Our Shared Fate
This is one of those times when the gulf between we American Jews and our Israeli kin seems wider than the ocean. As sirens blare and rockets whoosh through the sky there, we here can only empathize, support and, for those so inclined, pray. We can hope for a speedy end to the attacks and counterattacks, and for the minimum loss of innocent life and property on all sides, but anything else seems, well, unseemly. This is one of those times when solidarity trumps all. It helps explain the conclusions of a new study released by the Israel Democracy Institute, conclusions that might otherwise sound contradictory. In a survey of the adult Jewish population of Israel, the IDI found that 60% of the respondents believe that Jews in Israel are a nation separate from Jews in the Diaspora; 36% disagree. But the survey also found that 62% believe that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora share a common fate. How can we not share an identity but share a fate? Perhaps because of times like these. Sixty-six years after the founding of the state, Israeli Jews have developed their own identity, character and personality, forged in a tough neighborhood and shaped by the enormous variety of cultures millions of immigrants have brought to the country. As Tamar Hermann, who conducted the poll, explained, “the ‘New Jew’ is different than the Diasporic Jew.”
But Hermann also said that a constant majority of Israeli Jews over the years insist that they share a common fate with Jews in the Diaspora, and that connection, complicated though it may be, is growing ever deeper. As Israel matures and strengthens, it is better able to reach out to Jews beyond its borders for more than a handout, to genuinely assist American Jews as they face rapid assimilation and European Jews as they confront increasing anti-Semitism.
So while the gap in lived experience cannot be ignored, the belief that our fates are interwined remains as strong as ever. One
reason that the story of the three kidnapped Israeli boys gripped our attention and stirred our concern is that they were immediately identifiable. Gilad, Naftali, Eyal. Names and faces, goofy grins, youthful exuberance, captured in grainy photos that quickly became ubiquitious on buttons, t-shirts, posters, billboards, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds. We didn’t know them but we did. Our boys. Harder for American Jews to picture Mohammed Abu Khdeir. He was also 16, like Naftali and Gilad, when he was bundled into a car in an Arab suburb of Jerusalem and shortly later found dead. Mohammed has become to his people what “our boys” have been to Israelis and supportive Jews: a specific vessel through which we channel our fears and anger, our intuitive need to identify and connect.
But we should not elevate these victims beyond reason. “As we mourn, let’s resist the temptation to use these three kids to grind our ideological axes,” Rabbi Shai Held wrote on Facebook before Mohammed’s death. “If all we are doing today is deploying these three murdered people to make the same point we’d have made yesterday, only louder and with greater shrillness, then we are not mourning but using them. And that is, to put it bluntly, a desecration of their memory.”
Sadly, Held’s wise words are not universally heeded. Instead, too often we are hearing venomous calls for revenge, impulsive demands for action that are propelled by base emotion and not thoughtful consideration. When stereotype becomes synonymous with the larger society, hatred breeds easily. We bemoan this behavior in others, but too often do it ourselves.
The motivation to personalize victims like Gilad, Naftali and Eyal comes from a good place: a flat rejection of the way individuality was erased and replaced by cold numbers in the Holocaust, a tattoo instead of a name. But this search for humanity cannot become an excuse to hate or mistrust an entire people. The three Jews, and the Palestinian, were just boys. That’s how they should be remembered.