Measuring Distance Between Us

Two Approaches to Israel Make Dialogue Difficult

By Leonard Fein

Published December 25, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

‘Distancing” is the current favored word to describe the reaction of many American Jews, especially young Jews, to the ongoing situation in Israel. (Curiously, Peter Beinart’s essay in the New York Review of Books in May 2010, which catalyzed much of the conversation, nowhere uses the word.) But “distancing” is inadequate to describe the range of response to diverse alarming events in Israel. Herewith, two examples of that range, and a suggestion of how we might productively proceed.

Temple Israel, now more than 150 years old, has long been and remains today Boston’s landmark Reform congregation, refusing to rest on its many well-earned laurels. Its four rabbis recently saw fit to write to all their synagogue’s members explaining the need to initiate a series of conversations about Israel. Three reasons explained the need, the rabbis wrote: Mentioning the word “Zionism” at Temple Israel has come to make an otherwise relaxed environment tense; some parents have begun asking why Zionism is being taught in the religious school; a growing percentage of members “wonder as to Israel’s importance in the evolution of their lives.”

The congregational conversations (there have now been two) came as the synagogue launched a three-year adult education program on Israeli politics, culture and history, dating from biblical times. (The kickoff speaker for the series was Peter Beinart.)

Whatever else the T.I. experience signifies, it is hardly an example of “distancing.” It is, rather, about engagement, but in a manner that takes account of Israel’s unfolding reality.

As I travel about and meet with Jews of diverse backgrounds, I am again and again reminded that many of them feel compelled to choose between two narratives they perceive as competing. The one sees Israel as a nation besieged, surrounded by a newly unstable array of Arab states, facing the murderous wrath of Iran and the all-too predictable hostility of the United Nations, increasingly alone in the family of nations. The other sees an Israel that daily finds new ways to shoot itself in the foot; that betrays its democratic commitment with gleeful disdain; that countenances discrimination against women and against its own Palestinian citizens; that becomes more illiberal, hence more alien to the dominant American Jewish temperament each day.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.