Why Allison Benedikt is right

Allison Benedikt, film editor at the Village Voice, dropped a bomb on the Jewish online discourse yesterday when she published “Life After Zionist Summer Camp,” in which she details her upbringing loving Israel and its untimely tarnishing in adulthood. I recommend you read it in full, a single quotation does not capture the ongoing context of a nuanced life story. Among others, Jeffrey Goldberg rushed to pilliory her in a bitter response as childish as the shallowness he accuses her of. (Other commentators who actually know Allison made critical comments about her style but mostly not her substance.)

Criticism of Benedikt is unfounded — and focusing on the efficacy of summer camp confuses her message. The fault is not Zionist summer camp. It gave her a great Jewish experience. The fault is not her parents. Her mother engaged in dialogue and offered her solidarity, eventually. The fault is not a lack of awareness. Benedikt is vastly more in touch with Israel than most American Jews: she had a Zionist upbringing, she has family there, is in regular touch with them, has visited several times, and has a partner who seems to care enough to debate. Most Jews have none of that.

The point of Benedikt’s confession is clearly to express frustration and confusion, to be heard, to put her community on notice that she’s had it up to here. I’ve seen these pieces by the dozens and authored so many of them myself. (And it always interests me which ones get heard and which ignored. Kudos to Benedikt on being heard.) Indeed, what brought me to blogging was a simple need to be heard on this issue, not lectured at. Israel crusaders fall over themselves in stampedes to tell young Jews the “right” answers. If they spent less time speaking, perhaps they would hear something useful. Imagine if the millions of dollars spent on Israel advocacy instead were spent on listening to what we think. Whenever someone like Benedikt peaks in frustration to say “just listen!” the communal thought police rush in to invalidate, decry, and delegitimize what is said. (Rabbi Daniel Gordis, anyone?) Who among the Israel crusaders will instead listen intently and say to Benedikt, “Wow, that is so different from how I relate to Israel. Tell me more.” Imagine if Jeffrey Goldberg had tried being caring over being patronizing.

But actually, there are tons of surveys about young Jews’ attitudes, desires and preferences regarding Israel. (A few recommendations here.) If only planners of Israel education and advocacy would implement their recommendations. Most Israel engagement efforts — events, programs, campaigns — are resolutely against an open conversation that is unbounded by political correctness, in which young people share and explore their inner emotional conflicts. Because doing so necessarily involves discussing boycotts and divestment, one state solutions, human rights violations and other things the establishment has proscribed as toxic.

This lack of openness and failure to implement the obvious solutions was the founding rationale of the “Love, Hate & the Jewish State” series, pioneered by Makom at the Jewish Agency and the New Israel Fund. There are no lectures. No correct answers. Nothing you are expected to parrot or agree to upon conclusion. It’s a dialogue space. To talk about everything the mainstream is scared to death of. Because if you can’t discuss it, then how will you ever take a position on it? It remains the only Israel program of its kind on the Jewish institutional scene.

In a twist of delicious coincidence, the very theme of the next iteration of the series on June 29 is “Airing the Dirty Laundry?” on why the discourse on Israel is so fraught, broken, and ugly to partake. I hope to see you there.

Allison Benedikt did us all a courageous favor by willingly weathering the inevitable accusations of stupidity, shallowness, disloyalty and self-hatred that comes with being conflicted about Israel. I salute her and hope so many others will also tell their elders to shut up, sit down and listen for once. Their control of the Jewish community is waning and they can listen now, or they can listen when we’re in charge.

59 Responses to “Why Allison Benedikt is right”

  1. I’m not a genius, a prophet, or an oracle but I do believe that without dissent there would be no Jews.

    Can you dig?

    If dissent is out, then the majority culture will swallow a tiny minority like us up.


    Jon · June 17th, 2011 at 7:55 pm
  2. Why do you think Goldberg’s response is bitter and childish? (And why should it make any difference whether respondants “actually know” Benedikt? She’s a writer; if she can’t put across what she’s saying without the reader’s actually knowing her, she’s not doing the job any too well.)

    I read both pieces and have to say I agree substantially — entirely, actually — with Goldberg, and I’m assuming that in her real life as a film critic, Benedikt’s not only a better writer but considerably more insightful than she is in this piece. I wonder if it was some sort of faux-naive experiment, because I found the tone really weird and off-putting. The main sentiment I came away with, though, was, “Christ, this poor girl doesn’t know who she is or what she thinks, and never has.” Her husband comes off sounding like a miserable douche, and the bit at the end about Jewish summer camp came from space. (My kid’s not going, either, but that’s because I don’t see the point of selling the house to pay the camp tuition just so she can go hang with a lot of JAPs and discover how much she doesn’t have.) After all that, does she really believe the point of Jewish summer camp is to turn kids into zombies for Zionism? It’s possible I went to the wrong camps, because I don’t remember any of this “who wants to live in Israel” business. I mostly remember that Laurent was never interested, possibly my first gay crush; Herschel was way too interested; and I killed in the Mikado. Beyond that, all the Israelis I knew were delighted to have got the hell away from the bombing and got visas to America, and the idea of moving from a non-desert with zero bombings to a desert with regular bombings held no appeal.

    The second main sentiment: It took her multiple visits to discover that people who live in a permanent state of war can be unpleasant?

    I take it that what really happened here is she’s this nice upper-middle midwest-suburban Jewish-enclave chick whose parents put her through the standard Reformy-Zionist ed, she just never had the candlepower to do much with it or question it much, and in the end she felt pressured. She went to Israel, found it was not the summer-camp paradise that had been promised, and found that there was ugliness. She felt she’d been cheated and brainwashed and Told Lies, and turned her back on the whole thing, but can’t shake the family ties. My prediction? Over the next 30-40 years, she’ll assiduously study the issue (always in groups that meet regularly to discuss books and articles, sometimes with the help of visiting experts) and slowly and deliberately navigate her way to a position that allows her to feel she’s in the family and that the idea of a Jewish state is good but that peace is better than war — at least insofar as avoids conflict with her husband, assuming they stay together. She will know many facts about the Jewish state, but won’t really be one for debate or doing her own research, though she will always be interested in “perspectives”. She will be, in other words, a nice American Jewish lady.

