Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jewish-Jewish intermarriage under attack

Jeffrey Goldberg has brought our attention (and Helen Rosner, via Facebook, my attention) to an ad campaign, sponsored by the Israeli government but being shown in the States, urging Israelis to... divorce their American spouses, Jewish or otherwise, and return home? Presumably asking them not to marry Americans and settle in America in the first place, but then there's the fact that they're being aired here, not there.

Analyzing these ads properly would mean writing (yet another) dissertation on the question of Jews and intermarriage, but I'm thinking one, for me, is enough. So you're getting this in blog-post form, complete with tangential musings.

-Anti-intermarriage arguments - including ones against international but same-faith marriage - are doomed to failure because intermarriage is a symptom (or, in more neutral terms, a result), not a cause, of whichever feared demographic or cultural shift. In this case, Israelis are living in the U.S. anyway, because this is where they've found work in hummus, New York real estate, theoretical physics, or something else entirely. Once here, they meet Americans, often American Jews. Often, Israelis arrive here already married to other Israelis, in part because of the IDF, so if they're arriving for grad school or a postdoc (sorry, my anecdotal evidence tilts towards academia), they're a good bit older than the rest of the cohort. But if they do marry Americans, it's because they were already in America for reasons other than the theoretical allure of theoretical American spouses. Individual and structural forces unrelated to marriage were at work. But it's easier, simpler, and more emotion-tugging to discuss complex issues in terms of marriage and family, so that's how we get to these commercials, and anti-intermarriage discourse more generally.

-Herzl's notion that Israel's existence would normalize Jews, making them a people like any other, may have failed in international-relations-and-perceptions terms (Israel as the Jew of the world, and all that), but it did succeed in one area, which is in how American Jews perceive of Israeli Jews. Israeli women are somehow immune to negative stereotypes about (American, but potentially also British, French...) Jewish women. It's not precisely that they're "shiksas" (although, Bar Refaeli), but more that the salient thing about them is that they're foreign. That, and because of the different ethnic mix, while they certainly look Jewish, they often don't look Jewish in American terms, which is looking Ashkenazi. Israeli men, meanwhile, are imagined to be physically stronger and less intellectual/neurotic than their American Jewish equivalents. Again, it's related to a much older (and also socially constructed, etc., etc.) Sephardic-Ashkenazi divide, but it's also something relatively new.

And my understanding from the approximately ten trillion Israel-American Jews (varying degrees of each identity) I know is that it cuts both ways, but especially in terms of American Jewish women having not the best reputation among Israelis, the "JAP" stereotype being if anything greater among this set than among American Jews.

-The ads themselves are despicable, or would be if they weren't so ridiculous. The "Christmas" ad - and I say this as someone who periodically holds forth on why Christmas shouldn't be a national holiday in the U.S., and who's long tried to explain to the mystified why non-celebration of Christmas is such a big deal for some Jews, and as someone who's a big ol' Zionist who periodically threatens to up and move to Tel Aviv - makes Israel look a whole lot less appealing as a destination. If this is my takeaway, what would others' be? Its message is ostensibly that America is the dangerous land of assimilation, but it ends up reading as, Israel is a dying country, Judaism a dying faith, and the vibrant future requires Jews to stop worrying and learn to love Christmas. I mean, is the ad targeted at the nostalgic elderly, and if so, why show it in the States if it's aimed at Israeli grandparents?

And, it's a bit like when the grandfatherly Israeli man who led my Birthright Israel brigade ordered the young men assembled to note how attractive the young Jewish women around them were. In that it immediately makes one think the reverse, or else why would this need to be so painstakingly pointed out? That there need to be ads telling Israeli expats/emigrants to get misty suggests that Israelis are on the contrary delighted to be living abroad.

-It's maybe kind of refreshing - and I say this as someone who's incredibly against natalism, that is, government policies that interfere with individuals' childbirth decisions in order to increase, decrease, or alter the nation's demographics - that Israel isn't taking the straightforward "Jewish babies" approach, and is specifically concerned with the production of Israeli babies. But, as Goldberg notes, the idea is obviously that American-Jewish babies are as good as Episcopalian anyway.

-Everyone loves a good story of Jews opposing sweeping categories of Jewish-Jewish marriage. Like with the Syrian Jews, who apparently consider other Jews unacceptable marriage partners. Why does everyone love this kind of story? Because there's something in it for everyone. Think Jews are insular? These stories tell you nothing you didn't know. Think Jews get lumped into one box too often, and that the immense diversity of "Jews" needs more attention? These stories show that Jews are not one unified bloc after all.

