By Dr. Misha Galperin
It is rare that I find myself in such complete disagreement with someone representing the Israel Policy Forum, in this case Michael Koplow in his Op-Ed in the Forward “The End of the Jewish People is Here.” That I should do so while simultaneously agreeing unequivocally with Naftali Bennett’s comment at the AJC meetings in Jerusalem (“We are Still One Family”) is especially odd – but how could I feel otherwise?
Both Koplow’s argument and Bennett’s remark were in response to AJC’s recently published survey on the divergent views of American and Israeli Jews. The survey covered a variety of topics: religious, familial, tribal, past and present. While some of the findings confirmed what we’ve known for some time already, many were quite surprising. Still, none were earth-shattering – and none, none at all, justified Koplow’s dramatic pronouncement of our death as a people. Is there a danger that we can grow so far apart that we are no longer one people? Yes, I believe that danger exists. When arguments and disagreements are no longer l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven), we are in danger. When our discourse becomes uncivil, when it contains threats of excommunication or expulsion, we are in danger. But we are not there yet and I am hopeful that we won’t be.
The fact that our disagreements have taken center stage – in AJC surveys and elsewhere – is to me a good sign. It is the Talmudic tradition. We can argue vehemently and still stay on the same page. Were the ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel populated by different peoples? I don’t think so. Were Babylonian exiles and the Jerusalemites that remained behind not part of the same Am Yisrael? I believe that they were. And what of Sephardim and Ashkenazim – different customs, lands, even languages, but different peoples?
What about me and the Western Jews that brought my family out of Soviet captivity? Do you think that their opinions on matters of politics, religion and identity were similar or even remotely close to one anthers? No. It was the basic imperatives of pidyon shvuim (redeeming the captive) and Ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people) that guided them. It is those basic imperatives that I believe continue to guide us.
The recently established Andrew and Ann Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot will offer both a physical and virtual platform to encourage respectful, ongoing dialogue about the critical issues at the heart of Jewish life today. It will ensure that every legitimate voice in the Jewish world, even in times when polarization and dissension dominate our landscape and discourse, has a seat at the table. Andrew and Ann Tisch, and Irina Nevzlin, Chair of The Museum, felt that there was no better place to create such a Center than at the Museum – which tells the story of the entire Jewish People, writ large, with an eye toward our united future. The new Center will offer events, conferences and seminars in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. The Israel Policy Forum, Minister Bennett, the AJC and many many others will, I am sure be a part of it.
Dr. Misha Galperin is co-author with Dr. Erica Brown of “The Case for Jewish Peoplehood: Can We Be One?” Published by Jewish Lights in 2007