Sunday, January 11, 2015

A time to be polite, and...

This post will be a response to a Facebook post that I read today, so let me first quote it for context:
Have to get this off my chest: with much respect, not a big fan of the Zionist sentiments being expressed by some in response to the horrible tragedies in France.  
First, sadly, it's not as though Israel is some bastion of security from terrorism. This, imho, is not a reason to make aliyah. (That we have an army and control our fate to a greater degree IS - but that is a different point, I think, than the argument that seems implied by some recent statements.)  
Second, there is a time and place. To tell a community in trauma and in mourning - Come make aliyah! - just feels a bit insensitive. Let's talk about that (if at all) later, but not now. To be clear, I respect where these statements are coming from, but I think these kinds of reactions may not be the most appropriate right now.  
...refuge per se doesn't really work anymore. Honestly, /i was probably safer living in Beachwood Ohio than I am living where I do today. As Daniel Gordis has argued (cant find in writing right now-I've heard him say this in person) you can't really base Zionism on safety and refuge, like we once did. It just doesn't ring true in this day and age. We are a sitting target for Iran, not to mention Palestinian terrorism...That being said, it's all worth it to me because the very fact that my nation controls its destiny in being able to defend itself as best as possible is a mark of national dignity and health. (Besides for the other reasons that led me to make aliyah.)

I believe that these are the various points raised in these quotes and in other comments from the thread. (I am open to correction or tuning if I am erring in any way)

  1. "Now is not the polite time". 
  2. "Israel is not really safer than elsewhere in the free world".
  3. "Refuge is not a good reason to make aliya". 
  4. "Recommending Aliya by people who live in Israel sounds boastful."

I would like to respond without hyperbole or false analogies, so please let me know if I have failed in that attempt. (I am a moderate fellow by nature and inclination, and rarely find myself as the advocate for intemperance or any level on insensitivity, so please excuse these caveats)

Here goes:

I sympathise with the sentiments expressed as a person living today.
By that I mean January 11th, 2015 C.E., not modern times in general.
Because when I look at history more broadly, my perspective is entirely different.

1. "Now is not the polite time". 

This in and of itself is not compelling, and troubles me a great deal. When life and limb are at risk, there is no time to worry about politeness.

When the NRA says after the Sandy Hook shooting, "Now is not the polite time", I think that is an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable truths at hand.
When there is an entrenched social ill, and cultural inertia makes it almost unchangeable, then the time of pain after tragedy may be exactly the time to raise the issue. An incident that gives an opening for an intervention may be too precious an opportunity to waste.
If someone thinks that Aliya will not make French Jews safer, then there is obviously no reason to recommend it. But if they think it will, it may be their responsibility, if not obligation.

Obviously, people who are direct victims of a tragedy should not be lectured to. People with their loved one's bodies before them cannot learn, they can only mourn. That is a side issue though. With the exception of a few families, the Jews of France are not direct victims.

Forgive me is I seem callous. But not everyone is a victim. There are apparently around half a million Jews in France, and around half of those live in the greater Paris area. They must be shaken, but few are experiencing trauma of personal levels.

Doctors commonly used to withhold upsetting information from patients. We no longer do that for good reason.

2.  "Israel is not really safer than elsewhere in the free world". 

Perhaps this is true on an individual level. Perhaps not.

But if we are talking about the Jewish people over time and generations, then this is, from a Zionist perspective, absurd.

Zionism can be reduced to the following four beliefs:
  1. The Jews are a Nation.
  2. Nations have a right to self determination.
  3. A Nation without a homeland is an unwelcome stranger, and will be treated as such. 
  4. Jews need their own land.
You can add other idealistic layers on top of this. Most do.

But from when Herzl called together the first Zionist Congress till today, these are the uniting principles that unite all believers in the movement. The pioneers of Aliya risked their lives, because they believed that individuals must do so for the greater security of Jews in the future!

So this or that Jew may or may not be safer in Israel. But the Jews certainly are. (according to Zionists) And so Jews should come here.

A true story:
I have a friend from high school who lives in Paris, France. (unusual for a boy from Brooklyn, but there you go) He wants to make aliya, but is having trouble convincing his wife. She does not want to leave her parents, and they want to stay in Paris.

"What do they say when you talk to them about safety", I asked him.
He answered, "They say things things happen from time to time. You have to be patient and wait for them to blow over, and things will be better."

Needless to say, this sent chills up my spine. As it should anyone who knows that the 20th century happened.

And safer in France? FRANCE? France is not Beachwood.

Let's leave aside the medieval history of pogroms, book burnings and expulsions. Let's say that their leading the Emancipation absolved them from that history.
Let's forget that when the allied Italians dragged their feet and handed few Jews over to the Nazis, the conquered French immediately helped organize and deport 75,000 Jews. Well, to be fair, adults, as they didn't want to deport children. Then they waited till they got too difficult to take care of all those orphans and departed them too. Au revoir, les enfants.
Let's forget all of that as ancient history as well. Forget all of that.

France has been dealing with terror for decades, arguably far less successfully than the IDF. The terrorist from the Jewish supermarket was convicted for plotting to break out the mastermind of the 90's bombings by the GIA. And he was released early. In 2013.

Why is France in Islamist cross hairs? Is it their war against terror statehoods in Africa, Mali in particular? Is it the size of the muslim population? Is it the deeply pervasive secularism? Probably all the above and more, and don't expect it to change soon.

And ask a kippa wearing tourist about the advice he receives when in France. It is recommended that he behaves as French Jews do, and take it off in public for fear of safety.

France is not Ohio. Israel is not France.

And I think Gordis is wrong as well. As I have in the past. 

3. "Refuge is not a good reason to make aliya". 

