Friday, September 3, 2010

A Struggle Resolved

In my July 9 post, "Cognitive Dissonance: My Stressed-Out Sympathies for Israel" I discussed at length my conflicting emotions of sympathy and anger towards the State of Israel"  and the difficulties that I was having n trying to come to terms with this conflict. However, thanks to some sound advice from my wife Lydia  and input from my close friend Greg, I believe that I've overcome this dilemma.  

As I mentioned in "Cognitive Dissonance", Israel's non-Orthodox / secular Jewish majority allows the Orthodox minority to dominate that country political system.  Recently the latter have attempted to intensify this grip by seeking to impose a tighter interpretation in determining  "who is a Jew?" as it applies to  immigrants under Israel's "Law of Return"  especially those from Russia, who comprise the largest demographic of this group. As a result their rights and civil status in such life passages as marriage are in jeopardy.  A strong international protest from non-Orthodox Jews against this plan apparently caught the Israeli Orthodox Jewish establishment off guard, and the Israeli Parliament has put this proposed legislation in abeyance for six months as of this past July.  But the matter could (and will likely come up again) after that time.

Throughout this ideological tug of war, even though they have the greatest stake in the  outcome, the Russian immigrants, have remained largely silent due mainly  to indifference. One reason is that many members of this group consider themselves as Jews anyway, whether or not the Orthodox rabbis agree.  But whatever the cause for this apathy, the immigrants on the whole just do not find the issue worth fighting for.

So as Lydia sagely pointed out,  if the Russians don't feel like joining the struggle that others are fighting in their behalf and if the non-Orthodox majority of Israeli Jews can't get their own act together and take back political  control from the religious minority, why should non-Orthodox Jews in the diaspora, myself included, get worked up about this state of affairs?  We may as well just stay neutral about Israel's internal  and international dealings and —importantly —stop feeling personal embarrassment or responsibility when Israel  makes mistakes resulting from reckless domestic and external policy decisions.

Carrying this idea further Greg (who is a Filipino and an ardent Reform Jew)  recommends—and I'm becoming more inclined to agree—that Jews throughout the world should just tend to their own knitting and focus on building and strengthening their respective communities, especially here in Asia, where according to "Jewish Times Asia", a magazine which features articles about life in such these enclaves located in this part of the world, there are at present 34 such societies spread throughout  Southeast Asia, China and Japan.

To quote Greg: "Jewish communities in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, etc. are all small but can be nurtured into bigger and happier communities. Imagine visiting SE Jews in Burma one day! And being accepted without reservations as friends.The goal is to view each other as friends instead of family members. All this Orthodox hardheadedness in Israel, if made to occupy so much space in our consciousness,  will just ruin the chances of these Jewish communities prospering.  Imagine visiting a Vietnamese synagogue and being asked, "Are you sure you're Jewish?  Can you prove it?" 

This "hands off" approach does not mean that we renounce Israel.  It just means that Israel  and Zionism would no longer have a primacy in the diaspora Jewish mindset.  Besides, Israel has a strong economic presence in this part of the world, as various articles in the July / August, 2010 "Jewish Times Asia" issue aptly demonstrate. Further, many members of the Jewish communities in Asia are native Israelis who are visiting or working here and who travel and transfer back and forth between the two locales. So in light of these ties, I'm certainly not suggesting abandonment. It's just that political, moral (and not to mention financial) support for Israel by religiously liberal diaspora Jews for Israel has been pretty much a one way street for way  too long,  Isn't it pointless for  us to continue our role as enablers to the religious right and receive nothing but their  contempt and ingratitude in return?

There is a slim chance that once the Orthodox establishment realizes that it can no longer take this advocacy for granted, it will be more inclined to recognize or at least respect its erstwhile benefactors, but ultimately, why should it matter?  By refocusing our attention on strengthening  and improving our own communities and the ties between them, and by extension the larger societies of which we are members as well, progressive diaspora Jews can look forward to a vibrant future.