    I’d argue with Goldberg on this point: Don’t take her to task for being incurious. Clearly, we are looking here at the daughter who wits not to ask. So don’t browbeat. Although, once again, I’m wondering what the hell they’re thinking at the Voice.


    amy · June 17th, 2011 at 8:14 pm
  3. She wrote a short autobiography. What was she right about? Only the fact that she appears more clueless and brainwashed by left wing nuts today than she was as a kid?

    What would Benedikt say about Robert F. Kennedy’s 1948 piece for the Boston Post which discussed the hard fact that more than 500,000 Arabs emigrated from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and other areas into modern day Israel before 1945? They weren’t “Palestinians” then but according to a little known statute put into place by the UN, they are considered to be “Palestinian” today if they lived in the region from 1946-1948!

    Maybe we should call deported Mexicans and Guatemalan migrant workers “American refugees”.

    Why weren’t there any Arab founding fathers of Palestine that can be named?

    Why was the PLO created in 1964 in Egypt, by Egyptians with no connection to “palestine”?

    Why was the first Palestinian leader an Egyptian born terrorist who renamed himself Arafat to escape his connection to his Nazi war criminal uncle Haj Amin al- Husseini?
    (Husseini was Arafat’s actual surname)

    Jews bought land from the Degani, Nusseibeh and Nashabibi families, yet Arabs attempt to falsely claim ownership of it today.

    I am so confident that Benedikt Allison cannot answer one of the above questions and back it up with legitimate sources that I will offer her $50,000 to do so!

    (Don’t worry, she can’t)


    NYC Veritas · June 17th, 2011 at 8:58 pm
  4. The author writes:

    Those summers blur together, but each day begins and ends at the flagpole, where we raise and lower two flags: the American and the Israeli. We make blue and white lanyard bracelets, carve Israel out of ice cream, and sing “Hatikvah.” BECAUSE IT’S ALL JEWS, I’M CONSIDERED CUTE.

    @KFJ.
    What does that last sentence mean?


    Jonathan1 · June 18th, 2011 at 7:18 pm
  5. Jonathan1-
    I think she’s describing “camp goggles”.


    BZ · June 18th, 2011 at 11:28 pm
  6. To Kung Fu Jew,
    Why don’t you post under your actual name? It’s hard for me to take you seriously when you don’t even list your name.

    Also, please don’t tell me that “Criticism of Benedikt is unfounded.” We’re all allowed to criticize, compliment, love, hate, whatever. If you’re not criticizing, you’re likely not asking questions, and that’s dangerous to everyone.


    Dana Goldberg · June 18th, 2011 at 11:36 pm
  7. I read her whole piece and my it seems to me that Zionist summer camp isn’t the issue at all but that she did not have anything else besides Zionist summer camp to help her expand her connection to Israel and the Jewish people. Case in point, she married a non-Jew. This demonstrates to me that her real problem is a sever estrangement from the Jewish people, not only Israel, that has nothing to do with being lied to by her Zionist summer camp but has everything to do with her life as a Jew. Nowhere in her short autobiography does she mention anything about her Jewish life except her ‘SNL themed bat mitzvah’.
    I feel bad for her. Not because she was lied to but because she thinks that Zionist summer camps are designed to be the catch all for Israel engagement for young american Jews.


    uzi · June 19th, 2011 at 2:33 am
  8. I think she’s describing “camp goggles”.

    Actually, come to think of it, this could be read in one of two ways.

    1) Jews are objectively less cute than non-Jews, but in an environment of all Jews, people who wouldn’t be considered cute in the general population are considered cute relative to the Jewish population. (Similarly, I’m considered tall among Jews, but not relative to the general population.)
    2) Cuteness is subjective, and non-Jews don’t consider Jews cute, but Jews do.


    BZ · June 19th, 2011 at 10:14 am
  9. uzi writes:
    I read her whole piece and my it seems to me that Zionist summer camp isn’t the issue at all but that she did not have anything else besides Zionist summer camp to help her expand her connection to Israel and the Jewish people. Case in point, she married a non-Jew.

    I agree that there’s little evidence in the article for any Jewish connections outside of the Israel issue, but the fact that she married a non-Jew does not conclusively prove this — I know a number of Jews with active Jewish lives who are married to non-Jews.


    BZ · June 19th, 2011 at 10:17 am
  10. Based on the article, Benedikt comes off as shallow and naive. Whether that’s because she is actually shallow and naive or whether the use of this tone is a brilliant writerly choice, I can’t say. But it really doesn’t matter. Attacking her is going after a meaningless target. There is no significance to whether the Village Voice’s film editor is right or wrong about Israel. But her critics may be winning the battle and losing the war, if they rip her article to shreds but fail to see the bigger picture of what the article represents.

    The larger significance of this article, as I see it, is as a data point on the effects of “Israel education” in the US. Some would like to claim that if you inculcate kids with an uncritical “pro-Israel” worldview, they’ll end up as “pro-Israel” adults. Benedikt’s article illustrates an instance in which this does not happen, and brings into question the efficacy of the system in achieving its goals.

    And to the extent that Benedikt is incurious and thoughtless (and again, I don’t know if she is, or is just making the choice to appear that way), this strengthens rather than weakens this point. One might think that “pro-Israel” indoctrination would be most effective on the less thoughtful kids (while the critical thinkers might not buy into it from the start). But Benedikt’s article suggests that the less thoughtful the kids are (and the more they buy into the propaganda), the bigger the backlash will be when they find out later that reality is more complex. Anyone concerned about the long term (rather than about scoring cheap points) ignores this at their peril.


    BZ · June 19th, 2011 at 11:44 am
  11. Also, please don’t tell me that “Criticism of Benedikt is unfounded.”

    chevre: KFJ isn’t writing that we cannot criticize Benedikt. He’s saying that those criticisms already offered about her piece are not substantial.