-But are these ads even about the dangers of intermarriage? It seems like they could just as easily be about the threat of emigration, period. After all, an Israeli couple that moves to the States will send its kids to American schools, where those children will hear about Santa Claus, whether the parents like it or not.

-I know that the proper, politically-correct response here would be to say that there is of course vibrant Diaspora Jewish life, and that Israel needs to respect the existence of non-Israeli Jews. My own thoughts are... this, but not entirely. It seems possible - probable? - that over the course of who knows how many generations, the only Jews left will be ultra-orthodox or in Israel. If this bothers you, do something about it, but that something shouldn't be telling those already in committed relationships with non-Jews - or in milieus in which the default is a non-Jewish spouse - to marry in. If nothing else (and I could think of some other good reasons), because this approach is futile.

-While my overall stance re: Zionism - which I was reminded of by David Schraub - hasn't much changed since I first began thinking about this issue, my understanding of Israel has somewhat. No, not in terms of realizing that the Israeli government does icky things, or that religious extremists over there have too much power. This much I've long since understood, so I never had some kind of idealized vision of Israel. Rather, I've become increasingly aware through my own daily life of how thrilled so many Israelis - even ostensibly rah-rah-Israel Israelis - are to get out. To move to New York, to be academics in America, etc. They want out, but who wants in? I keep thinking that Israel would work just fine if those who believed in it (including yours truly, blogging from the Whole Foods, where the shuttle has dropped me for two hours, time I might have spent tilling the kibbutz fields) actually lived there. But it takes a big catalyst to up and move there, so if those whose default is to live there are moving here? For Israel to work, Jews don't merely have to live there. They - we - have to want to live there, and follow through.

-What with having stolen away a man from a foreign country myself (and never mind that he'd in all likelihood be living in the States regardless), I'm trying to picture a Belgian ad warning young Belgians of the dangers of moving to America and marrying an American. I could totally create this ad. It would show a Belgian at an American supermarket, looking at the sad bread selection, then going on Skype and watching his or her family tuck into a fresh loaf from the bakery. That's all you'd need.

24 comments:

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

I'm amazed that in these discussions it's not brought up that many Israelis who wanted to raise children preferred to do it in a country without conscription. I think this was especially true for Israelis who lost parents or siblings in '67 or '73. They might not have cared so much if their child said 'Ema' or 'Mama' (I said both, like the boy in the video) so long as they didn't have to experience sleepless nights worrying about an actively deployed child. My guess is that this is a stronger motivation for ex-Pats of my Mother's generation (i.e. the generation who fought in '67 and '73) than it was for later generations.

When my mother came to the US in 1969, the anti-war movement was on its way to winning. Future U.S. conscription became unthinkable. The contrast with Israel couldn't be starker.

I don't share your agreement with Orthodox pessimism about the Jewish future. I just know so many kids of intermarriage who are involved with Judaism, with Jewish spouses or Jewish children of intermarriage (being Reform, I count patrilineal descent) who are Jewishly involved. I realize it's anecdotal. But it just seems like there's a whole bunch of us, and we're gravitationally attracted.

And so, two generations later, my mother has a granddaughter who calls her 'Savta', *will* understand the really important reason (1973) we light a candle on Yom Kippur (if not on Yom HaZikaron, which I admit, I never heard of till today), and will brunch on chopped salad and soft-boiled eggs.

But I guess there is some danger of a total loss of Israeli culture. I think cottage cheese is gross.

Dan O. said...

OMG.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uec_Rrf0B9s

Britta said...

I'm confused. Doesn't the Israeli government also want American Jews to emigrate to Israel? Wouldn't American-Israeli marriages promote that? Presumably the Israeli government sponsors Project Birthright, which if I get it straight, is all about American Jews going to Israel and hooking up with hot Israelis?
Interestingly, I've discovered that in Norway there's a reality TV dating show which pairs up Norwegian-Americans with Norwegians. I haven't seen it so I don't know exactly what the slant of the show is, but my guess is there's a bit of desire for Norwegian-Americans to "marry a Norwegian and come back to Norway" (that's certainly an attitude I've encountered among actual Norwegians, and the Norwegian seems at least neutral if not supportive of this.)

Phoebe said...

Dan,

That's interesting re: conscription. My sense these days, though, is that it's more of an America-as-land-of-opportunity thing. That, plus existing networks of Israeli-Americans and (some) American Jews, plus the relative lack of appeal of Israel as a place to live as vs, say, Belgium, explains this emigration.

If I get to the OMG video... clues as to what it's about?

Britta,

"Doesn't the Israeli government also want American Jews to emigrate to Israel? Wouldn't American-Israeli marriages promote that?"

