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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do I Hate America?



When I write soft, fluffy, feel-good pieces about our new lives in Israel, I often get a heartwarming response.

That feels good.  I like showing people a side of Israel that may differ from their preconceived notions of what Israel is like. I enjoy pointing out the glory of life here and, because I blog, I'm always looking for charming, only-in-Israel stories that might translate well to blog posts or Facebook statuses.

But that's not the only thing I think about, nor the only thing I blog about.

A short time ago, I wrote a series of posts about how the gender issues in Judaism gnaw at me.  One indignant reader wrote a comment about how tiresome she finds my incessant harping about women's issues and, when I didn't approve her comment, she called me a hypocrite and let me know that she will never read another word I write.

Similarly, whenever I write about America from the perspective of one who couldn't wait to leave, I spark strong reactions from Jews who rush, sometimes in the same breath, to both defend America and to attack me.

I've been told that, by not celebrating Thanksgiving, I created a chillul Hashem (a profanation of Gd's name) in the eyes of non-Jews. By not celebrating Thanksgiving even while I was in America, it seems that I spit in the eye of the country that took in the persecuted, downtrodden Jews.  One reader drew an entire psychological profile of me based on the fact that I chose not to celebrate Thanksgiving. From this, the reader concluded that,"...you feel nothing towards it, and feel no obligation whatsoever to express that gratitude together with the rest of the citizenry, in a non-religious, non-sectarian forum."  By virtue of the fact that I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving, s/he asserts, "But to openly state that even when you lived in the US, you felt "nothing" towards the country in the way of appreciation?... Now, imagine the non-Jew who reads that. If that does not border on the chillul hashem, I don't know what does."

Just to be clear, I said no such thing.  What I actually said was, "Thanksgiving may not be a religious holiday, but it's certainly not a Jewish one.  I'm not declaring that it's wrong to celebrate the day. There are certainly worse things a religious Jew can do than celebrate Thanksgiving. But to me, it's totally irrelevant. It's someone else's holiday."

I see, in the accusations of this reader, an unvarnished galut mentality. What is s/he worried about?  That by skipping the turkey and football, I, as a Jew, seem ungrateful to America and that non-Jews might find out and then what will they think?  It's a shanda fur die goyim - something embarrassing to the Jews that non-Jews might see. Shush! They might hear you.


And that, my friends, is why I am so grateful to live in a Jewish country. I don't have to be concerned about accusations of dual loyalty because I have none. My loyalty is singular.


Tzvi Fishman, in his blog, Hollywood to the Holy Land, recently wrote Should a Jew Celebrate Thanksgiving? His take is brilliant and well worth the brief read.  In fact, Tzvi Fishman, who routinely writes about how Jews in America need to wake up and get their priorities clear, recently published a collection of his blog posts. In his true, unapologetic style, the book is titled "From Israel with Love: It's Time for Jews to Come Home"  For 350 pages, he pounds the point that Jews belong in Israel and anyone who tries to make the case otherwise is misreading Torah.


He gets a lot of hate mail.  

To his credit, Tzvi Fishman honors the writers of the hateful talkbacks by suggesting that, in their vociferous defense of America and concomitant attacks on Israel, they are actually playing out a deep attachment to Israel.  It's negative, no doubt, but it's spiritually superior to the wide swath of Jews in America who are utterly indifferent to Israel. 


I also received a different, lengthy personal comment from someone who identifies as American yeshivish: "You may think I'm crazy, but I am very proud to be a Jewish American. (And no, my thinking is not skewed because I live outside of Israel.)... why do you so greatly despise America? You are not here anymore. So why do you (seemingly) constantly comment negatively on things/customs/natural disasters/holidays/etc. pertaining to America? I often become very upset when I see your statuses and hate towards America. I know this country may be dirt to you, but its not for all of us (Jews)."

Since this comment came from someone I know personally, I took a long time to craft my response.  It's slightly edited here, largely because I deleted personal references.  Rereading it, I am pleased at how accurately it reflects what I think, feel and believe:

I don't hate America, but I do feel very, very detached from it.  I never felt like a true-blue American, even when I wasn't yet religious and I never much cared for Thanksgiving either. So when I became religious and had such a rich calendar of celebration and so many expressions of thanks to Hashem, Thanksgiving became pretty irrelevant to me.  I wholly identify as a Jew who came from the Diaspora community of America and I thank Gd every day that I live in Israel now.
 

