Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Review of Daniel Gordis' "Saving Israel" in weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post

Saving graces

Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End

By Daniel Gordis

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.272 pp., $25.95, hardcover

Daniel Gordis's important new book, Saving Israel, calls for nothing short of reinventing modern Zionism. For without such a reinvention, the very continuance of the Zionist enterprise is in mortal danger. Gordis makes clear that what is at stake is not just the perpetuation of the Jewish state, but the very existence of the Jewish people.
The results of two studies in the twin pillars of modern Jewish life, one in Israel, the other in America, reveal how serious matters have gotten. When asked if the destruction (mind you, the destruction, not the gradual withering away) of Israel would be a personal tragedy for them, an astounding 50 percent of Jewish Americans under the age of 35 said it would not. The other alarming study result is that 50% of Israeli schoolchildren apparently do not know who Theodor Herzl was.

Hard as this is for some of us to believe, these statistics reflect an increasing trend of alienation from millennial Zionist aspirations as well as a growing ignorance of basic Jewish history, both modern and ancient. Gordis points to the poetry of pre-state Zionists like Natan Alterman and Haim Bialik, noting that while they criticized and challenged the biblical ethos of the Jews, they were steeped in the richness of those sacred texts and in the history of our people.
Sophisticated works like Alterman's "The Silver Platter" or Bialik's "In the City of Slaughter," while rebukes of the old order, called for the creation of a "new Jew" and reflected their authors' prodigious knowledge of Jewish history. Today, many an Israeli is ambivalent about his or her army service, is hard pressed to explain why he should pay exorbitant taxes and live by the social dictates of what he considers medieval religious fanatics, and wonders aloud about the merits of or need for a Jewish state. Too many of these Israelis, warns Gordis, no longer believe in a Zionist ethos in large part because they have lost the connection to their roots in Jewish life. Gordis is talking about Jewish identity and Jewish history, not necessarily Jewish religious life, an important subject he tackles in other chapters.

To make matters worse, all this disaffection and disconnection come at a time when Israel is facing external threats from implacable enemies like Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran, enemies with demonic designs against the Jewish state. The "euphoric" Oslo years, when peace was deemed around the corner, have given way to suicide bombings, unrelenting missile and rocket attacks, soldier kidnappings, successive proxy wars against Iranian sponsored terrorists and no signs that these threats will be eradicated any time soon. Without a deep and abiding sense of purpose, which can only come from a profound belief in Jewish rootedness in Zion, including a belief in the justness and rightness of the Zionist project, no one in their right mind would continue making the kind of sacrifices called for in Israel.

If the goal is to be just another "normal" country in the family of nations, Zionism - read, Israel - is destined to fail, according to Gordis. In the chapter "Not Just a Hebrew-Speaking America," he describes why the America ideal is a dangerous model for a country with very different goals, living a very different reality in a very different neighborhood. Gordis argues that the normality that Israelis have long yearned for is impossible to attain and not even desirable. "For normalcy as a goal will not breed the kind of distinctiveness that Israeli survival will require. If Israelis cannot articulate anything profound about Jewish civilization, or say anything about the grandest ideas that have long been at the core of Jewish life, what possible reason could there be to continue to defend a Jewish country?"

Gordis's writing is at its strongest and most cogent when he discusses the imperatives of that defense. He explores the uncomfortable history of our people in relation to power, and then makes a compelling case for Israel's prosecution of an unending series of moral wars. It's impossible to write a serious book about modern Israel's relationship to political and military power today without referring to Ruth Wisse's recent seminal work on the subject, Jews and Power, and Gordis continues where she left off. Wisse examined our inclination to give greater weight to our moral behavior than to the exigencies of survival, a tendency she characterized as "moral solipsism."

GORDIS RECONSIDERS Jewish power and our uneasy relationship to its use in his chapter, "The Wars That Must Be Waged." He goes back to both biblical injunctions ("blot out the memory of Amalek" - Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Saul's failure to obey the commandment to obliterate the enemy; "I [Samuel] will not go back with you; for you have rejected the Lord's command, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel" - 1 Samuel 15:26); and biblical/historical accounts of just wars waged by the Jewish people. Gordis reexamines the story of Hanukka and the centrality of the military victory the Jews won over their adversaries. The real miracle was that a small band, led by the Maccabees, was able to overcome the much larger and more powerful Greek forces and regain control of the Temple and Jerusalem.
Hanukka was originally a military victory celebration. Initial eyewitness accounts spoke of victory celebrations lasting for eight days, without an emphasis on the "miracle" of enduring flames from oil. In more recent times, the poet Aharon Ze'ev wrote a children's song, "We Bear Torches," insisting that a miracle did not happen to us, but rather people, with their courage and their might, wrought the miracle ("we chiseled away the stone until we bled").
Another illustration of our discomfort with the exercise of power comes from a midrash retelling the part of the Passover story where God chastises his angels for reveling in song, while the Egyptian army perished in pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews. (B. Megilla 10b) "The work of My hands is being drowned in the sea, and you would chant hymns?" But there is another midrash that is cited far less frequently. In this one, God reprimands the angels, saying, "My troops are in distress, and you would sing to me?" (Exodus Rabba 23:7). A very different message, suggesting that there are battles that must be fought and won, unavoidably shedding blood.
Clearly, many Jews today, including some Israelis, subscribe to the credo that war and the use of force is "un-Jewish." This is particularly so for Western Jews, especially those who've been raised in the comfort and safety of America. Many have a visceral aversion to war, are committed to the principles of pacifism and find themselves at odds with Israel's military actions.
Gordis concludes that the pacifist option would lead to national suicide of the Jewish people. Nonviolence is a luxury that we can ill afford. Instead, he suggests that we defend ourselves when necessary, "occasionally using massive force, with all the ambivalence that that inevitably arouses." We should embrace the often ignored Jewish tradition's understanding that the use of military might is sometimes a necessity (in fact, Jewish law has an entire category of war, milhemet mitzva, "commanded wars," or wars that must be waged), and in certain circumstances, the only thing that will keep us alive in an increasingly hostile world.
In other chapters, Gordis explores pressing issues facing Israel today, including the rising tensions between Israeli Arabs (who now prefer the moniker Palestinian-Israelis) and Israeli Jews, and those between secular Jewish Israelis (as well as more moderately observant Jews) and the haredim. or ultra-Orthodox. He poses unsettling questions that have been unasked for too long and raises politically incorrect propositions, not as dogma, but as a beginning for constructive dialogues.