One could say the same re: Jewish-Christian marriage in the US or elsewhere - yes, some such couples produce Jewish offspring, just as yes, some Israeli-American-Jewish couples move to Israel. But the balance of attraction is or is seen as being in the other direction: couples tend towards raising children Christian and towards living in the States, respectively. I say this, of course, not to defend, but to explain, the ads. But as I explain in the (admittedly over-long) post, Jews with both Israel and America as options, Israeli and American Jews alike, seem to prefer living in America, whatever it is they think they ought to prefer.

"Project Birthright, which if I get it straight, is all about American Jews going to Israel and hooking up with hot Israelis?"

Birthright Israel is indeed sponsored in part by the Israeli government, but it's not about American Jews hooking up with Israelis, hot or otherwise. It's barely even about Israel. It's about American (and French, etc.) Jews meeting other Jews from their home area, hooking up with them, and ultimately marrying and having kids with them.

Re: Norway, I think this points to a sense that certainly extends beyond Israel, that American hegemony needs to be challenged, brain-drain and other such drains combatted. I was only half-joking re: the possibility of Belgium doing something along these lines.

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

About conscription - while I agree that economic opportunity gets Israelis here, I have quite a lot of reason to believe that conscription keeps them here. (Or Canada. I've got ex-Pat family that moved there. No conscription + universal health care = double bonus.)

The video is a Chapelle-style spoof of the officially produced videos produced by Israelis. It harps on the Israeli penchant for bargaining, and how that can come across as inappropriate in the US. (Which, of course, isn't merely Israeli, it's common to Greece and all of the former Greek Levant.) Let's just say it brought back some childhood memories.


Britta,

I want to add to Pheobe's point that there's no way to attribute rational coherence to the current Israeli government's dealings with the diaspora. Although Bibi is the kind of conventional Likudnik who wants exactly what you expect he should want, he's got a really messy coalition to deal with. Many of Likud's coalition partners, like Shas and Yisrael Beteinu, don't particularly care about relations with the diaspora.

For example, Yisrael Beteinu is a party that represents mostly recent Russian immigrants in Israel. That party has been negotiating with the Heredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Official Rabbinate to solve the problem of the official Jewish status of those immigrants, which is often (if not usually) in question. What's in it for the Rabbinate is even greater control over things like conversion, marriage, and recognition (or rejection) of Jewish status. Because Jewish status is tied to the right of return for Jews in the diaspora, the deal has potentially much larger (and ominous, from the point of the diaspora) implications.

I think that American Jews, particularly non-Orthodox Jews who may be effected by the strict standards enforced by the Heredi Rabbinate, are getting the impression that Israel doesn't really want much to do with them.

I think that messages like the ads in question would fly under the radar if the relationship between Israel and the non-Orthodox diaspora weren't undergoing strain.

But what's a little different about the reaction to these ads, is that Israel is actually succeeding in pissing off Orthodox Jews in the diaspora, who have Israeli ex-pats in their communities just like the rest of us.

So, the ads succeed in pissing off liberal Jews, Orthodox Jews, and American neoconservative Jews who are concerned with Israeli security as part and parcel with Jewish security! It's quite the trifecta, and it says quite a lot about the essence of Zionism as understood in the diaspora.

Dan O. said...

BTW, Phoebe, did you notice in the Daddy/Abba video, that Daddy/Abba has The Economist on his chest symbolic of the rootless-Cosmopolitan Jew? Cute play on stereotypes, no?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=glQDf8vXvkQ

Micha said...

This is why the Israeli government is trustworthy. It is simply too stupid to lie -- even when it is the proper thing to do, even to friends that you really don't want to offend. Is it the truth that some Israelis see American Jews as assimilating out of any Jewish existence. Maybe. But you don't go around telling it to American Jews who are our friends. It's rude and stupid. But the Israeli government is too stupid to simply shut up, smile and not say anything. And that's why the Israeli government is trustworthy. because every other country knows how to say things that they don't believe because it serves some interest or at least it is the polite thing to do. But not the Israeli government. They are just too stupid to lie.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

I see your point re: bluntness. But isn't it also central to Zionism since the 19th century to at least question the viability of Jewish life outside of a Jewish state? It's certainly not fundamental to Zionism that all Jews must live in Israel, but the idea that Jews who opt not to do so could give or take their Jewishness... I guess I don't see how Israel could take a rah-rah stance on Diaspora Jewry. They could, I suppose, lean closer to 'thanks for your support' than 'you pseudo-Gentiles with your Christmas trees', and steer clear of ads like these. But Israel wouldn't be Israel, I think, if there weren't some sense that, via assimilation or anti-Semitism, Jewries elsewhere are, in modernity, dead ends.

