‘Israelism’ has replaced traditional Jewish identity, making it difficult for Jewish students to distinguish between divergent political views and attacks on their identities.
By Yakov M. Rabkin
It is no secret that young Jews often find it difficult to separate Zionism from the Jewish identity as it has been taught to them. Their identity is often centered on political support for the State of Israel, and they see advocacy for Israel — a special course in the curriculum of many private Jewish schools — as a key part of being Jewish. Leaving the protective bubble of Jewish day schools for university campuses, therefore, can be traumatic.
Teaching the centrality of Israel, a policy that has been applied in most non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools for decades, has borne fruit. Graduates often feel that criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Those feelings are genuine, and need not be simplified into attempts at conscious manipulation of anti-Semitism for political purposes.
In many synagogues, support for Israel has entered liturgy. The congregants’ enthusiasm is palpable when they chant the blessing for the State of Israel and its armed forces, enthusiasm that seems missing in the traditionally central parts of the communal service such as the silent amida prayer. Many Jews have simply not noticed that their traditional religious and ethnic identity has morphed into a new political one. They support Israel financially, attend concerts by Israeli singers, and some even encourage their children to serve in the Israeli army. The existence of a state boasting a national flag, a powerful army, and a prosperous economy confers pride and a sense of involvement in something bigger than private life.
This vicarious “Israelism” has replaced the traditional Jewish identity — a shift that has been all the easier given the less demanding nature of the new identity. Since traditional Jewish identity is founded upon obedience to the Torah and to the precepts that it imposes, it impinges both on the private domain, such as food and intimate relations, and public conduct, including strict requirements of ethical behavior. Judaism articulates hundreds of ritual and moral duties. At the same time, Israelism carries with it no particular...Read More