I’d like to respectfully disagree with Jonathan’s post yesterday on the Israeli government ad campaign directed at expatriate Israelis living in the United States. Anything that might unnecessarily distance American and Israeli Jews is certainly unwise just now, when the temptation to imagine that they might save themselves from the hatred directed at the Jewish state by disassociating themselves from it is one so many American Jews find hard to resist. But to be pricked by the current ads is to be overly sensitive to their potential implications.
The ad most in question focuses powerfully on Yom Hazikaron and the inability of an American (potentially) Jewish boyfriend to begin to understand its
significance, and the probability that he never will. Not knowing the date, he mistakes a yahrzeit candle set on a table and his Israeli girlfriend’s unwillingness to go to a party as an indication of a romantic evening, not the somber affair she has in mind. Her participation in the memorial is through a website which, being all in Hebrew, he does not understand, even when it dawns on him that something more significant than a date-night is afoot.
While melodramatic, there is not much in this scenario that rings false to me. Few are the American Jews who are aware when Yom Hazikaron passes on the calendar, and few as well are those who can identify even the simple Hebrew word yizkor (remember). More probably can successfully identify a yahrzeit candle but rarely use them and in seeing one would be likely to mistake its significance.
More to the point, the power of Yom Hazikaron to Israelis is one we American Jews should be able to find the humility to recognize we cannot fully appreciate. For us and our family members, military service and its attending dangers is a choice, not an obligation. Even the laudable examples of those young American Jews who choose to serve in the IDF do so for a much shorter period of time than their Israeli cousins. There are of course cases where those soldiers die, and there is no overstating the sacrifice they and all lone soldiers make.
Still, we who choose not to live in Israel and bear for ourselves and our families, forever, the shared burden of manning with our lives the gates of Jewish independence cannot know what Yom Hazikaron truly feels like for those for who do. Unlike us, they also all probably are themselves – or know someone else who is – touched by the terrible sacrifice that burden can impose.
This is a powerful ember for Israeli culture and patriotism. Faced with another national cultural need to maintain Jewish immigration and the reality of a significant population of expats whose reintegration into Israeli society is far easier than the absorption of those Jews born and raised in the diaspora, it seems far too much to ask that Israelis not use this ember.
There is more to say besides about the deep cultural differences between American and Israeli Jews, the lingering inability of American Jews to accept that the Land of Israel and the Jewish state it holds are the rightful center of the Jewish world, and the fact that very few of the American Jews who might be offended by the ad campaign will ever be even aware of it.
A core truth remains: if it is among the obligations of the Jews of Israel to fight and die for the continuance of the Zionist dream, it is among the obligations of the Jews of the diaspora to accept that it is a burden whose reality we cannot fully grasp.