Culture, Israel, Politics, Religion

Arnie Eisen's Attempt to be inspirational, semi-left-of-center, and pro-active on Israel

Everyone’s new favorite chancellor-elect of JTS has shared his tips for “bringing us closer with Israel” with a local (to him) California congregation. Below you can read Shamir’s bites (reactions) to each of his suggestions.

1. Increase our knowledge about the Reality of Israel, as opposed to the Myth of Israel, through films, books, magazines, newspapers, on-line sources, and maybe even satellite TV.

Shamir’s bite: This is actually one of may favorite ones. Too many people are totally ignorant on Israel — they think of it as a place where either everyone lives on a kibbutz full of cows, or like a 3rd world country with bombs falling all the time. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, those of us who only read what’s put out by Palestinian solidarity organizations. Wake up and check it out!

2. Learn more about the history of Zionism and the development of the State—especially when seen parallel to the modern history of the Jewish diaspora.

Shamir’s bite: Another important one — just make sure you do read about the histroy of “Zionism and the State” from the perspective of Palestinians, British nation, Turkish history, etc. How did the Holocaust create Israel? How did Moroccoan Jews? What else is there?

3. Visit, and when visiting get to know the place better, go beyond touring and vacation (especially if this is not the first visit) to learning more about the place, the people, the society, the culture.

Shamir’s bite: Experiential and educational tours are the new thing. If you can, go on a program in which you meet actual Israelis, and find time to go on an encounter tour or other opportunity to meet Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

4. Hebrew. Make a real effort to improve knowledge of the language, so as to get more direct access, if only to prayerbooks and street signs, to one’s people and tradition.

Shamir’s bite: Even if you’re not a Zionist, you’re still going to need Hebrew as a Jew. As someone who learned most of the Hebrew I know through college courses and JCC Ulpan, I’m living proof that you can learn it affordably and locally, if you can put time into it. If you can make it all the way to Israel and do a few months of ulpan, all the better.

5. Support partnerships such as Partnership 2000 with Israelis, and possibly Jews from diaspora communities, for work on projects in Israel, US, or diaspora.

Shamir’s bite: Whether you do an offical program or you just connect with Jews from other countries at your local grocery store, you’ll have your Jewish life enriched.

6. Encourage our young people to make Israeli connections of their own, which may be very different from ours, and may result in them getting more attached than we’d (honestly) like.

Shamir’s bite: First:Ahem, Arnie: When you tell members of a synagogue to “encourage young people” you are separating the young people from the members of the synagogue. Second: I’d love an elaboration on this. Does “more attached” refer to kids who make aliyah? Ba’alei teshuvah? What sort of attachment are they afraid about here?

7. Join and get active in “friends of” organizations, from relatively non-partisan causes (universities, orchestras) to somewhat partisan causes (advocacy of pluralism or civil rights or environmental action), whether directly or through Federation or New Israel Fund.
8. Join and get active in overtly partisan efforts: friends of Meretz or Peace Now or Likud.

Shamir’s bite: This is a sleek one. How many people do you think hear this and feel included vs. excluded?

9. Lobby—whether at the national level via AIPAC or NIF or among our own Jewisn and Gentile friends and co-workers, who don’t know that we support Israel, or why, or what it means to us.

Shamir’s bite: Let’s throw in Brit Tzedek V’shalom too here.

10. Finally, perhaps most difficult, change our attitude towards Israel, our relation to it, to accept the revolutionary change it represents in Jewish history and the nature of Jewish responsibility—for a real state, a highly imperfect state, that includes many kinds of Jews as well as non-Jews, for all of whom the State is responsible—and so for whom, indirectly, we are responsible.

Shamir’s bite: Can someone please tell the Jewish establishment that Arnie here is allying himself here with all of us post-Zionists? He may not be a pillar of post-Zionism, but on this one, I feel like he’s with us.

Though I could have wished for a reference to ending the occupation or some more specific reference to Palestinians, overall I am pleased with the list. I hope to hear more from the man, especially when some of us who are “young” and progressive on Israel are getting bashed by AJC & others.

11 thoughts on “Arnie Eisen's Attempt to be inspirational, semi-left-of-center, and pro-active on Israel

  1. shamirpower writes:
    Ba’alei teshuvah?
    Totally on a tangent: I never liked the term “ba’al teshuvah (literally “master of repentance”), but then at Limmud NY I heard a new translation of the phrase: “someone who has all the answers”.

  2. Eisen’s last comment doesn’t make him a post-Zionist, just a realistic one. And that’s actually a redundancy. The only people who’re unrealistic Zionists are diasporniks, those of us who burden it with our own expectations often blissfully ignorant of how hard it is to take responbibility for one’s world, totally. Sounds like Shamir needs a lesson in Zionist history. He sets Israel up as needing to be perfect, then surprise surprise feels disappointed when it isn’t. Grow up.

  3. at Limmud NY I heard a new translation of the phrase: “someone who has all the answers”.
    That is great!
    Who said that at LIMMUD-NY? i want to quote it in their name.

  4. Benjamin-
    Why do you assume that Shamir is a “he”?
    master of questions-
    It was a participant in a session, so i should get their permission first before quoting them by name.

  5. Reading this post in conjunction with Taking Hold of Torah and other works by Eisen makes me excited for the future of Conservative Judaism.

  6. “future of Conservative Judaism”
    It’s nice to know that people still think there is one, at least.

  7. A wise person recently wrote the following to me in an email: “Progressives want to see progress in Israel, that is, stability and peace, and we are open-minded about how that can be achieved, unlike the neo-cons whose tunnel vision has created the disaster in Iraq and whose unswerving embrace of the Israeli right threatens to do the same.” I couldn’t agree more.
    p.s. the ‘he’ above i think was referring to eisen. though most worms are hermaphrodites, this shamir is a she!

  8. Hey, maybe the same way Mobius got us these little flags, we can get icons for race, gender and sexual orientation as well?

  9. Its wonderful that JTS now has a chancellor who doesn’t seek locked away in an ivory tower, but rather has a clue about the realities of American Jews complicated relationship with Israel. However, I don’t see how any of what Eisen argues for – which is a mature, rather than a child-like Zionism as “post-Zionist” Nor for that matter, does anything that shamirpower says strike me as anything other than progressive Zionism. If your concerns are primarily that Israel become a more righteous Jewish state in the ways its treats its citizens and neighbors, that’s not post-Zionism.

  10. Chancellor Eisen really is great news for the Conservative Movement. He’s more than a new set of eyes, he’s re-ignited a fire in the Conservative Movement that was sadly about to burn out (ha-meyveen yaveen). His finger is certainly on the pulse of the people and change is on it’s way.

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