    @BZ:

    My kid’s not going, either, but that’s because I don’t see the point of selling the house to pay the camp tuition just so she can go hang WITH A LOT OF JAPS and discover how much she doesn’t have.)

    What does that mean?

    There is no significance to whether the Village Voice’s film editor is right or wrong about Israel.

    Isn’t the significance that the Village Vocie’s film editor writes with the quality of an 8th-grader? (unless this was her intent)
    What


    Jonathan1 · June 19th, 2011 at 12:26 pm
  12. “Voice’s”


    Jonathan1 · June 19th, 2011 at 12:26 pm
  13. @BZ:

    My kid’s not going, either, but that’s because I don’t see the point of selling the house to pay the camp tuition just so she can go hang WITH A LOT OF JAPS and discover how much she doesn’t have.)

    What does that mean?

    This was amy’s comment, not mine.

    There is no significance to whether the Village Voice’s film editor is right or wrong about Israel.

    Isn’t the significance that the Village Vocie’s film editor writes with the quality of an 8th-grader?

    But so what? How long have all these people around the world cared about the quality of the Village Voice’s film section?


    BZ · June 19th, 2011 at 12:35 pm
  14. @BZ.

    I realize these aren’t your comments. I just don’t understand why we have to read about people who aren’t such an ugly girl, for a Jew, and about JAPS.

    But so what? How long have all these people around the world cared about the quality of the Village Voice’s film section?

    They haven’t. I can’t speak for anybody other than myself, but I am almost shocked that she would write this way–unless it was her intent to do so.

    Other than that, I really don’t care about Zionist summer camps, one way or another–but I realize that others here do care.


    Jonathan1 · June 19th, 2011 at 12:51 pm
  15. any form of nationalism is boring. can’t anyone just admit that?


    eli · June 19th, 2011 at 1:40 pm
  16. I just saw this thoughtful piece, that is somewhat related to KFJ’s point (I think.)

    www.haaretz.com/opinion/the-dilemma-of-a-diaspora-jew-at-an-israeli-peace-rally-1.368540

    (Granted, Mira Sucharov is not as torn as Benedikt, who at 23-years-old, in the early 2000′s, after a lifetime of association with Israel-related-activities, for the first time heard about the occupation, but only because she met her anti-Israel, Gentile boyfriend.)


    Jonathan1 · June 19th, 2011 at 4:56 pm
  17. @BZ 11:44am: Exactly. That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to people, and you put it better than I was ever able to.

    And I think, for that reason, that the naivete was an intentional choice of tone. She makes the point you explain very well, albeit perhaps too subtlely. It is, unfortunately, a point that many are still not ready to hear. And it’s a point about how a particular kind of education delays one’s ability to think critically, which she was able to show rather than tell us.


    Desh · June 19th, 2011 at 9:29 pm
  18. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call Benedikt’s boyfriend “anti-Israel.” Just because he is not enthralled with Israel and antagonistic to its policies does not mean he wishes the country or its citizens destruction.

    Indeed, I am curious to read an article written from his point of view about what he in turn has learned about Israel and Israelis through the relationship his partner has to it.


    Kung Fu Jew · June 20th, 2011 at 11:14 am
  19. @BZ – Right on about the ‘backlash’ phenom of indoctrination. If the resources put into Israel indoctrination were instead put into Jewish education, we might be having less identity/continuity issues and kids would likely have a more organic, healthy relationship and understanding of Israel.

    At some point we need to learn that an Amen Chorus doesn’t make for good music and eventually tires of its lyrics.


    Adam · June 20th, 2011 at 12:18 pm
  20. I just don’t understand why we have to read about people who aren’t such an ugly girl, for a Jew, and about JAPS.

    @Jonathan1: Insecurity (about the way we look, about the perceived snobbiness of kids from wealthier cities/neighborhoods, about how good/bad we are at basketball or singing or Hebrew) is a big part of the summer camp experience for many (most?) kids. Some of us love the other parts of camp enough to get over our insecurities. Other kids only manage to suppress their insecurities, but never really get over them.

    While tangential (at best) to the core subject of this piece, camp is an emotional experience, and when talking about it, it’s hard for many people to put aside the emotions–good or bad–that they associate most strongly with it.


    themicah · June 20th, 2011 at 4:35 pm
  21. 1) Young Judaea (the youth movement Benedikt mysteriously does not name) and of which I am an alumnus, absolutely engaged in brainwashing about Israel. Many movement alums moved to Israel, or toyed with the idea, and the picture of Israel presented was always sympathetic, enthusiastic, but not particularly right wing.

    2) Having said that, there was also a diversity of opinion about Israel in YJ (least there was in the late 80s/ early 90s period in which Benedikt was active). For instance, I learned the following version of “Al Kol Eleh”in YJ: “On those little prefab houses, in Judaea and Shemron, on those crazy Brooklyn fascists living in Hebron, on those fields and on those orchards, on those flowers we must reap, on those lands we’ve stolen from Arabs they are ours to keep. Nomi Shemer, you’re a fascist, but like your songs a lot. yes we sing them, after dinner, yes we sing them on shabbat. True, there wasn’t much in the way of anti-Zionism (which did exist in Habonim-Dror in bits during that time,) but it certainly wasn’t B’nai Akiva either.

    3) Benedikt does not seem to be one for nuance. The commentators who have mentioned her drastic swing from swallower of YJ identity building propaganda to wholesale repudiator of this experience are on the money.

    4)For the record, these are my views on Israel in a nutshell (which have remained fairly stable for the most part since I was actually in YJ).

    -The occupation is morally unacceptable, and pragmatically unsustainable. A two state solution is not tenable, given the number of Jewish settlers in the territories. A one state solution will probably happen after twenty or more years of continued stalemate, with eventual explosive violent flare ups.

    -The notion of a *Jewish* state is irrational on many levels; including, 1) there is little that binds 1/4 Russian Jewish immigrants with black hatter anti-Zionists, with kibbutzniks etc. 2) Judaism is a religion, but also in some ways an ethnic kind of identity. People identify with Judaism in very different ways that are fundamentally at odds with each other as it turns out.


