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, "
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.
Posted by Rivkah Lambert Adler at 10:40 AM