Micha said...

It's true that historically speaking Zionism, or at least the branch of labor-zionism that founded Israel, had a negative view of the diaspora and of diaspora Jews. But we do not live in 1950, and just as other aspects of Zionism were reexamined or challenged for better or for worse(the melting pot, secularism, socialism) so should the attitude toward the diaspora. Certainly our history books about the diaspora are no longer just laundry lists of persecution.

It's also true -- and I speak for myself here -- that even today there is somethings about diaspora life that seem problematic. When I look at the concerns about assimilation and the desperate attempts to deal with it, and antisemitism, and the still existing self-perception of Jews as the nerds of the class, there is certainly a part of me that says: this is the price you pay for choosing the fleshpot of the diaspora over Israel.

But it should be clear by now that there is not going to be any mass exodus of diaspora Jews to Israel and some Israelis (like many other people around the world)would emigrate to other countries for one reason or another (when a Belgian chooses to move to the us it is not a reflection of the failure of Belgium as a state). That means that the obligation of Israel as a Jewish state can no longer be just trying to get Jews to emigrate. It should also be helping Jews in the diaspora feel connected to their Jewish identity even if they are still in the diaspora and marry gentiles. This certainly cannot be accomplished by insulting the whole diaspora Jewry. Secondly, in so far as Israel still wants Jews and former-Israelis to come to Israel, that too should be accomplished by making Israel better, not by insulting them.

But this all goes to how incompetent the Israeli government is in the use of words and PR in general. Every other country on Wikileaks said one thing behind closed doors and another in public. Israelis said the same stupid things in public and private. Is it a surprise that Israel is blundering so much in the diplomatic and propaganda fronts.

It is not that difficult to come up with a conceptual framework that would fit both with Israeli/Zionist interests, will sound good to American ears, and will not be a complete lie but rather an extremely polite version of the truth. We could say that the Jewish people always had more than one center -- Jerusalem and Babylon, Sfarad and Ashkenaz; that we are allies in keeping the Jewish identity in the (post)modern era; that we need each other, and so forth. It's a lot of flowery nonsense, but Israel can't afford to treat diaspora Jews as a dead end. It's not completely true, Israel is in the position to make it less true, and we need friends rather than enemies.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

I find that convincing.

I'll just add one devil's-advocate-ish remark, which is that Israelis (and Israel-the-state?) sometimes play the role of brash, tell-it-like-it-is, spare-no-punches cousin to American Jews. There's some part of Israeli culture (or at least when it defines itself with respect to Diaspora Jewish culture) that's about making a point of a) not apologizing, and b) not defining "Jewish" in terms that will necessarily please anyone else. (Let alone all Israelis, but that's another story.)

And this is both a matter of presentation and something more fundamental and, I think, legitimate. One of Israel's selling points is that it's the only place (with a significant Jewish population) where you can raise kids and they won't be inundated with Christmas. American Jews who don't want to seem like old, cranky, insular fools must forever explain that even if Christmas isn't their holiday, they love it, find it beautiful, etc., etc. Israelis don't need to do that. And it's of course not just Christmas - it's about normalcy year-round.

So maybe a better ad (and I suggest this half-seriously) would have shown first some hot Israelis on the beach, with some caption pointing out that it's December 25th, playing beach volleyball and oblivious to "Christmas." Then switch over to some sad Chanukah celebration in an icy suburb, where the kids are looking longingly out the window at a Christmas celebration across the street.

Micha said...

Walter Russell Mead had a post about this too.

http://whatwouldphoebedo.blogspot.com/

It's interesting that the focus has been on how Israeli sees American Jews, but less about how American Jews see Israel.

I disapprove when Israelis (at least publicly) adopt a smug attitude toward diaspora Jews. I think it's counterproductive and naive. But I'm not a big fan of the the smug attitude of (some) diaspora Jews toward Israel either.

As I see it, being an Israel is one of several possible choices for Jewish existence in the modern era. I think it is a good choice, but not to the point of dismissing completely all other choices. There is no points denying the problems that are connected to this choice. But I would like diaspora Jews to be honest about the problems inherent in their own choices. I also feel that Israel's existence benefits the Jews who are interested in keeping their identities while living in the diaspora. What would mostly secular, western, Christmas celebrating, intermarrying Jews have today as an identity if there was no Israel? The Holocaust, antisemitism, and the pretense that Jewish equals progressive? Maybe not even that.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

What's the Mead link?

Re: the rest:

"As I see it, being an Israel is one of several possible choices for Jewish existence in the modern era. I think it is a good choice, but not to the point of dismissing completely all other choices. There is no points denying the problems that are connected to this choice. But I would like diaspora Jews to be honest about the problems inherent in their own choices."