    Amir · June 20th, 2011 at 4:45 pm
  22. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call Benedikt’s boyfriend “anti-Israel.” Just because he is not enthralled with Israel and antagonistic to its policies does not mean he wishes the country or its citizens destruction.

    Ok. How about this?:

    Benedikt spent most of here life associated with Israel-related activities, but it wasn’t until she was about 23-years-old, in about 2003, that her non-Jewish (her emphasis) boyfriend helped her learn about things like the occupation.


    Jonathan1 · June 20th, 2011 at 4:49 pm
  23. @themicah

    While tangential (at best) to the core subject of this piece, camp is an emotional experience, and when talking about it, it’s hard for many people to put aside the emotions–good or bad–that they associate most strongly with it.

    You know what? That’s a good explanation.


    Jonathan1 · June 20th, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  24. Fair, Jonathan1.


    Kung Fu Jew · June 21st, 2011 at 2:01 pm
  25. It’s not fair. It’s crazy. How are we expected to believe that this is possible (unless the whole piece is a satire?)


    Jonathan1 · June 21st, 2011 at 2:09 pm
  26. @jonathan1

    “Benedikt spent most of here life associated with Israel-related activities, but it wasn’t until she was about 23-years-old, in about 2003, that her non-Jewish (her emphasis) boyfriend helped her learn about things like the occupation.”

    Its not fair to put words in her mouth or make assumptions about how associations and personal relationships may have affected her opinion. So what if they did? Can we really keep young people locked away in some zionist Brigadoon feeding them bug juice and propaganda forever? They can’t even do that in Tel Aviv…

    The result is that when they enter the world and interact with reality, they are crushed to learn that the world is more complex and resent having been told half truths.

    But again, the point is not how she arrived at this (and by the way there are plenty of endogamous Jews who develop similar attitudes). The point is really that rather than attacking the messengers, consider how many people are giving voice to such sentiment.

    To prevent from losing them altogether, listen to them, engage them in dialogue and treat them as humans. Too many folks thing the proper response is to belittle or explain this as abberrent. It is not- it is systemic, and what’s not fair is our ‘leadership’ pumping resources into the perpetuation of myths that result in alienation of too many young people.


    Adam · June 21st, 2011 at 3:48 pm
  27. @Adam

    Its not fair to put words in her mouth or make assumptions about how associations and personal relationships may have affected her opinion

    I’m taking these things from her piece! How can this be? How can the editor of a serious publication have spent her entire life involved with Israel-related activities and not until she was already around 23 (from her piece), at around 2003 (from her piece) that she first started even noticing some of Israel’s many flaws?

    Are we expected to believe that she never read, say, the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, London Times, Time, Newsweek, any Israeli paper, Haaretz English, and even the Jerusalem Post?

    Can we really keep young people locked away in some zionist Brigadoon feeding them bug juice and propaganda forever?

    We can’t, and we shouldn’t, but I’m challenging if this effect even exists, among people who pay close attention to Israel.

    The result is that when they enter the world and interact with reality, they are crushed to learn that the world is more complex and resent having been told half truths.

    Agreed. But, again, I’m not sure if I buy into this entire thesis–regarding young Jews who are actually interested in Israel.

    But again, the point is not how she arrived at this (and by the way there are plenty of endogamous Jews who develop similar attitudes). The point is really that rather than attacking the messengers, consider how many people are giving voice to such sentiment.

    If that is your opinion, then you should take the matter up with the person who brought Allison Benedikt’s personal life into the center of this issue: Allison Benedikt.

    (You can’t have it both ways. You can’t laud Benedikt for intertwining her entire life story into a piece about Israel and young American Jews, and then turn around and claim that anybody criticizing that piece is “shooting the messenger.”) This isn’t a Richard Goldstone-type situation.


    Jonathan1 · June 21st, 2011 at 4:05 pm
  28. Hmm. I had a really different reaction to Benedikt’s piece than most of the commenters above, and I’m a little unsure what to make of some of the reactions. A consistent critique, even by those who might agree with AB’s criticisms of M”Y, is that she seems “shallow and naive” and incurious and etc. I didn’t get that impression as strongly as some others, but in any case it’s not clear to me that it’s a really useful criticism, since she herself describes her continued ignorance throughout the the article. For instance, she says:

    “I don’t know about Palestinians. No one told me.”
    ” These are details I don’t really know much about. There are Arab villages nearby, in the valley below, but I don’t know much about that either.”
    ” I’m still not really sure who Jabotinsky is, but the important thing is that the kids don’t know that I don’t know. It seems a little late for me to ask a friend.”
    ” I find myself saying and thinking things that I’m not even sure I believe because I’m not really sure what I believe.”

    Anyway, it seems a little strange to accuse the writer of being stupid or whatever when she herself seems quite aware of her ignorance (and, in fact, describes a kind of willful ignorance at times, for instance when she says: ” ‘I turn 21 in Jerusalem and must at this point know about the occupation, but who can say, really? I’m “not political.’ “)

    More importantly, though, is the fact that, in my experience, AB’s set of experiences, beliefs, and half-formed ideologies is entirely typical for young American Jews. So whatever the flaws of that set of experiences etc, it’s – anecdotally speaking, but I know a lot of Jews – one very standard set. Jonathan 1, when you write:

    How can the editor of a serious publication have spent her entire life involved with Israel-related activities and not until she was already around 23 (from her piece), at around 2003 (from her piece) that she first started even noticing some of Israel’s many flaws?

    I want to say: Welcome to one very prominent stream of American Judaism. (Though, nota bene, I’m not sure that the Village Voice really counts as a serious publication anymore).

    J1, you also say: Are we expected to believe that she never read, say, the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, London Times, Time, Newsweek, any Israeli paper, Haaretz English, and even the Jerusalem Post?

