All right, you got me… this has nothing to do with Paris… or Texas. Yet it absolutely has to do with being a Jew In America. I of course liked the idea of being able to play on the title An American In Paris, but this post is about the transformation that occurred within me after my first, and so far only, trip to Israel in 2014, and how it affected the way I see so much today.
If you are a regular reader of this blog or perhaps read my travel journal called This Year In Jerusalem: A Bond Of Brothers, you know how significant that trip was for me. It hit me on three levels: religious growth, soul growth and human (friendship) growth. I had been an outspoken, pro-Israel advocate for years, but being on the ground, seeing the terrain, and meeting the people gave it a gravitas and “expertise” if you will. I felt more able and more qualified in talking about Israel. In fact, for better or worse, I was less inclined to discuss Israel with those who had never been, feeling like they were missing a huge part of the puzzle.
The religious level is what helped give birth to this blog. It put me on the path to wanting to learn so much more, thus putting me in the “Chood”… thus putting me in contact with Ben. I realized I was a Jew who did not know enough about Judaism. I sought out Rabbis and started going to Shul more. I read and studied. In a nutshell, I was on my way to becoming a Jewish American… In Paris, Texas… or anywhere in America… anywhere I was. The Jewish was becoming the defining factor, which of course it always is… and always was… I just did not know and understand it.The transformation started in Misgav Am, that amazing kibbutz on high. It means “Fortress of the People” and is in the Upper Galilee. It is close, too close to the Lebanese town of Kiryat Shmona and also overlooks Syria’s Hula Valley. Our host was Aryeh Ben Yaakov, who made Aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio decades before. He talked about many things, but one that grabbed me was when he talked about being a Jewish American instead of an American Jew. Boom. It finally made sense… For years I had been an American Jew. It defined me and my allegiances. It affected the way I thought about both religion AND Israel. But the logic of being a Jewish American made far more sense.
I was born a Jew. I am a Jew. THIS is what defines me and my soul. Great! What does that have to do with this post or anything for that matter? EVERYTHING!
I have written about this before. So what was the impetus for looking at it again? While I am loath to dip into politics on this blog, it is also a part of who I am… who we are… and I will address it with a bit of vagueness. We have two new reps in Congress who support both the BDS and the Palestinian movement. While I am vehemently anti-BDS and find their mission is clearly anti-Semitic and not even remotely close to seeking out justice for all those oppressed, etc. I am not anti-Palestinian. I am, of course, anti-Hamas… anti-hate… anti-terrorism… but I would love to see Jews and Arabs live peacefully side by side.
The issue that I have with these two reps is that they appear, on multiple levels, to be ANTI Israel, and in fact, anti-Semitic. Yes, one can criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite… but this is a thin line that is easy to fall off of. It is also a guise that many anti-Semites hide behind. To say you are anti something… against something… is a bold statement. Thus, if you are AGAINST Israel, that is a clear and dangerous statement. There is a huge difference between being anti-Israel and being someone who wants to discuss Israeli policies and question them. Freedom and democracy encourages and allows these discussions, and questioning things must be a part of our freedom… It can be, in fact, the most patriotic thing we do, because the goal is to make our country better.
And yet, what promoted this post was that one of the reps questioned the loyalty of Jews in America, implying that we put Israel ahead of America. This is something similar to the blood libel claims and according to Phillip Klein in the Washington Examiner: “The idea of Jews as having divided loyalty, and of using their influence to convince others to act against the interests and principles of their own country, is an age-old anti-Semitic trope.”So what does this all mean for me and this post and hopefully for us?
I am a Jew. I love being a Jew. I thank Hashem that I live in a country that, for the most part, allows me to freely practice my religion and to believe what I believe. And because I am a Jew, I have a deep and amazing connection to Israel.
I am an American. I love being an American. I thank Hashem that I live in such an amazing place and have the freedoms I have.
Both create who I am, but being a Jew creates my soul. Being a Jew defines the way I look at life, my life, and how I want to behave. While I do not, as of yet, do all I can and should do in the way of the mitzvot, I am so much more aware than I ever was. I am so much hungrier, and I am trying.
I know I am responsible for so much as a Jew, and that starts with the way I behave and the way I must hold others accountable for the way they behave. What I am loyal to is G-d, and that will make me not only a better American… but a better human being. I am a Jewish American, deeply proud of and loyal to BOTH! I am a Jewish American… in Paris… in Texas… or wherever my soul travels to!