Yes.

"What would mostly secular, western, Christmas celebrating, intermarrying Jews have today as an identity if there was no Israel?"

I think this was once truer than it is today. Among my cohort/generation/whatever, it's increasingly seen as dated and right-wing, as so-grandparents-ish, to care about Israel. I mean, to care about the terrible things Israel does, young American Jews are OK with uniting on that basis. But anything positive - and I don't even mean rah-rah-Netanyahu, but, say, Israeli music, culture, food, I don't see much enthusiasm.

rshams said...

Micha,

I'd have to agree with Phoebe that "secular, western, Christmas celebrating, intermarrying Jews" are not really viewing their Jewish identities through Israel. But this doesn't only apply to those who are opposed to Israeli policies/find supporting Israel to be "dated" - I'd say the vast majority of my age cohort (non-Orthodox) who attend the AIPAC conference are much more enthused about the afterparties than anything else.

At least in the DC area, apolitical cultural events related to Israel seem to be popular, but only because they feature decent films and decent wine. No one would say that the young professionals enjoying these events have Israel at the center of their Jewish identities. In fact, they're not giving deep thought to their Jewish identities at all. That might be unfortunate from the position of those who feel invested in their Jewish identities, but frankly, people have a wide variety of priorities, and Judaism/Israel usually doesn't make the top of the list.

Dan O. said...

"What would mostly secular, western, Christmas celebrating, intermarrying Jews have today as an identity if there was no Israel? The Holocaust, antisemitism, and the pretense that Jewish equals progressive? Maybe not even that."

What a silly little trope. And Phoebe's response is just as cartoonish. That's Orthodox PR at work - choose Israel or Orthodox Observance.

In Israel, of course, the campaign is Orthodox observance, or consenting to be governed thereby. Which is one reason so many secular Israelis are over here to begin with.

The Orthodox strategy - both here and there - is to question the other's identity. Or as I like to think of it, attempt to ritually banish.

The proper response is, "Hey, would you buzz off?"

Phoebe said...

Dan,

What you're reading as "cartoonish" is merely the attempt of people who do argue this issue with nuance (Micha, me) doing so within the space of blog-comments. There is a very real problem here, namely that absent strong currents of anti-Semitism, or more specifically a sense among non-Jews that Jews are an Other, strong enough to keep Jews amongst themselves, but not so strong as to turn genocidal, it's unclear what would keep Jewishness afloat.

One possibility, of course, is a Jewish state, where Jewishness is the default. Problematic, for theoretical reasons as well as ones we arrive at when taking into account contemporary Israeli politics and other realities, but it's one possibility.

Another is hardcore religiosity, which means none of that sending one's kids to the best "News and World Report" college they can get into, but remaining seriously cut off from mainstream society, and having lots of kids in the process. If this isn't how you lead your life, chances are you're not pleased with this route. (Whereas even if you don't live in Israel, you might favor the Zionist approach here.)

Yet another is a kind of vague social pressure on more secular Jews to do Jewy stuff and marry in - this will maybe work in some cases, but because intermarriage isn't about a desire to assimilate, but rather the inevitable result of acculturation mixed with a relative lack of outside hostility to Jews, you can fully convince Jews that extreme assimilation is bad m'kay, without changing behavior.

The last approach, which, Dan, I take to be yours, is to note the vibrant Diaspora Judaism/cultural Jewishness that continues to this day. This is a fine approach in many ways, because it would be absurd to say that the children of intermarriage promptly disappear from the Jewish population (Ben Stiller much?). If anything, marrying out makes some Jews extra-interested in imparting stuff to do with Judaism to their kids, and often enough, a Gentile spouse will get even more rah-rah about things Jewish, whether as a convert or as someone with cultural affinities.

But then you get into the question of demographics. Do we think that over time, should things remain as they are, there'd be terribly many non-Orthodox, non-Israeli Jews? Over enough time, any? This, in turn, brings up another question, which is whether there's anything short of unethical coercion that those who care about keeping Jews around can do about it. I'd argue that there's some, but that it can't be at the level of... things like these ads.

Dan O. said...

"But then you get into the question of demographics. Do we think that over time, should things remain as they are, there'd be terribly many non-Orthodox, non-Israeli Jews? Over enough time, any?"

That's a claim you haven't supported. It is also the content of a long-running Orthodox PR campaign, and it's widely disputed. So, yeah, to state it like that as interesting discussion is a bit cartoonish.

