The uproar between American Jews and Israel

  • Article by: LEORA GOLDBLATT
  • Updated: December 21, 2011 - 7:05 AM

A college student from Minnesota who's studying in Israel ponders that country's growing rift with American Jews.

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File photo: Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

Photo: Kevin Frayer, Associated Press

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There's a question every Jew living in American has most likely heard at least once in their life.

“Are you an American Jew or a Jewish American?”

Essentially, this question asks us, which part of your identity do you put first? Which aspect do you value more? Which culture defines you the most?

Living in Israel the past three months has shown me this question is not necessarily reflective of our own feelings, but rather the context we find ourselves in and how that compares to another context.

In Israel, my Judaism is rarely seen as a definitive mark, much like many Christians in America. It is my Americanism that defines me here, in relation to the rest of the population.

In America, however, it is my Judaism that defines me, that sets me apart.

But what I have come to realize is that my Judaism itself, the way I practice and relate to the religion, is really defined by my American identity. My Judaism is based on American values: diversity, individualism, and the ability to choose.

Most of us as Jews living in America pick and choose what aspects of Judaism we like and want to keep. We look to alternative means to get people involved and find spirituality. Individuals practice how they want.

Israel, however, is different.

Judaism in Israel is generally based on the most extreme observance: no public transportation Shabbat, many restaurants are kosher in order to stay in business, Jewish holidays are observed everywhere, and weddings preformed in Israel must be Orthodox weddings.

It’s difficult to pick and choose your religion here, it’s really all or nothing: orthodox or secular.

To most Americans this seems extreme, even for a religious country. It seems infringing to have most things up to par with the highest level of observance. Even many Israelis aren’t too fond of the Orthodox community in Israel.

But what many Jews fail to realize is that the Israeli Orthodox community is what sustains not only Israel as a Jewish state, but also American Jewry.

You can’t have one without the other. They are the yin to our yang.

Judaism has evolved over the years in America and many different branches have emerged, each taking different things and leaving out others. Yet, it is the biblical and Halachic Judaism from which these sects were built.

Without these roots of more observant Judaism, where would our Judaism be now? The answer is I honestly don’t know.

But one thing to remember is that without roots, what are the branches? Detached, from the trunk and from one another.

Similarly, the Orthodox needs the secular community just as much, because without the branches, the tree is nothing but a stump. The secular or less observant Jewish community keeps the Jewish people connected to the rest of the world.

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