My Facebook comment was about my confusion over why religious Jews would celebrate a holiday that is not ours, especially after they make aliyah.  It was not a general excoriation of America.
 

Having said that, I see that you are asking for a more complete response, so I'll offer one. You felt free to speak your mind and I respect that. What I appreciate about your challenges to my position is that it shows me that you are still questioning.  You want to believe what you're being taught now and I keep making you uncomfortable.  I think that's very positive.  You're still thinking.  Kol hakavod.
 

You asked if I've ever studied the non-Tzioni version of these issues.  I am well aware of the view that Jews are not obligated to come to Israel until Moshiach arrives and that there are people who feel that, until Eretz Yisrael is guided by Torah leadership, living in Israel is neither compulsory nor even preferred.  I know there are American rabbeim who refer to America as a medina shel chessed and who argue that we are obligated to express hakarat hatov to a country that allows Jews to live with religious freedom.
 

Just as you follow your rabbis, I follow mine.  I believe that the non-Tzioni version of geula, Moshiach, Eretz Yisrael question is dead wrong and, what's more, dangerous for the Jews who cling to the Diaspora at this time in Jewish history. I also find it highly ironic that religious Jews will not move to Israel because the government is a secular one, but they willingly celebrate secular holidays such as Thanksgiving, in someone else's country.  The truth is, I find it offensive that non-Tzioni Jews are loyal to a foreign government and feel that they are not obligated to come and help build the nation that Hashem, in His great mercy, gave back to Am Yisrael after 2000 years.  I find it offensive that non-Tzioni Jews feel that it's okay to wait it out in the relative material comfort of America while the rest of the Jewish people build and die for a country which non-Tzioni Jews plan to show up to after all the hard work has been done.
 

I also believe that, through world events such as extreme weather, economic crashes, social unrest and increasing antisemitism, Hashem is begging the Jewish people to leave the Diaspora. And the non-Tzioni world, encouraged by their rabbis, are deaf, dumb and blind to the call.  Religious people who know Jewish history are still building magnificent Jewish institutions in chutz l'aretz, buying houses there and, in general, behaving as if their future is there rather than here. I believe with all my heart and soul that it is a big, fat historical mistake.  I am hurt, for the kavod of Hashem, that so many of His people are turning their backs on Eretz Yisrael and choosing to dwell in a land that is not ours. Learn a little Eim Habanim Semeichah and you'll see how we've already made that tragic mistake in the past.
 

While there are many, many moments of joy here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, life in Israel is not a picnic.  It's hard work and Israel hasn't come close to reaching its potential.  If there were more religious Jews here, the work would go faster. The future of Am Yisrael is here, not in the US or France or any other diaspora community.  So yeah, even while I worry for the safety of the Jews I love in America, it irks me that so many non-Tzioni people choose to sit on the sidelines in America.
 

It may be possible that the resentment I feel towards the pull America has on non-Tzioni Jews who are ignoring Hashem's call comes across as hate. I don't hate America. But I believe that the time has come for Jews to leave, while the gates of Israel are still open and it's still possible to come b'kavod.

It's not fun to receive and read comments that are critical of my views. But, in the end, I find that they help me clarify my message.  And for that I'm thankful.

Maybe I should go grab a turkey sandwich.




16 comments:

LTC said...

I see that you chose not to allow my second response to appear. Instead you chose to selectively quote from it. Well, it's your blog, and you are free to do as you see fit.

However, I find it amusing that you accuse me of having a galut mentality. Just for clarity, I made aliyah, and have lived in Israel much longer than you have.

I also don't celebrate Thanksgiving "religiously" here. However, I am not embarrassed to express my appreciation for the country that took in my refugee grandparents and allowed us to prosper.

If that is a "galut mentality," well, to each his own....

michali said...

I live in the US with my family, but I do not have a galus mentality. Although, I am grateful that I live in a place where I can live as a Jew (at least for now)without being persecuted, I know in my heart America is not my home.

Moving to Israel is on my mind everyday. However, there are two reasons why my husband and I choose not to. 1) Taking our children out of yeshivos they love would be a disaster. I hear so many stories of families who make aliya when their children are older, as a result, they cannot acclimate well in Israeli society, eventually, r'l, go off the derech.
2) There is too much divisiveness amongst the chareidim and secular Jews, I would rather live here where at least the divisiveness is not so open. I.e., pashkivils, women being spat on, and politics getting in the way of the truth.

So, right now for us, we will stay here in the US until Moshiach comes. When he comes, we will pack our bags and off we will go on eagle's wings as they say, I'YH.