    Of course she did. But she was probably taught – like many, many other young Jews – that these criticisms were de facto invalid, and that to criticize beyond very basic things was to be disloyal. Again, my experience is that this is a very standard mode of thinking for American Jews. So even if she is an incurious moron with no mind of her own, she’s also a very representative specimen of American Jew – which seems like a different, and larger problem.

    It seems that people who want Jews to continue to self-define as “pro-Israel” while not ignoring Israel’s flaws need to consider a mode of education other than saying, “YesIsraelhasmanyflaws, BUT BUT it is AMAZING in most ways and the ONLY democracy in the ME, and Hadassah Hospital treats everyone!” That doesn’t seem to work as an example of a “nuanced” treatment of the state. My suspicion is that a nuanced treatment of the state would only get so far before a lot more people started jumping ship (or experiencing extreme cognitive dissonance) – so perhaps it’s not a great idea after all, from a Zionist perspective. But it might be something worth considering.

    Of course, I myself can’t really endorse the above suggestion, but that’s because I tend to think that to make some random nation-state half a world away the, or a, center of one’s Jewishness is to make a mockery of the breadth and depth of the Jewish tradition. Like eli said, I find nationalism pretty dull. But if my thesis is right, and AB is a very standard manifestation of American Judaism, her story really ought to serve as a(nother) wake-up call for the Zionist world.


    miri · June 21st, 2011 at 5:44 pm
  29. Of course, I myself can’t really endorse the above suggestion, but that’s because I tend to think that to make some random nation-state half a world away the, or a, center of one’s Jewishness is to make a mockery of the breadth and depth of the Jewish tradition.

    This is why I keep asking you to move to Israel, miri.


    Jonathan1 · June 21st, 2011 at 5:50 pm
  30. Well, then I assume I’d think that to make one’s own modern nation-state the center of one’s Jewishness is to make a mockery etc. Though I do miss the cucumbers.


    miri · June 21st, 2011 at 6:18 pm
  31. We could walk arm in arm . . .

    I’m going to sleep.


    Jonathan1 · June 21st, 2011 at 6:21 pm
  32. If you all wanna see a Zionist summer camp that doesn’t produce alums like AB then take a look here: www.campgilboa.org/ Oh and feel free to support!


    Itamar · June 21st, 2011 at 10:18 pm
  33. miri writes:
    (Though, nota bene, I’m not sure that the Village Voice really counts as a serious publication anymore).

    Even the film section?


    BZ · June 21st, 2011 at 11:32 pm
  34. Her personal identity issues and naive approach to life isn’t the basis of any healthy political statement. Get real. She just took her husbands Dogma, because from the sounds of it, he brow beats, exploiting the confused state of Jewish self identity.

    We learn that she’s sick not to be in Israel when Rabin dies…
    We learn that she thought Abe Foxman is a credible figure…
    We learn that she regards the NY Times as ultra Zionist…
    We learn that she married a rude, confrontational man who thinks her family are “morally bankrupt” for living under self determination…

    Not exactly a caricature of the brainwashed Zionist robot she wants it to be….

    We learn that she’s just another classic case of how Jews can become so impressionable, as to be disgusted with a country they love to treat like Club Med, while adopting some suicidal dichotomy role playing. Face it, unless your narrative also includes Arabs and Jews as victims of a genocidal Palestinian Arab movement dating back before the 20′s then you’re in denial.


    ugh · June 22nd, 2011 at 3:08 am
  35. Benedikt responds to Goldberg, and its illuminating:

    www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/06/allison-benedikt-makes-her-anti-israel-case/240779/


    Adam · June 22nd, 2011 at 1:54 pm
  36. From AB’s comments on Goldberg:

    On this topic specifically, I would still believe everything my parents raised me to believe if I wasn’t curious.

    Wow. What a rebel.


    Jonathan1 · June 22nd, 2011 at 3:05 pm
  37. Gah, after the lengthy explanation by Benedikt, Goldberg is still playing the condescending playground bully and titles her reply “anti-Israel.” How are his actions any better than the asshole he accuses her husband of being?


    Kung Fu Jew · June 22nd, 2011 at 3:12 pm
  38. [...] American Jews throw up their arms and wash their hands of the Zionist project (some braggart named Kung-Fu Jew writes about this idea in the same messianic terms as fin-de-siecle Jews clamoring toward [...]


    Who is the Wicked Son? | LesBnB.com · June 22nd, 2011 at 4:47 pm
  39. “YesIsraelhasmanyflaws, BUT BUT it is AMAZING in most ways and the ONLY democracy in the ME, and Hadassah Hospital treats everyone!”

    Brilliant.


    Jew Guevara · June 22nd, 2011 at 6:54 pm
  40. [...] still not even sure what I think of the original essay, let alone the replies by Goldberg, Kung Fu Jew and others. I do know that these are all great questions that we need to ask as part of the wider [...]


    Naivete in Jewish identity: the Benedikt essay saga - Liam Getreu · June 23rd, 2011 at 4:24 pm
  41. Uzi said: ” read her whole piece and my it seems to me that Zionist summer camp isn’t the issue at all but that she did not have anything else besides Zionist summer camp to help her expand her connection to Israel and the Jewish people. Case in point, she married a non-Jew.”

    Uzi – My Israeli mother who went to Synagogue regularly before national service, University, and her eventual immigration to the U.S. immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, married a non-Jewish American, and raised her kids as Unitarian Universalists. Why? A sense of a injustice (she saw the expulsion as a little girl) and war fatigue. Well, that explains leaving. As for my father – they met in a bar. So, please, next time fit the awareness of pain, suffering and conflict into your theory of inter-tribal theory of romance. Oh, and fit romance in there too. Maybe humanity? Too much? Nah. Thanks.


    Dan O. · June 24th, 2011 at 12:48 pm
  42. Why are some folks surprised that she didn’t find out about the occupation until she was in her 20s? That is totally standard for American Jews, from all denominations.