Among those questions: "How should Israel balance its democratic principles with the sense that something should be Jewish about the country? But who should decide what that something is? And what are the rights of those who disagree? Should all Israeli schoolchildren study the Bible and some religious content? To what extent should Israel's Arabs be required to study the Hebrew Bible, or classic works of Zionist literature? Should Jewish Israelis also study the Koran?" And how can Israel's growing Arab population be more integrated into Israeli society, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship, with the inherent tensions as a minority in a Jewish state, with that state engaged in ongoing belligerencies with fellow Arab states?

RATHER THAN providing the answers, Gordis suggests that the best way forward is to allow these questions to percolate in the free marketplace of ideas. He recommends restoring Judaism to the heart of Israel's national debate. Included in that Judaism is not just religion but Jewish history and Jewish tradition. It should be no more the sole province of the ultra-religiousharedim than staunchly secular Israelis. The challenge is to foster dynamic and creative debates in the Zionist public square about what the Jewish state should be, and why it matters to have a Jewish state in the first place.
Gordis cautions that our greatest strengths can prove to be our greatest weaknesses (and undoing). We are by nature a self-reflective and self-critical people, and this has served us well (note how after the debacle of the IDF's performance in the Second Lebanon War, stock was taken, leaders were dismissed and the army restored its fighting prowess and morale). We must not let that healthy tendency veer into self-flagellation and worse, self-loathing. This can be seductive to some, when peace seems more distant than ever. It must be one party's fault, goes the reasoning, and since the Palestinians are increasingly seen by the world as the victim, then the fault must lie with the Jews.

These are not easy tasks. Jews the world over will need intellectual and moral fortitude to withstand the avalanche of criticisms, attacks and vilifications that do not relent, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows no signs of resolving in the near future. And Israelis will increasingly need to gird their loins as well, for the likelihood is that their children will continue to be called to the battlefield. Courage, resolve and commitment will be needed. This can only happen with a renewed sense of purpose, a redefining of what the Zionist enterprise is all about and why it matters to not just Israelis, but Jews all over the world.

The writer is on the executive committees of StandWithUs/Northwest and the Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. A geriatric social worker and psychotherapist, he is also the recipient of a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in Support of Israel on behalf of his work with The Israel Project.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article on May 21 by David Brumer, "Saving graces" in the Jerusalem Post. As a Zionist Christian who has sought for years to live in Israel and work there and serve the Jewish people, I have long understood the points being made by Mr. Brumer (and Mr. Gordis). Kudos.

I represent a significant number of Zionist Christians who are very strong supporters of the need for Israel and the Jewish people to fight and win the war that may never end. We want to fight in the trenches with you; and we are doing all that we can to just get in the door. Hopefully some of us will be allowed in. And those that are not allowed to fight with you in person will fight for you from our homelands, even to our death.

Jonathon Storm
Database Developer
Washington State, USA

George Jochnowitz said...

The government of Sri Lanka recently defeated the Tamil Tigers by means of great force and violence. The struggle between the Tamils and the Singhalese majority was one in which both sides were right. The world is basically happy that the war is over, which makes sense. There are no protests in England or Finland about the use of excessive force, and no calls whatsoever for an independent Tamil state. Israel's situation is different. Israel is the most hated country on earth, and it hardly matters how Israel behaves. Can a publicity campaign in the West change this? I would hope so, but I am not optimistic. A good way to start, perhaps, would be to tell everybody to read the Qur'an and learn how filled with hostility it is. But that might stimulate a counter-movement pointing to the passages in Samuel I where Saul is punished for not completing the genocide that he was commanded to carry out.

Anonymous said...