Anonymous said...

Michali,

You say that you don't have a galut mentality but the things you mentioned are EXACTLY the typical excuses that people with a galut mentality say.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Bat Aliya you put into words exactly the way I feel.

I too am so grateful I was able to make Aliya from the US.

I am not from a Zionist family. I grew up hearing all the things the frum non Zionist believe but somehow I "found the truth" and came home to Israel.

I have been here now for 16 years and I feel everything you wrote in this post is as if you took the words right out of my mouth
Thank you!!
Lea

Anonymous said...

You state that your "loyalty is singular". Have you given up your US citizenship? If not, why not? And, if not, you do realize that such a statement is the statement of a traitor? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Love this post, Two thumbs up! One of my favorite of your blog posts. You put into words my feelings.

I'd only like to add that not everyone's Grandparents were lovingly taken in on the shores of America. Not only did America take their time in bombing the railways to concentration camps they also turned away boats that had come to shore for refuge.

Therefore I am grateful my Grandparents were on boats that were accepted.

-Chanina

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Moshiach would come sooner if as a Jewish nation we found ways to unite instead of divide us. I passionately believe that Israel is the place to live and raise a Jewish family but why look down on others who are not able to do what we are doing? Before my family and I made Aliyah six yearsa ago, a number of my American friends expressed their fears that I too would join the condescending group olim that looks down on others who have not made aliya. I do not judge people who are less stringest with Kashrut or Shabbat. Aliya is not any different than other critical mitzvot. We cannot afford to divide the Jewish people.

Bas Melech said...

Don't worry, there are plenty of American Olim celebrating Thanksgiving in EY! Plus, American Israelis should really give up their American citizenship!

Batya said...

I guess your readers wouldn't like my Shiloh Musings: Thanksgiving, Reconsidered/Think Again at all.

Avivah said...

Michali,

Sometimes from the US things seem much more black and white than they actually are. I came to Israel three months ago with a large family that included six teens and preteens, and BH they're all doing great. Their adjustment was a big concern to me; after a lot of reflection and conversations, I believe that how you handle the adjustment and the strength of your family are big factors in how well everyone does. Going off the derech isn't the only option for someone who moves here and doesn't quickly find his place.:)

I chose to live in a secular city where there is respect between the secular and religious, but the truth is, the things you refer to are extremes that aren't major issues in any community but perhaps RBS right now. On a day to day basis seeing and smiling at lots of secular Jews, I don't see the divisiveness that you're referring to, though I often heard about it when living in the US.

I was and will continue to be grateful for the wonderful life I had in the US, and I'm grateful to Hashem for helping us make the next step in our journey and bringing us to EY. Much luck to you and your family!

michali said...

To Aviva,

Good for you! That's great that you and your family acclimated well in EY. If that is where Hashem wants you to be, than Kol Hakavod. However, not every family has had that experience. Unfortunately, I know people who have come back because they could not make it financially. I have a friend who made Aliyah with her three children a few years back, and the oldest could not adjust. The result: he went off the D.

Look. Do I yearn to live in EY? You bet. Is it the right time for me and my family? No. We have a mission here in the US. This is where Hashem wants us now to grow as yidden reaching out to others who may not know that they have special neshamos. My husband is a physical therapist who, everyday, makes a huge impact on elderly Jews, many are Holocaust survivors. When my husband visits them it brings them so much joy. This is one of his missions here in the US.

I am a teacher in the public school system. I can't tell you how many times I have encountered Jews who know nothing about their yiddishkeit. My job is to try to reach out to them as best as I can and to be an example for them.

This is what I teach my children. That we are in this world to be lamplighters and making this world a better place. Once Hashem feels that our mission has been accomplished, I"YH, Moshiach will come and off we go.

To Anonymous, who made the statement that I have a galus mentality. A galus mentality is a term that refers to one who is anti-zionist and/or believes that EY should not exist. I am not a Tzioni(I do not have to be one to love EY) but for sure I do not believe in the latter.

You forget that even though you are in EY you are still in Galus. As a matter of fact, there are many, many, Israelis that have left EY for America or travel to the most far flung places like India to find themselves. It is interesting that many of these yidden have found their way back to yiddishkeit not in EY but in places like Thailand, America, etc.

So, there is something wrong with this pix. Obviously, the orthodox are not doing their job by reaching out to them. I also believe that Jews in EY also have a galus mentality if they think they can live in EY and forget that their true mission is to reach out to others.

