Although my relatives had no intention of returning to Europe, they still retained the culture they brought with them. The old folks did not have a particular interest in Zionism. However, for many of my co-religionists today, the tradition of European Jewish culture is being replaced by the Disneyesque synthetic of political Zionism. The shame and pain of the past is buried in the Zionist conceit. The ideal of the Jewish scholar has been discarded for the veneration of the warrior. No longer identifying as the “people of the book,” the Zionist is proud to be the gun bearer.
I was born in 1942 to a Jewish family while WWII was raging. My mother hated not only the Nazis but the German people for allowing that to happen. She never forgave them. Never would she buy or touch anything made in Germany. In 1948 the Jewish State of Israel was founded. My family were fiercely proud and supportive of what we felt was the heroic Zionist achievements in Israel. We knew nothing about Palestinians. All we knew was that Arabs hated Jews and did terrible things. At a young age I decided to join the US Army and “become a man.” I spent three-and-a-half years, mostly in the 101st Airborne division as a paratrooper, and now I’m an 81-year-old veteran.
What makes someone a Jew—not just a Jew in name, but a Jew in good standing—today? In Haredi circles, being a real Jew means adhering to religious law. In leftist Jewish spaces, it means championing progressive causes. But these environments are the exceptions. In the broad center of Jewish life—where power and respectability lie—being a Jew means, above all, supporting the existence of a Jewish state. In most Jewish communities on earth, rejecting Israel is a greater heresy than rejecting God. The reason is rarely spelled out, mostly because it’s considered obvious: Opposing a Jewish state means risking a second Holocaust. It puts the Jewish people in existential danger. In previous eras, excommunicated Jews were called apikorsim, unbelievers. Today, they are called kapos, Nazi collaborators. Through a historical sleight of hand that turns Palestinians into Nazis, fear of annihilation has come to define what it means to be an authentic Jew.
More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend. Chanting "No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia," Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend. "Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.
St. Louis has become a hotbed not just for the racial conversation in the U.S., but the Jewish movement in the wake of Gaza to question Zionism in American life and support equal rights. On August 6, Rabbi Susan Talve of the Central Reform Congregation invited five members of Jewish Voice for Peace to express their opposition to the Gaza massacre in her sanctuary. I have been very critical of Talve for serving as a conduit for AIPAC’s rightwing garbage, but she must be celebrated for inviting these Jews into her shul after she saw the local Jewish Federations giving JVP the bums rush. I’ve watched one speech so far. Jacob Ari Labendz, 37, tells us he wanted to move to Israel when he was a boy. Now the history scholar (who just defended his dissertation at Washington University) worries about his career if he continues to speak out on Israel. But he speaks out. This is a brilliant speech– not just in its ideas but its subtle manner, its means of entering a Jewish space and forever changing it. The speech avoids the rhetoric of anti-Zionism, but when you hear this speech, you realize that it is Over for the Israel lobby inside the Jewish Diaspora. It is just a matter of time. Because the very best and brightest of young American Jews wish to preserve a rich heritage against an alliance to a militant state that commits atrocities in our name.