The Challenge of Our Age

from Haviv Rettig in today’s Jerusalem Post:

Nothing I have written on Jewish identity as The Jerusalem Post’s Jewish world correspondent has elicited the amount and vehemence of response as the November 21 front page report on the relative lack of Israeli media coverage of the US Jewish federations’ General Assembly in Jerusalem (“GA largely ignored by Hebrew-speaking press”). The article noted the Hebrew-speaking media’s apparent disdain for the conference, together with what American participants felt Israel had to gain from a closer conversation with American Jewry.

Columnists, bloggers and Jewish activists and officials have since undertaken a loud, sometimes bitter discussion about the questions raised in the article, among them what is to be made of the American-Israeli divide, and which is the “better” Jewish community…

Hebrew-language Israeli media should have covered the General Assembly, and covered it profusely. Not only does it represent an important part of Diaspora organization, but it is frankly interesting. Taken together, American Jewish federations are the second-largest social welfare charity in North America. Local charity, not international politicking, is their primary activity. In an Israel struggling to balance the Treasury’s hermetic budgetary discipline with the need to invest massively in a shoddy education system and weak welfare services, is there nothing worth noting in the example of widespread private philanthropy on a national scale?

Can Israel’s incessant religio-political warriors learn nothing from the open American marketplace of spirituality, one which creates widespread popular religion rather than introverted camps hunkered down for battle over the state’s resources? Can Israeli education learn nothing from the American Jewish struggle to find a Jewish identity that is compelling and attractive in its own right, without benefit of the social boundaries that hold off assimilation among Israelis and some of the Orthodox?