Just saw something fascinating online at the Jewish Journal, by a cousin of mine, Stuart Schoffman — an Israeli writer, columnist and translator, who is a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where he edits “Havruta: A Journal of Jewish Conversation”:
…. Given the persistence of anti-Semitism, how can the Jews function in the world? A hundred years ago, Jews differed vociferously on this question, much as they do today. Then as now, not all Jews agreed that political Zionism, the establishment of an independent Jewish state, was the best solution. The very Orthodox believed that only God, in keeping with Divine plan, could redeem our people, and all that Jews could do, as ever, was pray and observe God’s law. The Yiddish secularists known as Bundists believed that universal socialism would lift all boats, Jewish and gentile alike. And various Jews worried that a Jewish state in the Land of Israel would inevitably become too chauvinistic, militaristic, religiously fervid for its own good.
Some Jews argued that an autonomous entity was indeed necessary, but should be situated somewhere other than Palestine, in a land less holy and complicated. …
Rewind to 1882, when Dr. Leon Pinsker of Odessa, my favorite Jewish diagnostician, asserted that “Judeophobia” was an incurable gentile disease with lethal consequences for Jews. In his tract “Auto-Emancipation,” he argued that the scattered Jews, in order to be normal people, and not unnervingly ghostlike or “uncanny,” needed a homeland of their own, a place where they could be the hosts. Someone who is everywhere a guest and nowhere a host, Pinsker said, has a hard time laying claim to other people’s hospitality.
Today, American Jews can say this diagnosis does not apply to them — they are not strangers or guests — but surely this was not always the case. … After World War I, as racism and nativism swelled in a jittery world, Congress cut immigration to a trickle, slamming the Golden Door shut in 1924, barely a year after my father, a Russian Jew, was lucky enough to arrive as a child at Ellis Island.
But after 1948, everything changed. Dr. Pinsker’s prescription was correct: The creation of Israel as an independent state revised the image and raised the self-confidence of Jews everywhere. … Simply put: Israel matters.
America matters, too. Its Jews have done well…. Do I mean to suggest that America is an illusion, and Israel is the only solution? Hardly, but in the end, who knows? Listen now to an expert, Chaim Weizmann, the Russian-born chemist from Manchester University who became Israel’s first president. In 1946, he offered his scientific opinion to a panel of British and American officials that convened to evaluate the situation in Palestine:
“We are usually told, by way of compliment by well-meaning friends, that the Jews are an excellent leaven for a non-Jewish society. We are told sometimes, in a different form, that the Jews are the salt of the earth and contribute this salinity to the non-Jewish society . . . But my experience is that this is a sort of double-edged or left-handed compliment. One can stand a certain amount of salt but if the concentration of salt increases beyond the right proportion, then the soup or the dish, with the salt, goes down the sink. That has happened to the Jewish people very often. They have acted as salt and then were poured out, poured away.”
Most Jews who have come to Israel fall into this category. Unwanted and persecuted elsewhere, they have poured into Israel from the DP camps, from Arab lands, from the former Soviet Union. … [Read the entire article online by clicking here: http://www.jewishjournal.com/yom_haatzmaut/article/why_israel_matters_20110503/.]
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