Commentary Magazine


American Jewry

To the Editor:

Arthur Hertzberg’s article in your August issue [“Israel and American Jewry”] suggests dismaying assumptions about secular Jews, the position today of Israel, and the same disturbing euphoria that has seized so many American Jews since the June victory.

Do we really hope to become Old Testament warriors in the post-chivalric age? Do we, in fact, repudiate Hitler’s victims or glibly compare their situation to that of Israel today? (If it were the same, there would be no need for Israel.)

If we have not lost our brains, and if we have not lost our moral sense (surely family feeling, while natural in a crisis, is not the highest morality), we must face the fact that a military victory has not solved the problem of peace for Israel.

Unless there is some objective facing of facts about Arab land and Arab refugees, Israel will find herself in the long run confronting the combined hostility not only of the Arabs, but also of Russia and probably China as well. Military prowess will not save the day against that.

Israel exists because of Hitler, and because of the Russian and American backing the Nazi crimes procured for a Jewish state. The notion that pre-Hitlerian Zionism or the Balfour Declaration would have brought Israel into being is fatuous. Nor would Israel have the friends she has if it were not for the European victims.

The Arabs are quite right when they say that it is not they who were responsible for the victims. Germany, first of all, is responsible, and the future of Israel would be far more secure were Germany, and other nations involved in the creation of Israel, to make plain that an injustice has in fact been done to the Arabs; as so often, in fact, one great injustice has provoked another. Germany should be ready to take specific steps to ameliorate the situation. This would give some sort of satisfaction to the Arabs, as well as to the Russians, the English, and others.

It is very shortsighted to be afraid that anything given to the Arabs will be taken away from the Jews. If the Arabs have no satisfaction, they will never recognize Israel and she will be in ever-increasing danger.

Elaine Spina
New York City

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To the Editor:

In his most stimulating article on Israel and American Jewry during the June crisis, Rabbi Hertzberg expresses regret that none of the research agencies in the social sciences intiated “a disciplined study of the American Jewish response as the events were unfolded.”

It may interest your readers to learn that such a study was conducted by social scientists here in Melbourne during that period. By chance, it happened that a carefully planned social survey of the Melbourne Jewish community, . . . was completed in the last week in May. Three weeks after the war was over, a sample of the persons interviewed originally were approached again for retrospective material on their reaction to the crisis and on the effect it may have had on their attitudes to Judaism and to Israel.

The material is now being analyzed and results are not yet available, but early indications are that there was an even greater degree of involvement than that reported by Hertzberg for American Jewry. Ratings were made of the respondents’ overall degree of ego involvement in the crisis, based on all of the material that was obtained in the interview. On the basis of these impressions it seems that more than one third of the subjects were “highly involved” in the crisis, to the extent that it disrupted their normal life and caused considerable emotional distress (crying, sleeplessness, depression, inability to work). Slightly less than two thirds had a “fair amount of personal involvement” which caused at least some changes in their normal routine, and other signs of concern, such as obsessive news gathering and thoughts of volunteering their services. It might be added that there is good reason to believe that the community lists from which the respondents were drawn comprises virtually all the householders in Melbourne who call themselves Jewish.

Before the war actually broke out, a rally was held in Melbourne which was attended by seven thousand people, representing more than a quarter of the community over the age of thirteen. The experience with volunteers was very similar to that described by Hertzberg, in that there were a thousand volunteers from a community numbering only thirty-five thousand. A youth rally, also before the war, was attended by twenty-five hundred young Jews, of whom four hundred volunteered on the spot. These volunteers were interviewed by trained personnel and a record was made of their background and motives. It was noted that especially in the early stages, the volunteers were persons connected with Israel or younger people who had been active in Zionist youth movements. This would correspond with the early volunteers in New York, but in Melbourne there were also many young people who claimed that they had had no connections with Judaism during the past few years but who found that volunteering for Israel offered an opportunity to add meaning to their lives.

Hertzberg tries to explain the surprising phenomenon of peripheral Jews rallying to the cause of Israel and he offers several possible explanations. Since more than half of the Jewish families in Melbourne are postwar immigrants, many of them former concentration-camp inmates, it seems unlikely that the second-generation explanation would hold. Much more likely is the fact that for Australian Jews, as for most Jews in the Western world, there was no conflict between their loyalties as Jews and the majority feeling of the community in which they live, nor was there any conflict concerning the rights and wrongs of Israel’s specific case. This made it easier for them to express themselves through their identification with Israel. On the other hand, this explanation is not enough; the material that came out of the interviews would suggest that the position of Israel as a new rallying symbol for the Jewish people has gradually seeped through to Jews who are in a somewhat marginal position so far as the community is concerned. The “revulsion against the passivity of the Jewish victims of the Nazis” mentioned by Hertz-berg also appeared in the comments: several of the respondents expressed the view that now Jews must stand up and fight. . . .

When the material which we have collected is further analyzed, it may yield further information concerning what happened to Jews during those weeks. It does seem clear, however, that the reactions should be looked on as characteristic of all Jews living in Western countries, and not just of American Jewry.

Ronald Taft
Department of Psychology
University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia

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