One character in my current novel-in-progress remarks at a point that God’s non-existence is a joke that proves He is a Jew, a sentiment that’s guided my own non-relationship with the Old Man since around the time the act curtain dropped on my bar mitzvah and we all retired to the Uniontown Country Club for bad chicken. I became a bar mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue—it was the slightly more stable of the two aging congregations in Uniontown—but I was really raised Reform. I am still moved by the High Holy Day liturgies, and I retain a great fondness for the Friday Night Shabbat service. But.
Somewhere along the way, someone smuggled in the Prayer for the State of Israel, a scandalous little piece of political agitprop that’s always made me cringe. Depending, I think, on the congregation and the prayer book, it either joined or supplanted the silly but less objectionable prayer for political leaders, a sort of broad wish-to-the-wind that our rulers comport themselves decently and conduct themselves with sage restraint—you can understand why a diasporic community would consider that a reasonable hedged bet, a proper blessing for the Czar, so to speak.
The Prayer for the State of Israel, on the other hand, has the Cold War stink of a kindergarten classroom being drummed to its feet to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Written in 1948, the year of the Nakba, it further affirms in the minds and hearts of so many American Jews an indelible link between spiritual Judaism and political Zionism. I always wonder that it doesn’t seem out of place in a Temple full of Americans, but then, I see some Miami Beach shonda babbling excuses for atrocity on the cable news programs, and I think, Oh. Oy.
American Jews have been bought off with Birthright beach vacations in Tel Aviv and campfire temple trips and a pack of lies about an empty desert waiting to be planted with those trees we bought in Sunday School with the leftovers of our Tzedakah money. The next time you see some terrible white man wondering where are the Muslim moderates who will condemn whatever dictator or terrorist or cartoon-villainously acronym’d insurgency the great minds behind CNN et al. are on about in a given week, ask yourself, where are the American Jews who will speak against the Israeli pogrom in Gaza? They are out there, of course, but too quiet, and too few.
The terrible truth is that Israel was infected from the moment of its birth with the European evils whose virulent, 20th-centurty apotheoses necessitated, in the minds of so many, the creation of Israel in the first place, and we Jews, through Israel, have become a sick reflection of our own historic persecutors. I am not even speaking of the still unique evil of Nazism, although in the more extreme eructations of Israeli hard-liners, you do hear the debased language of racial purity and superiority. I am thinking of the old, durable, seemingly ineradicable traditions of pogrom, persecution, expropriation, and colonization. The Israelis possess the imperial arsenal of a modern Western nation-state, which camouflages the essentially primitive, pre-modern nature of their policy toward the Palestinians. The state of Israel is behaving like a village mob. Palestinian tunnels are the poisoned well. The Israelis are killing and lighting fires. “We will drive them out!” Where will they go? How will they escape? “They will have to figure it out, the devils!” But you forced them into the ghetto in the first place. “Yes, and they should be happy for what they have!” The US stands by like a distant monarch, its silence and occasional provision of more kindling a kind of majestic assent.
It would be comforting to say simply: I wash my hands of all of you. But we have accepted a state made of our religion, and that state is behaving abominably, unforgivably. It is a shame that we will not erase in a hundred years.