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Judt & Jewish

by Editor on April 22nd, 2010

Reading Tony Judt’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books, “Toni,” I was stuck by the degree to which so much of what he articulated there lines up with my own thinking on the subject, and much of my own writing over the last decade, too. (Indeed, after reading it, my wife remarked that she thought she’d been reading me at certain points.)

Judt’s themes—the confusion of American Jewish identity with Israeli identity; the odd and irrational fear among so many American Jews, that makes them support Israel as a potential refuge; and the mis-use of the holocaust as a rational for being “Jewish” in some form—are all important to me. “Important” is really an understatement. Where Judt is an English Jew reorienting to the U.S., my own identity as an American Jew has been shaped by these issues, but often in reverse: in opposition to these grand themes of American Jewry rather than born of them.

It is occasionally an uncomfortable place to be. In synagogue, when virtually the entire congregation stands to say a prayer for the state of Israel, I do not. After all, I’m not an Israeli, and have no plans to become one. (Out of a sense of both ecumenical fairness and theological interpretation, I also don’t stand for the prayer for the United States. If there is a god, I’m fairly sure that this god is not involved in the politics that shape our future, either here or abroad. My god is more personal than that.) I don’t like the American fetishizing of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, or of reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor am I, as an American Jew, living in fear.

I regularly avoid New York City’s annual Israel Day parade. A few years ago, I did attend a small rally a couple of years ago pushing in the opposite direction: for peace and the implementation of plans for a two state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The abuse we counter-ralliers received was low, but only relative to the screams endured by the aggressively anti-Israel Hasids on the opposite side of the avenue.

I believe that the so-called “Occupied Territories” are, indeed, “occupied”: rightly by Palestinians, wrongly by Israeli settlers and the IDF. While I do not think that Israel-as-occupier is acting as the Nazis did, I do think that too often these claims-and-counter-claims become a way of distracting from the reality of Israel as an occupying force.

And don’t even get me started on the holocaust.

For all that, I find meaning in the religious aspects of Judaism, year after year after year after year. Indeed, I can safely say that I would be a very different person without this aspect of Judaism. This is not to say that Tony Judt has missed something in his own life—this is without judgment—but that for my life, the religious aspect of being Jewish is integral to both the experience of it and the struggle with it.


As with the other site, bear with me as I work through the challenges of switching to a new publishing system. So far, I am impressed with WordPress, but I still have much work to do to get the look and feel of it to a place I feel comfortable with.

From → Identity

  1. Meanwhile, for an incredible essay on American Jewish, American Zionist, and American Jewish Liberal identity (woof), read Peter Beinart’s piece, also from the 6/10/10 New York Review of Books:

    For example: “Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism. Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake. “

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  1. Beinart’s Broadside | The Truth As I See It

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