Identity, Israel, Politics

MUST READ: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

This has started to make the rounds today. Peter Beinart at the New York Review of Books.
The central argument:

For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

I don’t have much to add to what’s already been written at Tablet and Mondoweiss.
Go read it and come back here to comment.
Full story.

41 thoughts on “MUST READ: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

  1. hmm. Well, it’s nice that another hawk has “seen the error of his ways,” but is it really a must read? Haven’t we, here at Jewschool, been saying this for years now (not to mention tons of other people)?
    Is it really news that the right is doing Israel no favors in general, and all the creaky orgs like AJC, AIPAC and the other scaremongers (be Jewish, or Hitler will win!; be Jewish or the Arabs will kill us all!), doing even less?

  2. I was actually just going to post this! While posting a piece such as this on this site might indeed be ‘preaching to the choir,’ I agree that it’s well worth the read. Beinart spells out the entire situation with a thoroughly compelling eloquence, honesty, and lucidity. This article reads as an especially comforting antidote to the New Yorker’s May 10 shandah profile on media mogul Haim Saban, “The Influencer”–yes ladies and gentlemen, that’s why the world hates us.

  3. While its always nice to hear a 39-year-old’s views of what young people are thinking, he can’t quite explain the over 200,000 actual young Jews who have gone on Birthright trips.
    Of course I hear that the NYRB is what the young people are reading all the time these days.

  4. While interesting, my big frustration with the piece is that Jews are defined as either Orthodox or secular liberals. There really wasn’t much understanding of the reasonably sized and very vocal observant Jews who aren’t Orthodox (or are even left-wing Orthodox). In addition to the liberal issues, the growing marginalization (and violence towards) non-Orthodox religious practice is more and more going to separate Jews from Israel. For people who care about Israel, this trend can’t be ignored.

  5. He also portrays orthodoxy as a giant monolith, which it absolutely isn’t. One of the more intriguing trends among the orthodox in recent years is the move towards anti-Zionism. Products of the post-high school year in Israel are becoming increasingly radicalised to reject any notion of a secular state. (This is not true of all programs, to be sure.)
    Case in point: the prevalence of the term “Eretz Yisroel” (land of Israel) over “medinat Yisrael” (state of Israel) among many American orthodox circle these days. But otherwise Beinart’s arguments and observations hold water.
    Beinart underscores the generational drift over denominational differences, which in this case seems to be what is more at stake, at least among American Jewry. Why should he mention observant non-Orthodox or the so-called left Orthodox when they (sadly) represent such a meager few?
    This piece is a survey of the situation, not an in-depth sociological inspection of all the sub-groups involved.
    @Dave: need we find a better litmus test of what “young people” in Jewish America think than Brandeis students’ response to Michael Oren last month?

  6. What 18-26 yr old doesn’t want a free vacation? I can’t tell you how many uninvolved, uninterested Jews I know at school who have been on or plan on going on a birthright trip because it’s a free vacation.
    And, by the way, how do you explain the young Jews who haven’t gone on birthright. 200,000 is a lot, but it’s no majority.

    1. And, by the way, how do you explain the young Jews who haven’t gone on birthright. 200,000 is a lot, but it’s no majority.
      Not everyone in the age range is eligible…

  7. Peter forgets that Kadimah received the most votes in the last Israeli election.
    It seems that young people are losing connections to Judaism in general. They don’t care about Israel because they don’t care about Judaism in general. You’ve got backward.

