Our Shared Fate

Forward Magazine - - Forward Forum -

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.

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