Really? We are judging good reasons to do what's right? Most olim have moved here ideologically? 3rd, 4th, 5th, Morrocan, Yeminite, Russian and Ethiopian aliyot aren't as good as the ideological ones? Mitoch shlo lishma is irrelevant?

Do I need to quit smoking or protect the environment for the right ideological reasons?

I really didn't get that one.

4. "Recommending Aliya by people who live in Israel sounds boastful."

So do it carefully and sensitively. The fact that Hocheach Tocheach, rebuking your neighbour, is a difficult mitzva does not mean we are not obligated to attempt it. Do it humbly. At least do it a lot more humbly than Ben-Gurion did it. Jabotinsky didn't live in Israel, and delivered it pretty directly.

The who matters. I think Israeli political leaders have a responsibility to represent the welcoming aspect of the Jewish home.

A Zionist has an obligation to preach the dream. Just do it like a mensch.

And kol hakavod to the French PM on his handling of the situation. But I don't see it as our mission to save the French Republic.



Noam Shapiro said...

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. As usual it was thought-provoking. Here are some of my responses, point by point, as you have structured it (I’ve used your summary points of my initial points. Below that you will find my response to your argument against each of those points. That sounds really confusing, but, please just read and I think you’ll see what I mean):
1. "Now is not the polite time".
I don’t think “politeness,” an aesthetic category of social etiquette, was my concern. It was a lack of sensitivity – which is an ethical concern. I guess I wasn’t precise enough with my language here, but what bothers me is this: not giving people the time to process things on their own. Do we think they really don’t know about the option of Aliyah? That if not for our exhortations, before the bodies have even been buried! – they might not think of that option as they think about their futures? Just wait. Let’s have the conversation in the coming weeks. I don’t know what the line is of when the all-knowing Noam says its ok – but I think it is not now.
To extend your medical analogy, when a kid falls and gets hurt – the first thing you do is tend to their wound and give them a hug. I know some might argue that if a big lion is about to eat the kid, then you don’t have time to hug. But honestly, I don’t think that is the case here. It’s not as though anyone is immigrating tomorrow, in any event. Let’s just console our brothers and sisters. Then let’s have a conversation about next steps.
I also don’t think the NRA or the doctor analogies are fair. The NRA has an interest in sweeping discussions about gun control under the carpet. I gain nothing by advocating for a deferred discussion about Aliyah. And as far as doctors keeping information from pateints: that is a situation where one person has information that the other is lacking. Really, everyone in France knows they can make Aliyah. We’re not hiding anything from them by refraining from telling them to make Aliyah.

2. "Israel is not really safer than elsewhere in the free world".
I absolutely agree with you that as a collective, from a meta-historical-perspective, we are safer here. But the feeling I get from some people is: YOU- random individual in France- RIGHT NOW YOU ARE IN DANGER. Quickly, get on the next plane to get out! I just think it’s not accurate to paint the picture that way, and it’s a bit misleading in terms of the relative day-to-day safety of life in Israel. I suppose we can debate this back and forth regarding an individual Jew living today – where is he/she safer. But I do know it is not a slam dunk. (Again – for the individual, which is the feeling I get from some people.)

3. "Refuge is not a good reason to make aliya".
I don’t think I said this – if I did, I recant. I agree with you here.

3. "Recommending Aliya by people who live in Israel sounds boastful."
I suppose you’re right that it can be done humbly and respectfully, but I sure have seen lots of people struggling with that. I find that it very often comes off as smug, arrogant, self-righteous and condescending. But – I think you’re right, fundamentally this can be done appropriately.
What you say about politicians/Zionist leaders being different is really interesting. I think you may be right. Though it raises other interesting questions that I have seen raised on other threads: does this make it uncomfortable for Jews in the diaspora vis-à-vis their fellow citizens? Does it not raise uncomfortable and maybe ultimately even potentially dangerous charges of dual loyalty?

All of this being said, let me say this: I would be thrilled – for the individuals and for our nation – if many more people came and joined us here in our Homeland.

Michael Naftali Unterberg said...

Responses to responses:

1. Of course they know about aliya, but don't consider it important to them. The point is not to give them information they don't know, but to change their minds on pre-made decision. Your lion analogy is helpful. Dismissing it because the time scale is slower for leaving Europe does not make it less useful. If you think your boo-boo example is closer to the mark, then that just means that you don't think French Jews are in serious danger. So of course sensitivity is more important than tochacha. But if you do see their continued existence as precarious, and all of diaspora in the future as unsustainable, than the lion analogy would seem more correct. See the Jabotinsky link I sent. "End the Diaspora or the Diaspora will end you."

2) It becomes difficult to argue against straw man articulations based on impressions. We can agree that claims should be stated realistically, honestly, and without exaggeration or fear mongering.
Certainly the thousands of French police being sent to patrol Jewish neighbourhoods does not help your argument here.

3) Perhaps I misread. Sorry about that.

4) This era of return to Zion is, if anything, even more filled with uncomfortable truths and choices than the last one 2,500 years ago. Avoiding them doesn't help. Preaching about them doesn't either, for the most part. As Orthodox Jews, we believe in the prophecies of Jewish return to the homeland and closing the diaspora. As Zionists we believe that this is work that we must undertake, and not wait for miraculous solutions.
How will this mass exodus come about? As in the past, it probably won't until true suffering begins.

I see the diaspora communities as life boats, and Israel as the shore. I agree that olim have nothing to brag about, only gratitude for making home from rough seas.

How do we as many of our brothers and sisters ashore before those boats start sinking? That's the pressing question.

I don't know what the answer is or what will work. But if having some people speak insensitively will help, then I'm all for that.