  8. @Susan. wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. I cannot begin to explain how wrong that is. “Young people” are losing their connections to the Judaism of the previous couple generations–Holocaust guilt and Israel fear. We are rejecting this fear-based propaganda factory for substantive, Torah-based, spiritually-centered, justice-grounded Judaism.
    We were told for years that Israel was the center of Judaism and that justice was the center of Judaism, and yet, it has become so loud and so clear that if either of those things are true, they are not true of each other. “Young people” do not see justice in a state that engages in some of the most brutal military activities in the world, that regularly leaves marginalized any group of minorities and uses such wonderful tools as cluster bombs and white phosphorous and have given the world such brilliant inventions as the cell phone bomb and the targeted assassination (oh, yeah, and IM technology).
    Quite the opposite of what you claim, “young people” are actually looking towards faith in droves, all faiths. Jews are no exception. We see a global spiritual re-=centering. People are no longer seeking simply community and belonging from religion, people want meaning.
    “Young people” do not care about Israel because it does not relate to them. Because their trauma is not our trauma. And we are not them. “Young people” do not care about Israel because some of them feel lied to and abused by the Zionist education.
    But do not presume for one second, even one second, that “young people” do not care about Judaism. Just you wait and see what this generation of “young rabbis” has in store for you. The times are changing, Susan. The old answers never actually answered the questions, and they certainly won’t now. “Young people” don’t care about Israel because they don’t think Israel is worth caring for and they are waiting for Israel to prove them wrong.

  9. Justin,
    I’m not going to address the majority of the hot air you just billowed, but I do want to address your dismissal of the value of israeli contributions to science and technology with the exception of its weaponry:
    “Israel has the highest density of tech start-ups in the world. More importantly, these start-ups attract more venture capital dollars per person than any country — 2.5 times the U.S., 30 times Europe, 80 times India, and 300 times China. Israel has more companies on the tech-oriented NASDAQ than any country outside the U.S., more than all of Europe, Japan, Korea, India, and China combined. But it’s not just about start-ups. Scratch almost any major tech company — Intel, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Motorola, and so on — and you will find that Israeli talent and technology play a major role in keeping these multinational companies on the cutting edge. ”

  10. at least give me the credit that it’s been a little while since i’ve blown that kind of hot air here 🙂
    but come on, really? of all that I ranted out you’re focusing on that? no positive technological development will ever counter the destruction.

  11. I agree that “no positive tech development will ever counter the destruction” nor justify it, nor excuse it. My point is that Israel has an exceptional value to this world, something like the “light unto the nations” business. I don’t think that we as the descendants of exiles of Iudaea Province should abandon Zionism/the modern state of Israel because of its current moral degeneration. Palestinians will not abandon the right of return because of Palestinian moral degeneration in Eretz Yisrael. Elijah the Prophet did not abandon Israel when they worshipped Baal.
    and as much as I’d like to believe you about a spiritual haskalah taking place in america right now, considering the number of jews i know who are intermarried or completely detached from judaism, i’ll blow my hot air agreeing with Susan. Also, I was raised conservative, so I would associate the beginning of the failure of the american jewish establishment there.

  12. It’s been a long while, Justin. Props.
    “Young people” do not care about Israel because some of them feel lied to and abused by the Zionist education: Israel was the center of Judaism and that justice was the center of Judaism.
    Amen, sister.
    That said, there are plenty of Jews not reaching for “substantive, Torah-based, spiritually-centered, justice-grounded Judaism,” but WASP secular materialism. I don’t think denying this deflates your main argument, but it should be acknowledged.
    Yes, large parts of the organized Jewish community have failed to properly educate young Jews. For one or two generations, the community coasted on pure momentum of “Holocaust” and “tradition”. That’s just not good enough anymore.
    The only aspect I have a problem with is your “justice” binge. In my opinion, the entire tikkun olam, justice thing is a bastardization of core Jewish values, taken out of context of the rest of those values, and forced through a narrow ideological and political agenda. Case in point, yes, we all want justice and a better world, but ramming a carbon tax through the congress and destroying what’s left of this country’s manufacturing base is not the way to achieve it. That’s not justice, it’s politics.

  13. sorry Raysh the Eretz Yisroel thing is not a new trend, that’s the way most frum Jews refer to israel, that’s the way it’s been since I was a wee little yingl.

