Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lost in translation: The Israel-America disconnect

This post is from by Tami Lehman-Wilzig who blogs for Jewish Treats and does the Zvuvi children's blog about fun Jewish facts and is printed from the

FlagsBack when I was growing up, the modern State of Israel was the center of the Jewish universe. It was at the core of being Jewish, tucked inside the greater American-Jewish identity. There were no contradictions. Jews were solid U.S. citizens, equally proud of their American heritage. But the brutal sting of the Holocaust which had hit home more often than not, made the establishment and continuity of the Jewish state a prerequisite of daily life.

Having just spent a semester sabbatical in the United States, I unfortunately have witnessed a different state of American Jewry. Jews have never been so successful; the urge to integrate has seamlessly transitioned into assimilation. The result? Today Israel is a blip on the Jewish-American radar screen, and for many there's a definite disconnect. When I brought this up to one rabbi his response was more troubling than I expected. “The disconnect you sense,” he explained, “is a byproduct of the general disconnect to Judaism.”

A cleric of a flourishing congregation, he confessed that he felt more like an entertainment director than a rabbi. “I have to constantly think up new gimmicks to draw the crowd in,” he elaborated, while admitting that without the constant beat of Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations bringing in hundreds at a time, weekly attendance would be down to a drizzle.

Certainly, similar worries existed when my generation was growing up. Still, back then American Jews understood that with or without Israel, they were part of a nation within a nation. Unfortunately, this fact seems to have been lost in translation over the past few decades. Not with the minority who send their children to Jewish Day Schools, but with the majority shepherding their children to synagogue religious schools, if at all. It's not their fault alone. This latter educational framework either fell asleep at the wheel, or did not have the resources to ignite a sense of pride.

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