Have a good week.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Israel since 1986 Baruch Hashem.
Yet, I really do thank America for having taken in my great grandparents on both sides and saving them from certain death in the Holocaust. I see this as G-d's loving way of eventually sending my brother and I "back home" to Eretz Yisrael. Everything is a process from Hashem and we need to be thankful! Yes! Even for having lived in America as free Jews. That being said, I no longer see the U.S. as welcoming to Jews. It is a very unstable "home" and can go up in flames (literally and figuratively) in seconds. Just look at what recently happened in Brooklyn. Scary stuff! Do not believe that America will shelter you! Occupy Wall Street is tinged with anti-Semitic attitudes also! As for another example, rememer this - not very long ago, all air traffic in the U.S. and in Europe was shut down. 911 in the States and the Icelandic volcano smoke in Europe. Can you imagine a frightening scenario wherein something as devastating and QUICK as being unable to leave a country could very well happen and then imagine, especially in Europe, Arab pogroms. And you can't leave! Yes, I believe Hashem gave you a little taste of that scenario. Don't get trapped! Hashem can turn a serene and tranquil scenario into a hellish nightmare in the blink of an eye! Don't we as Jews know this all too well??

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Israel since 1986 Baruch Hashem.
Yet, I really do thank America for having taken in my great grandparents on both sides and saving them from certain death in the Holocaust. I see this as G-d's loving way of eventually sending my brother and I "back home" to Eretz Yisrael. Everything is a process from Hashem and we need to be thankful! Yes! Even for having lived in America as free Jews. That being said, I no longer see the U.S. as welcoming to Jews. It is a very unstable "home" and can go up in flames (literally and figuratively) in seconds. Just look at what recently happened in Brooklyn. Scary stuff! Do not believe that America will shelter you! Occupy Wall Street is tinged with anti-Semitic attitudes also! As for another example, rememer this - not very long ago, all air traffic in the U.S. and in Europe was shut down. 911 in the States and the Icelandic volcano smoke in Europe. Can you imagine a frightening scenario wherein something as devastating and QUICK as being unable to leave a country could very well happen and then imagine, especially in Europe, Arab pogroms. And you can't leave! Yes, I believe Hashem gave you a little taste of that scenario. Don't get trapped! Hashem can turn a serene and tranquil scenario into a hellish nightmare in the blink of an eye! Don't we as Jews know this all too well??

Anonymous said...

B'ezrat HaShem we will be doing Aliyah in a few weeks, We are leaving behind family, we had a house paid for sold it, car paid for sold it, all the nice stuff sold it, we have spent a third just getting ready to go, knowing full well unless HaShem wills it we will never own a house again. SO WHAT! Israel is our home its our heritage not from man but from G-d. I have heard all the Loshon Hara, Negative speech about Israel. SO What! HaShem is in control. If people Jewish People do not get out of America soon while they can they will Pray to get out later this isnt some prophecy this is just simple common sense, The money is not going to last, famine, natural disasters, revolution, sickness, /threat of war is all around, its all headed America's way. Read the news see for yourself. You might have jobs now but when the money is no good what good is the job, You might have children in school but who will teach them when the school can not stay open. The safest place in the world for Jews is Israel. For more reasons than religious ones. which I believe the religious ones should be a driving force. Good article by the way much truth in it. COME HOME ISRAEL, COME HOME!

SaraK said...

I am totally tearing up at your response to your friend. I feel so similarly.
I will always feel grateful to America for allowing my grandparents to emigrate there after the Holocaust, for providing me with a safe, Jewish-friendly place to grow up and learn about Judaism and Israel, and most importantly for allowing me to so easily immigrate to Israel. I thank G-d every day that I didn't arrive here on a packed boat, running from a country where I couldn't leave willingly.
Yet, I don't love America more than I love Israel; and I obviously didn't want to live there more than I want to live in Israel.
I consider it a privilege that we are able to live our lives here and prepare the land for Moshiach's arrival.

Edda said...

Kol Hakavod Rivkah! Nice to see you take the gloves off and say it straight and to the point. Only one thing - I hate to dissappoint people, but there still is plenty of antisemitism going on in America and only orthodox, charedi Jews who isolate themselves in their Jewish world can pretend it doesn't exhist. Sad thing that one of the strong memories my 12 year old son has from America was playing in the park in Owings Mills and a kid asking him why he didn't have horns if he said that he was Jewish and wore a kippah. - This was 2 years ago!