  14. that’s the thing, Oren. assuming that intermarriage=not interested in Judaism is patently false and overlooks the complexity of peoples hearts. I am not saying we are seeing a Jewish renaissance in America, I am saying we are witnessing a spiritual renaissance across the globe. We are in the midst of a significant cycle. Old paradigms are being broken as they are failing to address the needs, concerns and perspectives of today’s generation.
    Basing today’s successes by yesterday’s struggles is always going to leave you with irrelevant information

  15. @Oren,
    Although the Conservative movement certainly bears some share of teh blame, it can hardly be blamed for all, most or even the kick-off of it. It’s a generational problem which isn’t even limite to Jews – seekers move between religions at light speed, this sin’t something notable to Judaism. It comes out of a culture of immediate gratification and superficiality – no one wants to have discipline in their practice, and they are too busy to spend time building community. But -surprise- it isn’t *this* generation of whom that is primarily true but the one that came of age during the 60’s and 70’s. Gen X, Gen y and the millenials have been rejecting (to the extent they can, given the economy and the need not to starve)the model that says work comes first, and community is something to do as a hobby.
    I for one can’t wait to see the changes a-comin. I intend to be right smack in the middle of them, personally.

  16. “Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes. ”
    this is the real “basar ve tapuchei adama” that really sticks out in my mind. 🙂
    “liberal zionism in israel”- I just fantasized about millions of american jews moving to israel to provide a demographic buffer for israel to annex judah and samaria, and establish the palestinians as first class citizens so that we can all live together happily ever after. le sigh.

  17. Alana,
    I respect your zrizut, but I believe that american judaism has peaked, and now its a matter of vanishing returns. someday we’ll learn that judaism without israel is just unitarian universalism: a liberal, universal worldview but just another religion.

  18. Um…. is there a problem with Judaism as ‘just another religion’? Objectively speaking, aren’t ALL religions ‘just another religion’ and all nations ‘just another nation’?
    Of course, it’s my religion, and my nation, so I’m inclined to care a bit more. But the optical illusion of confusing proximity for significance is not a required element for any religious faith or cultural tradition.

  19. I disagree, it’s not an optical illusion. would you say proximity is insignificant to the palestinians, who maintain that they have a unique culture/tradition/language?

  20. i’ll concede, that was pretty funny, but isn’t this more about the children thinking their parents are special?

  21. “But the optical illusion of confusing proximity for significance is not a required element for any religious faith or cultural tradition.”
    Nicely said Jew Guevara

  22. An interesting response to this article can be found at
    Anyone who actually writes anything about Israel that perfect strangers are likely to read had better believe he’s got the wisdom, pointillist clarity and courage to unmask others’ astigmatism, myopia and bad faith. Too often, though, the would-be Truth-teller, no matter where he stands on a political or religious spectrum, is less wise about Israel than he is driven by swift, dark currents in history and in himself that he may not have explored or even acknowledged.

  23. Oren – and Judaism with ISrael, what’s that? I’d take the “just another religion” option anyday. I happen to like liberal values and God, too.

  24. Sorry to be ranting, but I hate it when people cast Israel as the epicenter of Judaism. Judaism has been around for 2000 years or so, and Israel for only 60 of them. Judaism has produced the Babylonian Talmud and other such treasures of literature, and Israel produced ICQ and the Uzi. I know who I’m siding with.

  25. JID- Having read that article, how is it anything more than another “look, a pony!” argument?

  26. Aren’t we called Jews because we are from the Iudaea Province? Isn’t our whole identity based on where we came from? Can you imagine Palestinians giving up the right of return and still calling themselves Palestinians?
    I really hate it when spoiled children lament that their only inheritance from the state of Israel is ICQ and guns. what about the vibrant resurrection of our treasured language, our national identity?

  27. Our language was not resurrected because of the state. Neither was our national identity. Aruguably we lost several languages and a national identity because of the state.
    And etymology does not trump content. We came from Egypt.

  28. “And etymology does not trump content. We came from Egypt.”
    Really? Can I apply for citizenship?!

  29. Jesus, it’s a mythical construct. (Just as mythical as Judaea, by the way). If you wish, you can change it to Mesopotamia (Joshua 24). Jews in Jewish historiography come from everywhere *but* Judaea.

  30. And Eric, can you apply for Judaean citizenship? Let me know when Herod gets back to you on the phone.

  31. Susan writes:
    Peter forgets that Kadimah received the most votes in the last Israeli election.
    Kadima did not receive a majority of votes. It is the largest party, but only received a bit less than 20% of the vote. The coalition today has 74 members and is quite representative of where the majority of Israelis want to see the country. Kadima also took most of its votes from the shrunken Labor party and Meretz.

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