    I grew up in an orthodox community, and we NEVER talked about Palestinians, only Arabs. We were also told that the Arabs in Israel were citizens who could vote, etc… Every map of Israel I had ever seen made no distinction between Israel proper and the West Bank. I spent 6 weeks in Israel on a teen tour in high school, and at no point was any distinction made between either the population or the status of the land in various parts of “Israel.” Growing up this kind of Israel education it is VERY easy not to know about the occupation. I never learned that the West Bank was never annexed to Israel and that the Arabs living there were not Israeli citizens. After all, I had been told that that Israel had won that land from Jordan and that Arabs in Israel were citizens.

    I only found out about the occupation in college, when I saw a poster a friend had made for a rally supporting a negotiated solution. On it was what looked to me like a hand drawn map of Israel, but one where someone had taken a kidney bean shaped bite out of it. Beneath that image it said, “This is the Israel that I love.” I had no idea what the point of that poster was until I asked my friend. He then explained the history of the occupation and the status of the West Bank and Gaza strip.

    So, I grew up with a pretty serious Jewish education, had visited Israel on both family trips and an organized teen tour, and I had never learned about the occupation. I’m not surprised at all that someone can go through an Young Judea education and have the reality of the occupation systematically hidden from them. That is the basic approach of almost all Jewish and Israel education in America.


    Chorus of Apes · June 26th, 2011 at 3:23 am
  43. As for Benedikt’s seeming naiveté. As I read her piece, she is writing that way to express that in the beginning she really was naive. (Please, take a moment and remember 7th grade, or even high school, and what you knew about politics.) As for why she maintains that tone, after reading her response to Goldberg, it seems that she is still trying to sort things out. I know MANY people like this. They grow up with a naive view Israel as a core of their identity, and then when faced with the facts have trouble disentangling things, but at least they are trying. Most of the “pro-Israel” community doesn’t even try to disentangle these things, but just keeps shouting about existential threats and the only democracy in the Middle East.

    For lots of reasons the narrative that Benedikt provides is extremely typical of American Jews. It does not represent a character flaw on their part, but a crisis in American Jewish culture wherein a rich and meaningful Judaism has been replaced with a thin “support” for Israel.


    Chorus of Apes · June 26th, 2011 at 3:47 am
  44. @Dan O
    All I was saying is that it seems to me that if AB had more ways to connect to the meaning of Israel she might not feel this way. I don’t believe that there is one equation that works for everybody but more ways to think about Israel usually, in my experience, amounts to more ways to connect. Obviously your mother is an exception to my experience. Do you agree that your mother’s experience of growing up in Israel and her take on post ’67 Israel is certainly different than Alison Benedikt?


    Uzi · June 26th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
  45. I love this from Andy Bachman (quoted by Goldberg here tiny.cc/ioxqi)

    “American Jews for two generations at least have been phenomenally educated–naivete about Israel’s realities cannot really be an excuse for anything, except an invitation to grow up and struggle with life’s intrusive difficulties which are made manifest everywhere we turn when we leave childhood: poverty and hatred; politics and war; hunger and homelessness. This list goes on and on. Bursting the bubble on the idealized world of Jewish summer camp is, arguably, what we’re supposed to do when we leave that bubble.”

    And I’ll be honest, I definitely smirked at his treatment of KFJ.


    Itamar · June 26th, 2011 at 6:12 pm
  46. Uzi: “Do you agree that your mother’s experience of growing up in Israel and her take on post ‘67 Israel is certainly different than Alison Benedikt?

    Yes in a way, and no in another. The trouble is that Israel is portrayed in the U.S. as if Socialist Zionism were alive in Israel. Socialist Zionism was killed by by four things: the occupation, Rabin’s assassination, Arafat’s failure at Camp David, and fear for security (and I’m not poking fun – fear is legitimate). So, really, as an Israeli Socialist Zionist who could read the tea leaves, my mother was just ahead of the curve. There are lots like her. Benedikt was behind it. But the tension between a vision of Israel and the reality is the same. If “connecting to Israel” means “connecting to ethnic nationalism”, then I’m sure Benedikt doesn’t connect to Israel. And neither does my mother. And that is why Benedikt is right when she says that she and Goldberg believe the same thing. Because the occupation makes ethnic nationalism happen, and it will make apartheid happen. The occupation makes the Israel as the protectorate for Jews come to the same as the Israel as a state where Jews are ethnically favored.

    The trouble is that coded language about ‘connection to Israel’ and ‘severed from the Jewish people’ treats that identification as a foregone conclusion.


    Dan O. · June 27th, 2011 at 12:32 pm
  47. As someone who attended TY in 80′s, I remmember it being extremely left wing–promoting Socialist Zionism and Shalom Achshav. I parted company with Young Judea after The First Intifada, when it became clear to me that I did not want to emigrate to Israel. (Aliyah was the stated goal of the organization at that time.) I think Miss Benedikt is a little politically naive, but naivete is commonplace.


    DJ · June 28th, 2011 at 5:20 pm
  48. 1. I’m not in the least naive about what goes on Israel, I spend a lot of my personal time and energy working for peace and I think Benedikt sounds like a woman who really really needs to read some feminist texts. I have to say that reading her article po’ed me. Naive IMO doesn’t even quite cover it.

    2. That doesn’t invalidate any of the factual points about how we educate young Jews. I think it was in another thread that uzi pointed out that we need to help young Jews connect with Israel so that they care about it to criticize it with love. it’s very difficult to do so while making the complexities and evils clear. It’s even more difficult to do when the average Jewish education ends before the child is out of 7th grade – which is developmentally only the very beginning of a child’s ability to understand history, let alone the complexities of the middle east and how one can love and criticize at the same time. That does not, however, mean that we should be feeding our kids rosy, it’s all good falsities. However, I think that it’s never too early to start by explaining that just like in the USA, there are lots of different people living in Israel and nearby Israel, and just like Pilgrims and Native Americans there are differing perspectives on the story that we tell ourselves – and that no matter what the storyis, it’s important, and a Jewish value, to acknowledge the humanity of every person, no matter what.