"Yet another is a kind of vague social pressure on more secular Jews to do Jewy stuff and marry in ...bad m'kay, without changing behavior. "

Not my approach at all. I think that looking at this as a Jewish problem rather than a general problem really undersells Jewishness. Rather, I think the breakdown of families' connections to place, communities, and their extended families result in the breakdown of cultural and religious identity. That's what, in some cases, the Orthodox and Israel have right. The overemphasis on assimilation, on the other hand, is both ridiculous and anachronistic. We're not a minority lost at sea in a dominant majority culture. Because, duh, there is no dominant majority culture! I can see how an Israeli ministry run by Avigdor the Idiot would miss that... But American Jews? Nah.

And "nuanced" has about as much cognitive content as 'cute'. A read a discussion with thoroughly conventional assumptions.

Dan O. said...

BTW, us diaspora Jews do have our Neil Diamonds. But even relatively homogeneous cultures have this:

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/white-belugas-wearing-santa-hats-pose-with-a-trainer-during-news-photo/78502833

(h/t my wife)

Phoebe said...

Dan,

First off, small matter but relevant, it was the last of the items I suggested was your belief, not the one prior.

I wish your tone were less (gratuitously, counterproductively) annoyed, because while I don't fully agree with you, you have a point. It's not something that's been proven, or that could be proven, that cultural Judaism wouldn't simply mutate, but would vanish, if things continue as they are. And you're absolutely right that there's no monolithic majority culture, certainly not these days, into which Jews could or could want to assimilate. It's unclear how The WASP Hegemony benefits when a Jewish-American marries a Korean-American, and the two form a family that's a mix of these two cultures.

But what I'm saying is that there's a chance that in however many years, there would be no secular Diaspora Jewry. And if it's true that this could mean the end of Jewish-Americans, British-Americans, etc., and as such is not a specifically Jewish problem but one of modernity, fair enough, but we tend not to worry that there will be no more British people should British-Americans disappear into the American population because there's this place called "Britain" that keeps on producing British people. Along the same lines, without a Jewish state, it's unclear what's to perpetuate Jewishness, if not religious orthodoxy. Conditions these days in terms of Jews being welcomed and Jewishness being, in social terms, so often a non-issue are unprecedented, so there's not much reason to think Diaspora Jewry is this entity that shall always exist.

(And by "nuance" I meant not ranting and raving, presenting arguments that do not count as knee-jerk, obvious positions. Not sure your objections there. Neither Micha nor I said anything along the lines of "intermarriage finishes what Hitler started" or "intermarriage is the only true sign of open-mindedness and opposition to interfaith marriage is racism," the two extreme routes discussions like this often take...)

Dan O. said...

Phoebe,

Sorry for the misinterpretation. You're right, I misread that.

About the tone, I apologize to you, but the section I quoted from Micha deserved contempt. And I know neither of you said the traditionally awful things that some Orthodox people (and some non-Orthodox parents of my friends growing up) say or have said. But, come on, the Orthodox campaign the quote mouthed is so annoying, and so cliched, and so old that my mother heard it in her 20's.

"there's this place called "Britain" that keeps on producing British people. Along the same lines, without a Jewish state, it's unclear what's to perpetuate Jewishness, if not religious orthodoxy."

You're comparing non-Orthodox/non-Israeli Jews to a culture that's nearly as disintegrated as ours, except with a greater proclivity to listen to progressive rock and eat trifle during the Holidays? I would think from that point of view Britishness was the worse possible scenario. (Although, Dr. Who Christmas specials are both **awesome** and nominally British.)

From my point of view, thank God British people aren't quite as stuffy and self-loving as their continental neighbors who flirt with far-right political parties. Israel does have quite a bit in common with Holland nowadays - good for homosexuals, recent immigrant extremists with high birthrates, looming vigilantism, etc.

"Along the same lines, without a Jewish state, it's unclear what's to perpetuate Jewishness, if not religious orthodoxy."

Jewish lesbians -> double the reproductive power + super stable family life. I'm only half joking.

Really, people aren't going to just stop looking for meaning because the last 50 years of culture has discouraged it. The reaction is coming. It'll gain momentum when there's fewer economic incentives for families to disintegrate. Once again, kids are going to city college instead of Pamona or Oberlin. Grandparents won't buy stupid condos on golf courses in Del Ray Beach with $1,500 a month maintenance fees. That'll do more to enrich Jewish life than any silly religious campaign. More families will go to temple together, because they'll be home. And someone will always be around to watch the kids.

Also, just because Israel supports Jewish identity, it is quite an incredible stretch to say that it is essential to it, in the presence or absence of antisemitism. I mean, come on, right? The fact that nobody ever produces an argument for that claim is pretty telling.

