To the Editor:
Ruth R. Wisse’s convoluted, overwrought “Letter to a New Israeli” [June] is instructive in revealing a particular mindset among North American Jewry. Mrs. Wisse’s article purports to provide sympathetic encouragement to the Israel-bound son of her friend Mona, who whines, “I thought only losers went to Israel”; in point of fact, Mrs. Wisse reveals herself to be a moaner of a similar stripe. As a young American-born Jew who has already made the transition to a new life in the Jewish state, I found this article indicative of attitudes among North American Jews who are strong supporters of Israel but who cannot understand the motivations for aliyah in their children, and only pay faint lip-service to its importance (and this in the only article to appear in COMMENTARY on the subject of aliyah in the five years that I have been counting!).
Thus Mrs. Wisse writes to her friend: “One night in the Jewish homeland and [your family] will know themselves despised, rejected, and contingent.” In fact, after professionally encouraging and advising young North American immigrants to Israel over the past few years, I know that this is what these young Jews were more likely to feel while living in the Diaspora. It is true that the majority of new North American immigrants hardly felt despised or rejected in the U.S. and Canada, but certainly almost all felt contingent as Jews in the societies they left.
They do not feel, as Mrs. Wisse insists, “a far from equal burden of the curse of hatred that pursues” our people, because it is exactly to escape that hatred that they decided to live in Israel. It is true that, once in Israel, they might feel themselves feared and hated by a ruthless enemy, but the national struggle with the Arabs evokes a response that is far different from suffering anti-Semitism as a minority in a Gentile society. Most young Zionists do believe in the possibility that one day our problems with our Arab neighbors will be resolved (though on whose terms remains to be seen); they do not believe that any realistic solution exists to the problems (assimilation or anti-Semitism) facing the continuation of a genuine Jewish existence in the Diaspora. In short, despite Israel’s security problems, they come here with the belief that they and their families’ continued existence as Jews (not just religiously, but in every way) is more assured here than in the Diaspora.
This belief is naturally one that a committed Jew like Mrs. Wisse, committed to her Diaspora home, would prefer not to contemplate too deeply. . . . But I can confirm that a majority of young Jews come here for a reason she fails to mention—either they do not find their lives in Toronto, New York, or Los Angeles fulfilling enough as Jews (as Mrs. Wisse presumably finds hers), or they take the need for Jewish fulfillment more seriously.
Ruth R. Wisse writes:
After five years of counting, Calev Ben-David finds in my use of the word “aliyah” the occasion he has been waiting for to toot his little horn. Without wishing to spoil his fun, I note on the basis of long experience that those who toot the loudest often manage the worst.
My “Letter” was not about motives for moving to Israel, but was, rather, an attempt to account for disaffection from Israel. I hesitate to suggest that Mr. Ben-David reread the article for fear of what free association might be triggered off in him the next time around.