    KRG · June 28th, 2011 at 5:57 pm
  49. Growing up this kind of Israel education it is VERY easy not to know about the occupation.

    @COA

    You mean to tell us it never occurred to you to think about things from a different perspective than exactly what you were taught, until you reached about 20-years-old? You never looked on the internet, watched CNN, read any Israeli newspaper–including Haaretz English and JPost–never read the NYT, WSJ, WP, The Economist, etc., etc., etc.? I just can’t accept that this is true for most American Jews. I can’t even accept that it’s true for you. How much can we insult the future leaders of the US? Future professionals, and politicians, and professors, and bankers?
    Everybody actually thinks they blindly follow what “the Man” has taught them, without ever giving it a second thought? Or, as miri put it, they have cognitive dissonance regarding what they read in Time Magazine?

    No, that’s not really it.

    This is it.

    Here is what the vast majority American Jews think/believe about Israel and the Palestinians:

    (pssst. They just don’t really care, and they are concerned about their lives in America. They aren’t “brainwashed.” Say what you want about Jews, but we aren’t exactly dummies.)


    Jonathan1 · June 28th, 2011 at 6:15 pm
  50. I never learned that the West Bank was never annexed to Israel and that the Arabs living there were not Israeli citizens. After all, I had been told that that Israel had won that land from Jordan and that Arabs in Israel were citizens

    Even if your weren’t taught this in your narrow Zionist education, how can this be?

    If you were actually interested in Israel, do you expect us to believe that you were such a dolt that you never figured out some of these things on your own?


    Jonathan1 · June 28th, 2011 at 6:33 pm
  51. Jonathan1, when I was in high school the internet that I was on was basically AOL dial up. Did you really read The Economist in high school? Do you even remember high school? I spent lots of time reading Spin and Rolling Stone. I got really into Pink Floyd, and fell in love (or so I thought). I was not “interested” in Israel at all actually, I just had the education I had been given. I didn’t go to day school, so when was I supposed to have taken a course in the history of Israel?

    And yes, I questioned lots of what seemed to be taken for granted, just not about Israel. I read the Feminine Mystique and was involved with my school’s chapter of Amnesty International. My own politicization happened with feminism first, then human rights. In college I began to see that the narrative about Israel I had been given didn’t add up, and I took it upon myself to read what I could about the history of Mandate Palestine and onwards. As someone who now teaches at a university I can assure that college really is the time that most people start to gain some kind of broader political consciousness and serious critical thinking skills. The whole point of college is to broaden one’s horizons. Which would necessitate that prior to college most students have not been exposed to much outside of their own experience.

    Most American Jews never question the Zionist narrative their entire lives, and you are criticizing me for not questioning my entire Orthodox community when I was in high school? Are you serious? If it makes you feel better, you should know that I am now quite critical of the Jewish establishment’s Israel education (as I hope my initial post made clear) and the compulsive Zionism of the OJC.

    Yes, people do need to take responsibility for their knowledge, but it is certainly not helpful to demean and condescend to them once they do. Thanks for your kind comments, I deeply appreciated their spirit of gentle inquiry and their demonstration of active listening skills.


    Chorus of Apes · June 29th, 2011 at 4:15 am
  52. @COA

    Did you really read The Economist in high school?

    What do you think? Of course not.

    I was not “interested” in Israel at all actually, I just had the education I had been given. I didn’t go to day school, so when was I supposed to have taken a course in the history of Israel?

    Ok. So we’re 100% in agreement. You had plenty of things going on in your life, and you weren’t “interested” in Israel at all. That’s why you didn’t know that Palestinians don’t have Israeli citizenship.

    That’s what I’m saying. We agree. You weren’t the victim of some Clockwork Orange-style mind manipulation, you just had other things going on in your life.

    In college I began to see that the narrative about Israel I had been given didn’t add up, and I took it upon myself to read what I could about the history of Mandate Palestine and onwards. As someone who now teaches at a university I can assure that college really is the time that most people start to gain some kind of broader political consciousness and serious critical thinking skills. The whole point of college is to broaden one’s horizons. Which would necessitate that prior to college most students have not been exposed to much outside of their own experience.

    Again, we agree. You started thinking about this particular issue in college, and that’s when you broaden your horizons regarding Israel/Palestine. You didn’t, as miri says just listen to what you had been taught – like many, many other young Jews – that these criticisms (of Israel) were de facto invalid, and that to criticize beyond very basic things was to be disloyal. Again, my experience is that this is a very standard mode of thinking for American Jews.

    You just had never seriously thought about it before. Just like most American Jews don’t really think about it now–they have other things on their mind–they aren’t victims of sinister brainwashing.

    Most American Jews never question the Zionist narrative their entire lives

    Agreed, because they really don’t care about Zionism, or its narrative.

    and you are criticizing me for not questioning my entire Orthodox community when I was in high school? Are you serious?

    Ironically, I was questioning how an intelligent person like you could have spent their childhood actively thinking about the modern state of Israel and not realized such things.

    Here are my comments again–apply some active reading skills:

    I just can’t accept that this is true for most American Jews. I can’t even accept that it’s true for you.

    If you were actually interested in Israel, do you expect us to believe that you were such a dolt that you never figured out some of these things on your own?

    one more thing:
    and you are criticizing me for not questioning my entire Orthodox community when I was in high school? Are you serious?

    Here is a suggestion: if you don’t want people to criticize your relationship to Israel when you were in high school . . . then perhaps it would be prudent to not write unsolicited comments about your relationship to Israel when you were in high school.


    Jonathan1 · June 29th, 2011 at 5:59 am
  53. Narratives of Zionist camp are popping up all over the place: tinyurl.com/3g2nl7p


    Itamar · June 29th, 2011 at 9:25 am
  54. No one is implying that American Zionist education is a sinister plot (or at least I’m not), just that it is not reflective of reality. Of course students, especially as they age, will learn new things, but that doesn’t get educators off the hook for either inadvertently or willfully concocting a naive and partial narrative. Either Jewish educators have no integrity, or they are acting as propagandists. That students have the ability throughout their lives to continue learning does not excuse the poor and possibility deceitful pedagogy and curriculum of Zionist education in America. Yes, Jewish educators must be taken to task for creating a willful ignorance in their students, even if that is rectified through later learning. In fact, I would argue that in the current system when the truth is discovered (myself included) feel lied to and abandon all of their Zionist education. If educators were up front about the reality of occupation, then students would not be as encouraged to reject out of hand that entire education.