Last, I find it amusing that the backbone of the Orthodox demographic argument is the Heredi baby factory. As if their way of life was an option, even for Modern Orthodox Jews.

Micha said...

"It's unclear how The WASP Hegemony benefits when a Jewish-American marries a Korean-American, and the two form a family that's a mix of these two cultures."

So long as WASPy culture is the medium of interaction between different immigrants to the US, then A Jewish-Korean-American marriage is likely to be more American than either Jewish or Korean. That's one of the secrets for the success of the American melting pot. Of course, Koreans always have the physical difference of being Asians to keep them from complete assimilation.

I think (some) Israelis are wrong to discount the power of Jewish identity to keep people connected in the diaspora even in this (post)modern age, as well as the power of all the Jewish organizations and cultural institutions in the diaspora. I would prefer that Israel contribute to these forces rather than fight against them.

But, it is equally disingenuous for American Jews to dismiss the assimilation power of the American melting pot and its growing effect with each new generation.

I still think that Israel can be and is to some extent a contributing factor. We can't know for certain, but I think the power of the American melting pot on previous and current generations of American Jews would have been much greater if there wasn't this concrete place in their world that had to do with Jewishness. Without that then all you'd have is religion, Yiddish culture and a vague sense of identity.

"we tend not to worry that there will be no more British people should British-Americans disappear into the American population because there's this place called "Britain" that keeps on producing British people."

This is a point that is worth remembering. Whenever America is presented as this shining beacon of multiculturalism, it is worth remembering that none of the various groups in America would suggest dismantling their old-countries in the name of American multiculturalism. America is not an alternative to Israel anymore than it is an alternative to Ireland, Italy, Korea or Mexico. Conversely, Israel should not see it self as an absolute alternative to America, just as another option that Jews can choose if they want what Israel has to (or should have to) offer.

Dan O. said...

"But, it is equally disingenuous for American Jews to dismiss the assimilation power of the American melting pot and its growing effect with each new generation."

Funny that this has become about maintaining cultural identity in a diverse society when the issue these ads brought up was the Israeli difficulty in maintaining a young and unstable cultural identity in an increasingly culturally and religiously stratified polity... and then blaming that on the diaspora. This is mostly about Israel's fragile cultural identity being reflected in Israel's governing coalition.

With all of the dust settled from these ads and their removal, it is nearly impossible to see it outside of the context of the struggle between Likud and Yisrael Beteinu. Obviously things like this pose unnecessary threats to the coalition from the left. And Bibi has (thank God) lately been showing concern with his left flank.

"none of the various groups in America would suggest dismantling their old-countries"

Lots of British Americans supported Northern Irish autonomy, even independence. I've known Turkish Americans who have supported Kurdish autonomy. There are Iraqi-Americans who are three-staters. And the best comparison may be the Balkans.

"Without that then all you'd have is religion, Yiddish culture and a vague sense of identity"

That's a big walking-back of the essence claim. Except I'd add a fact you miss, namely that over a century worth of non-Orthodox Judaism was made in the American Jewish Diaspora. (Reform Judaism started in Germany, of course, but its living history is here. And a bit in England.) The religion, and the ethnic culture is not merely Yiddish. And reports of its demise are totally premature.

While perhaps the best way to export these features is to make aliyah, it's not the only answer.

I mean, there's an argument to be made that the elements necessary to fix Israel's schizophrenic culture such as tolerance for religious diversity and Jewish creeds which can be adopted by ordinary folks, come from the diaspora. It may be that without those, Israeli cultural identity might fracture.

(More tragically, there's also arguments to be made that Israel's extremist elements were also American diaspora exports.)

You make it sound like American Jewish culture reduces to Mel Brooks. I know too many American Jews talk as if that's true, and you can rest assured that I argue as strenuously against them.

Last, I want to be clear that this is *not* some sort of leftist anti-Zionist position. What I'm expressing is what I take to be the non-Orthodox Zionist American Jewish mainstream. It has, admittedly, had a bit of a lull in influence lately, the direct result of the breakup of the Modern Orthodox/non-Orthodox cultural and political coalition.

According to this point of view, it is in the interests of both Israel and the diaspora to promote both cultural and genetic cross-pollination. What better way to promote a connection to Israel than the existence of family over there? After all, there's no better way to galvanize a concern for Israel's security than learning that a missile landed down the block from your Aunt's apartment.

When Jews discourage that cross-pollination, I wonder why.

Where I disagree with both Goldberg and Micha is that Aba-gate had anything to do with a coherent Isareli position or attitude (like contempt for the diaspora). Rather, it reflects an internal Israeli cultural struggle between liberalism and extremism.

Micha said...

