit a Jew.  No one has the right to say who is or who is not a Jew.

The big problem the Zionists are facing is how to deal with all of the non Jews who consider themselves Israelis.  How does a Muslim Israeli fit into their dream of a Jewish national homeland?  And now, there are many evangelical Christians immigrating to Israel.

What will the face of the future Zionist Israel look like?


zanjabil said...

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