This website is the most suitable I enjoyed it substantially

Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you are talking approximately!
Bookmarked. Please also talk over with my website =). We
could have a hyperlink change arrangement among us

Take a look at my weblog: elektronisk cigaret

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading
it, you will be a great author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will eventually
come back someday. I want to encourage that you continue
your great work, have a nice weekend!

Look at my weblog :: tobacco e-liquid

Anonymous said...

If you want to take much from this piece of writing then you have to apply such
strategies to your won webpage.

my blog post :: e-cigaretter

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I'm impressed! Very useful info particularly the last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this certain information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

Feel free to surf to my homepage ... e-cigs

Anonymous said...

Your means of explaining the whole thing in this paragraph is genuinely pleasant, every one can easily know it, Thanks a lot.

Feel free to visit my homepage -

Anonymous said...

I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.
The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish.
nonetheless, you command get got an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following.

unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly the same
nearly very often inside case you shield this increase.

Look at my homepage:

Anonymous said...

This is my first time visit at here and i am actually impressed to read everthing at one place.

Stop by my web blog ryge væsker

Anonymous said...

This design is spectacular! You certainly know how to
keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my
own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really
loved what you had to say, and more than that,
how you presented it. Too cool!

Here is my webpage :: el cigaret

Anonymous said...

I'm really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout in your weblog. Is this a paid subject or did you modify it your self? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is uncommon to see a nice blog like this one these days..

Look into my web blog ...

Anonymous said...

Hеy There. I found your blog using msn.

This is a ѵеry wеll wгitten article.
I wіll mаke sure to bookmагκ it anԁ
return to read more of youг useful info. Thanks for the post.
I'll certainly comeback.

Look at my webpage ...

Anonymous said...

What's up to every one, it'ѕ truly a good foг me to раy a quick visit
this web site, іt contains vаluable ӏnformatіon.

My web page :: Bauchmuskeltraining

Anonymous said...

I read this article fully on the topic of the resemblance of most up-to-date
and previous technologies, it's remarkable article.

Review my homepage; ecigaret []

Anonymous said...

Hey Тheгe. I discoveгed yοuг blog the usagе of msn.

Thаt is a veгy well written article. I'll make sure to bookmark it and come back to learn extra of your helpful info. Thanks for the post. I'll definіtely гeturn.

My ѕіte Bauchmuskeltraining

Anonymous said...

Defіnitely conѕider that whіch you
sаid. Your favouritе гeaѕon аppеared to be at the web the easiest factor to
consider οf. I ѕay to yοu, I cеrtainlу
get irked ωhilst pеoplе cоnsider issues that they just don't understand about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top as smartly as defined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , other people could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks

Visit my web-site :: webcamchat

Anonymous said...

Magnificent beat ! I wiѕh to aрprenticе whilе you amend
your web sitе, hοw could i subscribe foг a
blog site? The account aiԁed me a aсceptаble deаl.
I had been a little bit acquaіnted of this yοur broadcast offered bright
cleаr iԁea

Have a loоk at my webpage sixpack

Anonymous said...

Tremendous things here. I am very satisfied to ѕee your pоst.

Thankѕ so much and I am lοokіng forwarԁ to contact you.

Will you please droр me а e-mаil?

Also viѕit my ρage; Hemorrhoids relief

Anonymous said...

Your meаns of еxplаining everythіng in this
pоst іs in fact good, all can еffortlessly undеrstand it, Thanκs a

My ωeblog - Chat Roulete

Anonymous said...

I visited various blogs but the audio featurе for auԁio songs existing at this site iѕ genuinely fabulous.

my page - bladder disease

Anonymous said...

Everу wеekenԁ i usеd to go to sеe
this wеb раge, for thе геaѕοn that i wаnt enϳoyment, аs this this sitе conatіοns іn fact good funny material toо.

My homepage :: chatroulette

Anonymous said...

We are а gаggle of volunteers аnd starting a new scheme in our community.
Your website рroνided us with helpful
info to work on. Υou've performed a formidable task and our whole community might be grateful to you.

Also visit my web page; based website

Anonymous said...

Attractive sеctіon of сontent. I simply stumbled uрon your ωeb ѕite and in accеѕsion сapіtal to sау
thаt I acquiгe іn fаct lοveԁ acсount your blog
postѕ. Anyωay ӏ will be subscrіbіng
on your feeds oг еven I fulfillment you get аdmissіоn tо constаntly fast.

Μy ωeblog :: reѕistoг Led сalculatог []

Anonymous said...

Good day! I sіmρly would lіke to оffer уou
a big thumbs up for your exсellеnt info yоu have here on thiѕ post.
I'll be coming back to your website for more soon.

Feel free to surf to my blog post; sixpack

Anonymous said...

Wаy cool! Ѕome extremely νаlid pоints!

I appгеciatе you pennіng
thіѕ post and thе rest оf the site іs extrеmelу good.

Ϻy ωeb page ... http://Apotheκеnveгtгetung.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this information for my mission.

Have a look at my blog post ...

Anonymous said...

I lіke what you guys tend to bе uρ too. This tуpe of clevеr woгk anԁ eхposure!
Κeep up the аωesomе worκs guys I've included you guys to my own blogroll.

my site vorzeitige ejakulation