"Where I disagree with both Goldberg and Micha is that Aba-gate had anything to do with a coherent Isareli position or attitude (like contempt for the diaspora). Rather, it reflects an internal Israeli cultural struggle between liberalism and extremism."

You are simply wrong. You are wrong to think this has anything to do with Netanyahu, right/left, coalitions, Liberman or any identity problems in Israeli self-identity.

Trying to defect the discussion from the issue of the diaspora to Israeli problems is rather cheap.

The ads did not reflect any difficulty of keeping an Israeli-Jewish identity in Israel. What it did was try to convince Israelis who emigrated to the US, but who have a strong Israeli identity which they care about, that they would not be able to keep it in the diaspora. The less charitable implication that annoyed Goldberg was that the ad tells Israelis that they won't be able to keep their identities because they can't trust American Jews to keep theirs. A more charitable interpretation could say that Israelis, since they are not accustomed to life in the diaspora, don't have the mechanisms the American Jews have to keep an identity. In either case, there is no doubt that Israelis in the US and elsewhere tend to make an effort to maintain not only a Jewish but an Israeli identity.

"Lots of British Americans supported Northern Irish autonomy, even independence. I've known Turkish Americans who have supported Kurdish autonomy. There are Iraqi-Americans who are three-staters. And the best comparison may be the Balkans."

The response has nothing to do with what I said. The issue is not about American Jews' opinion on peace or the Occupied Territories. The issue is whether the existence of Jews in America invalidates Israel as a Jewish nation state.

Religion does not necessarily mean orthodox religion, I include reform in that category. The question is whether Jewish religious practices of any kind are successful in maintaining a sense of Jewish identity or is the power of secularism undermining this mechanism. Whether or not reform Judaism is doing better or worse Job keeping Jews connected to any Jewish identity is the 2nd question and I think it is a complicated and multifaceted issue.

The distinct Yiddish culture that was imported to the US from Europe is mostly gone, which is inevitable. The question is to what extent was it replaced by another distinct American-Jewish culture and to what extent it is simply replaced by a generic American identity. Both answers are correct to a certain extent, but to what extent and for how long is uncertain. Pretending that assimilation is not an issue is false. Pretending that it is a done deal is false too, and I never claimed that. Quite the opposite.

But if Israel is not doing the issue of continued Jewish existence any favors by being dismissive of diaspora Jews, diaspora Jews are not doing any favors to the issue by denying the problems they are facing. I have little patience for smug Israelis looking down on Americans or smug American looking down at Israels. There doesn't seem to be any shortage of either these days.

Dan O. said...

Micha,


"You are simply wrong. You are wrong to think this has anything to do with Netanyahu, right/left, coalitions, Liberman or any identity problems in Israeli self-identity."

I said X, you said not-X. I produced an argument, you didn't. Should I guess that you are an Israeli claiming epistemic privilege? If so, that's fair enough, but it is a rather weak argument. I know ex-Pats who will similarly vehemently disagree. I think assimilation-angst is cheap. You think my response is cheap. We obviously won't get anywhere. I suppose I should read less Haaretz.

"The issue is whether the existence of Jews in America invalidates Israel as a Jewish nation state."

I did not interpret you as saying that, because you're denying a view that's obviously false. Yes, nobody worth mentioning thinks that, but I fail to see what any of this has to do with a threat to Israel.

"A more charitable interpretation could say that Israelis, since they are not accustomed to life in the diaspora, don't have the mechanisms the American Jews have to keep an identity."

I agree, and don't I know it - growing up nominally Jewish with a non-Jewy Israeli mother, who had more in common with other immigrant mothers (Greek or Korean, didn't matter) than American Jews. For her, Jewish observance meant alienation, both in Israel and Stateside. As a Jew, I'm playing catch-up. So, we don't disagree about the symptoms. But as a means to address the issue, all the ads achieved was insulting everyone's intelligence. Associating pointless insults with Avigdor the Idiot is pretty understandable.

"Pretending that assimilation is not an issue is false. Pretending that it is a done deal is false too, and I never claimed that."

Fine, but it has been the only issue since the second wave. It's time either to make aliyah, go frum, or pick up the pieces and move on.

"I have little patience for smug Israelis looking down on Americans or smug American looking down at Israels."

Again, fine, but I believe the current issue is orthogonal.

Dan O. said...

Didn't see this:

http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/84891/mixed-marriage/

when Micha says this:

"You are simply wrong. You are wrong to think this has anything to do with Netanyahu, right/left, coalitions, Liberman or any identity problems in Israeli self-identity."

The article I linked supports point 1 - that this is unrelated to politics. But it rather undermines point 2 - that there are no problems with Israeli self-identity.