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Still a single Jewish people?

In a follow-up to his Nov. 21 report "G.A. largely ignored by Hebrew-speaking press," Jerusalem Post correspondent Haviv Rettig considers the Israel-Diaspora divide:

This divide should worry us more than it does. Both Israel and America each represent about 40 percent of Jews alive today. Neither can talk of a Jewish people without talking about each other. Yet they do not in any deep sense understand each other, and their cultural conversation is stunted and often bitter because of it. If these two Jewish communities fail to communicate, to create a mutually intelligible Jewish culture, can we still talk of a single Jewish people?

Israel, as a national solution to modernity, is a Jewish people that works by necessity on a collective level. American Jewry, like America itself, is radically individualistic, with Jewishness experienced on an individual level. Thus, American rabbis and synagogues – whether Orthodox or Reform – are trained and constructed bottom-up to serve their congregants, while Israeli rabbis and synagogues are imposed from above by a national mechanism. Thus, in Israel, one’s Jewishness is an unavoidable fate that demands personal sacrifice to protect a threatened collective, while in America, Judaism is inevitably a choice.

Rettig’s original report elicited a storm of responses, he says, from a column by Anshel Pfeffer of Ha’aretz suggesting American Jews ought to be jealous of Israelis (see our blog post on the item) to vehement American Jews defending their religious identity. Rettig takes a more balanced approach, finding material for criticism and praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

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