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Israeli Culture and the Jews

- Abstract

THERE are signs that since the early 70′s significant changes have been taking place in the perception many American Jews have of their relation to Israel. Even before the traumatic, and catalyzing, experience of the Yom Kippur War, voices had been raised calling for a reassessment of American Jewry’s political stance toward Israel and of the general acceptance of Israel as the primary cultural center of the Jewish people. Reassessment, however, has in many instances been intimately associated with reawakening. There has been, I would say, a more pronounced degree of involvement (perhaps especially among intellectuals) with Israel on the part of American Jews, accompanied by a greater readiness to exercise critical freedom from official Zionist positions in defining a relationship with Israel.

This whole phenomenon, though it could well have important consequences, is unfortunately too multifaceted to get very clearly into focus: there is, after all, a good deal of cultural stratification among American Jews, which in turn is cut across by an unevenly distributed spectrum of postures of Jewish identity, from total estrangement to ambivalent nostalgia to various forms of religious or political involvement. It becomes rather difficult, then, to make any confident generalizations about how a collective body called “American Jewry” perceives its relation to Israel. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that one may relate alternately, or simultaneously, to Israel as a political entity with its set policies (or non-policies), to Israel as a distinctive cultural sphere, a religious idea, a simple nexus of kinship.

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