I just received by email the latest report from Synagogue 3000’s Synagogue Studies Institute “Bringing Conversations about Israel into the Life of American Congregations.” Authors Alex Sinclair and Esti Moskovitz-Kalman
It seems the goal after 2000 years and the return to the land of Israel is to go back to treating Israel as a symbol- or a text, an idea, a midrash. Not to treat Israel as a flesh and blood realpolitic middle eastern country, at least on the synagogue level. Israel is something to understand from a distance through the lens of one’s personal life. Birthright is successful since it takes place in Israel but is an American experience, as are many of the “year in Israel” programs. It does not let Israeli reality interfere with eduction. These programs allow American to understand Israel though the lens of their American suburban lives.
They study refers to another recent study that shows that American Jews are not emotionally distant from Israel, just lost in the self-absorption of their pleasure seeking lives.
What of AIPAC and CPMAJO and their advocacy activities? ANS: They collide with Jewish education.
Here are some quotes:
Israel is a Jewish Text
We begin with an audacious claim: Israel is a Jewish text like all other Jewish texts. And we Jews know a thing or two about how to read, discuss, teach, learn and draw meaning from texts.
We know how to grapple with a text we find problematic. We know how to incorporate the ideas of texts into our own lives….
The “distancing from Israel” hypothesis has been challenged empirically (Sasson, Kadushin, and Saxe 2008).Nevertheless, from a value perspective, both schools of thought agree that it is absolutely critical that Israel engagement become a vehicle for personal meaning-making Without a deep level of personal meaning, the American Jew will not engage with Israel. Our claim is that conversation is a significant educational means and end to lead to that personal meaning-making, even, and indeed especially, for those Jews who have weak prior commitments to Israel.
Sasson, T., Kadushin, C., and Saxe, L. (2008). American Jewish Attachment to Israel: an assessment of the “distancing” hypothesis. Boston: Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
A congregant I am working with right now says “I have no interest in going to Israel; there are a thousand other places in the world where I would rather go.” I don’t think we have yet answered these questions for the vast majority of people.
The Israel Advocacy Agenda — Friend or Foe?
However, notwithstanding its value in the political sphere, Israel advocacy can collide with Israel education. The advocacy agenda may alienate those who don’t like politics in general. It certainly repels congregants who question the very Israeli policies that the advocates espouse. It frustrates those who reject being told that contrary to the ethos of the democracy in which they live, they may not voice their doubts about Israel’s policies openly and honestly.
I am not sure what to think about this. I do think they are correct educationally. They are correct about the way American students project on Israel and I do think education need to be separated from advocacy. (i dont want to discuss politics) But it means that Israel has to become part of the construction of an American life, a projection onto a silent land It is like the ideal in Graham Green novels novels of marrying someone who does not speak your language in order to have an ideal marriage, since one can project onto the silent spouse anything one wants. The longing of Yehudah Halevi and the heavenly Jerusalem of a Hasidic text is more inspiring than actual Israeli society.