    As for my lack of interest in Israel as a high schooler, I have to say that it was not facilitated by the education I had received. I went from disinterest to discovering the truth which led to opposition. Had the discourse I had been provided by my family, my community, and my teen tour to Israel been characterized by nuance and integrity I may not have been given cause to abandon it.

    Yes, Israel and Zionism are only a part of American Jew’s lives, even their Jewish lives. And that is how it should be. Likewise for Israelis. There is so much richness and depth to life and to the Jewish tradition that expecting Zionism to consume someone’s experience is really a diminishment of the possibilities of Judaism and Jewish life.


    Chorus of Apes · June 30th, 2011 at 1:09 pm
  55. [...] efficiency should guide our funding. Well, if that were the case, then Birthright, day schools and Zionist summer camp should be defunded entirely. Efficiency is a worthy cause and I don’t mean to suggest that [...]


    Defending innovation from fuzzy math | Jewschool · June 30th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
  56. No one is implying that American Zionist education is a sinister plot (or at least I’m not), just that it is not reflective of reality

    Maybe you’re not, but there is a clear line of reasoning around these parts that the American Jewish community is somehow under the spell of the “AIPAC echo-chamber.”


    Jonathan1 · June 30th, 2011 at 5:33 pm
  57. There is so much richness and depth to life and to the Jewish tradition that expecting Zionism to consume someone’s experience is really a diminishment of the possibilities of Judaism and Jewish life.

    Nobody is arguing that Zionism has to consume anybody’s life experience.

    I’m just pointing out that the American Jewish community–for whatever its faults–is an unbelievably intelligent, educated community. Most people in that community have many things on their plate, and Israel is not even close to the top. If people in the community want to learn about Israel they will very easily.

    Or, as this expose on Birthright points out: My traveling companions were not monsters. Birthright’s overstimulation brings about a deadening of feeling. It’s hard to imagine the suffering of others when you’re having the time of your life. In Tours That Bind, sociologist Shaul Kelner contends that Birthright activities revolve around “fun and good feeling,” meaning “the group’s hedonism is thus one of the most effective checks against a determinedly critical politics.”

    www.thenation.com/article/161460/romance-birthrightisrael?page=0,0

    As the saying goes: Are you serious?


    Jonathan1 · June 30th, 2011 at 6:12 pm
  58. [...] has been much conversation in the blogosphere over the past fews days stemming from Allison Benedikt’s first person essay, in which she recalls [...]


    Opinion « AZ Jewish Post · July 5th, 2011 at 10:53 am
  59. if a jewish person has no read “from time immemorial” by joan peters or googled (and read) ‘hadrian’s curse’ or has not had the equivalent torah education about who we are as a people and what really happened in 1918,1920,1922,1936, 1948, 1967 etc…

    if a jewish person is not aware of these things they are ripe for brainwashing by the looney left. and it’s no joke. once they have their clocks cleaned they can’t see straight but will surely tell you what time it is!

    and if you tell them, “uh, no, it’s not really like that”, they will call you a racist.

    the task here is a community effort to rescue these brainwashed people similar to jews for judaism rescuing jews who fall into xianity.

    the jews who fall into xianity do so because they did not have a proper torah education about who they really are and who we really are as a people. what and where our land is, what our responsibilities are and why there is a leftist islamic alliance who wants to destroy us.

    z street, stand with us, and other groups are ready to help. most orthodox, observant jews are ready to help. we have to enlist all of them.

    we’ve had it ‘up to here’ with all the kumbaya crap.
    while it is very interesting that apparently 80% of fakestinian arabs, (yep, you got the spelling right) may have jewish ancestry it is painfully clear that not even 40% of them are trying to connect with their jewish neighbors. hamas was voted, repeat, voted in to gaza. abbas, the jew-hating, holocaust denying, murderous planner of slaughtering jews is in charge because they want him there.

    you want a solution? the real solution? here it is, like it or don’t, it’s the truth. what will protect israel is massive teshuvah, returning to our spiritual roots and returning to our land. this is the sign to the Creator of the world who runs everyhing, all the time, understand it, like it, or not.

    don’t like that answer? disagree with it? well, that’s up to you.
    it would also help if the leftist wackos in the gov’t were put out to pasture and de-programmed as well.. there are leftoids who still think giving up gaza was a good idea! nuts.

    yes, the israeli gov’t and army has to show strength. but we have never in our existence relied only on physical power. tehillim 20 says ‘some with chariots and some with horses, but we in the name of Hashem our G-d. they stumbled and fell, but we arose and were invigorated”.

    does the religious stuff bother you? that’s because you don’t or didn’t have a proper torah education. if you did, you would know what is the root of your soul. you don’t have to become ‘frum’. or orthodox. but you do have a responsibility to your own soul and the soul of your people, your ancestors to be informed and understand what is really going on here.

    the religious and zionist commmunity has a serious responsibility to the rest of am yisrael, the people of israel to shine the light and educate, uplift and clarify the truth of our existence and purpose for being.

    the more this is done, hopefully, with Hashem’s help, we will become stronger as a people.

    oh, btw, the “kumbaya” line? we invented it! isaiah ‘swords into plowshares’, peace on earh, don’t oppress the orphan, widow and stranger, help the poor, etc etc. that’s us!!!!

    but in order to “get it” you have to know what the torah says and who you really are as a jewish person. which is not, repeat not, repeat not defined by a leftist ideology. you don’t have to be rightwing to be right. but don’t, for gosh sakes, be a chickenwing!


    Moses was a Zionist · November 15th, 2011 at 12:16 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik