September 25, 2018

Carrying a Torch

The fifth day of the month of Iyar is your Independence Day. Yes — yours! And by this, I mean you, Los Angeles Jews; you, New York Jews; you, Chicago Jews, Sydney Jews, London Jews, Paris Jews. That this day is my Independence Day goes without saying: I was born in Israel, I have lived here for most of my life, and my children have grown up and matured in this county. But I insist it is also yours, the Jews whose Independence Day is July 4, July 14, and all others. You fortunate cousins have two of these to celebrate. Independence Day of your respective countries and the Independence Day that all Jews share (except for those insisting on being annoyingly quarrelsome).

Last week, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) published a summary of its recommendations based on a yearlong dialogue in which hundreds of Jews around the world participated. Titled “70 Years of Israel-Diaspora Relations: The Next Generation,” this study offers a framework for Israel-Diaspora relations in the coming decades of, one hopes, Jewish independence. The study showed us (John Ruskay and I served as heads of this project) that “Diaspora and Israeli Jews agree that all Jews have a ‘stake’ in the State of Israel and, therefore, the right and duty to help sustain it.” This means that Israel is both a cause for celebration (Independence Day is yours, too) and also a burden (“help sustain it”).

Embracing this burden is not always easy. Israel has problems, it has frustrating habits and questionable policies. Israelis are not always forthcoming, and rarely attentive, and sometimes condescending. For some Jews, having to battle with Israel over these things is torturous and exhausting. And that’s why it is necessary, even essential, that you celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. Israel ought not be just a burden, not just a cause of worry and apprehension, a distant dark cloud of Middle East reality. Israel must be a joy.

Do “Jews” truly believe that all Jews have a stake in the Jewish state? The data we collected at JPPI shows that indeed, they do — with the caveat that “Jews” means many Jews, but not all of them. (I assume there is nothing in the world on which all Jews agree.) But alongside the data, there is also a reality, filled with confusing signals coming from all sides. There are non-Israeli Jews pretending they no longer care (or maybe they truly don’t), and there are Jewish Israelis arguing that Israel and its interests is the only thing that matters (forgetting that Israel is a project for the Jewish people, not the other way around).

Israel ought not be just a burden, not just a cause of worry and apprehension. Israel must be a joy.

Consider the following reminder: Last year, representatives of world Jewry were invited to light a torch in the ceremony that opens the Independence Day festivities. Not all Israelis appreciated this move. Israeli author and pundit Irit Linur forcefully argued at the time that “the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry sometimes looks like the communications between a mother spaceship and mission control in Houston. But it’s the spaceship that has to get to Mars safely, when all is said and done, whereas the folks in Houston will head home at the end of the day whether the spaceship lands or crashes.” In other words: We Israelis live here and will die if necessary; you American Jews might care for us, but you don’t have real skin in the game. Hence, when the torches are lit in Jerusalem, “the proper place for anyone who’s not an Israeli is in the visitors’ gallery.”

Linur has a case. JPPI makes the opposite case by recommending that Israel “regularly take measures designed to show solidarity with Diaspora Jewry and the recognition of its importance,” including “regular symbolic participation of dignitaries in major Israeli public ceremonies.”

This year, Israel was too late to invite notable Jews (Mayim Bialik, Steven Spielberg) to light a torch and, hence, ended up having no Diaspora representative on its roster of torch lighters.

This ought to be considered a symbolic mishap: Israel’s last-minute-improvisation mentality meets the orderly Jewish-American mentality.

This ought to be considered a positive mishap: Better late than never. Next year, we might get it right.

This ought to be considered a lame invitation: Independence Day is yours, too — come celebrate it, even when the host isn’t the most gracious.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.