ed note–keep in mind as you read this, that the ‘final straw’ for our Hebraic author driving him to ‘turn his back’ on his ‘Jewish identity’ WASN’T THIS–
Or any of the MILLIONS of other instances where his fellow Judah-ites engaged in the most barbaric behavior imaginable, stretching from not just the last century since the resurrection of Judea, but indeed, going back THOUSANDS OF YEARS, and all of this as intrinsic to the ‘protocols’ of Torah Judah-ism as fish swimming or birds flying, but rather because a ‘right-wing’ government has come to power in Israel that he doesn’t happen to like.
As he himself attested, he had no problem participating in the yearly Judaic celebration of Egypt’s destruction with Passover…
As he himself attested, he had no problem participating in the yearly Judaic celebration of Persia’s destruction with Purim…
As he himself attested, he had no problem participating in the yearly Judaic celebration of the destruction of Greece/Syria with H’Nooka…
But a ‘right-wing’ government coming to power was just not ‘kosher’ as far as his ‘tastes’ were concerned.
Sad to say however, that despite the seductive schmooze being performed by our unesteemed Hebraic author that there will be entire LEGIONS of Little Red Riding Hoods hailing from within the ranks of Gentiliedom who will champion this latest piece of deceptive hasbarah as ‘proof’ that it is safe to take the ‘children of Israel’ into the fold of humanity as long as they say the right things and perform the right ‘schtick’, such as these guys–
Ofri Ilany for Haaretz
Hanukkah is, all in all, my favorite Jewish holiday. I like the candles that burn in the winter darkness and the rousing, festive songs. This year, as I lit the candles with people who are close to me, I looked sadly on the flames. That’s because this coming year, I will not celebrate Hanukkah, nor will I celebrate Purim and certainly not Pesach. I don’t intend to mark the Jewish holidays at all.
Many people in my milieu are asking what can be done: They are wondering when we will take to the streets against the decrees and injustices being instigated by the new government of the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox. These are logical questions. But the current challenge is also an existential one. No matter how you look at it, it’s shameful now to belong to the State of Israel. It was often so in the past too, but today it’s an utter disgrace. This place is hostile and nasty.
Some people suggest leaving. ‘It’s no longer bearable here, we will renew the tradition and go into exile,’ scientist and writer Zeev Smilansky once declared. I might leave if the option existed, but experience has proved that no other place is interested in me. For reasons of its own, the international community is largely indifferent to the frustration of Israelis who oppose their government’s policy. And there’s no reason for it to grant us political asylum in the foreseeable future.
Another suggestion is to embark on the path of insularity and to declare a secular-liberal autonomous region in Tel Aviv and other like-minded cities. That’s a cool idea, but it’s hard to see it happening. Israel is too small and too centralized to accommodate political visions of liberal isolationism. We are stuck in each other’s rear end.
Other ideas are also being floated. Anat Kamm suggested in an oped in the Haaretz Hebrew edition that every secular household place a decorated Christmas tree on its balcony next December. That’s an amusing thought, but also paradoxical. Christmas is a Christian holiday, and Christianity is also a whole lot more than just shopping and gifts. Christianity is a serious matter, involving the stigmata and the mystique of the sacrifice, and I’m not convinced that my secular friends would want to identify with those messages.
Still, Kamm’s suggestion touches on something essential. Revulsion at Jewish identity is a powerful sentiment, one that large numbers of people are now experiencing – due to the fact that the ultra-Orthodox and other extremists have officially appropriated all things Jewish in this country. We are facing a fault line, a fracture that will drive large numbers to turn their back completely on Jewish identity.
There’s no need for me to convert to Christianity. I know many people who would never conceive of being baptized into the Christian faith, but who would willingly adopt Buddhism in one of its iterations. I also tend to believe that many secular people who have been hesitating until now, will decide not to circumcise their newborn sons. And rightly so. There are many elements of the Jewish life cycle that secular Jews in Israel also observe. But not all of them will continue to practice those rituals.
Some will say that the present Israeli government does not represent the ‘real Judaism.’ They will urge us to draw inspiration from progressive or alternative streams in Judaism and invoke the ‘morality of the Prophets.’
That option is indeed available for liberal Jews in the United States, but less so for us here in Israel. There is no point in inventing a private version of Judaism – a religion whose whole essence is an affinity for the Jewish people. The Judaism that abides in the space around me is not that of queer synagogues in San Francisco. It’s the Judaism of classes taught in elementary school, rabbinical kashrut supervisors and Chabad’s Hanukkah doughnuts. These are all elements of my identity that I no longer wish to cultivate.
Overall, the proposition that Israel does not represent Judaism is false. As an historical phenomenon, Judaism in any given period is the sum of the politics, religion and culture of Jewish people living in a particular time.
Judaism is the politeia – the order of political relationships within a polis, or the form of government – of the Jews. It follows then that Israel is today the embodiment of Judaism. Some might think that the right course now would actually be to strengthen Jewish identity here in some sort of enlightened or subversive form. In my view, that is not the urgent response to the fracture we face.
Judaism in present-day Israel is behaving like the Catholic Church in Franco’s Spain. This is the time to shun it, to drop out.
Time to give it up
I do not write these things with a light heart. I have always been interested in diverse religious traditions, but at the same time, since I have been able to think for myself, I have identified with Jewish history and with the Jewish story, which is a component of my identity. I have dealt with Jewish history in my academic research, and in courses I taught I insisted on addressing issues in Jewish history, even in the face of indifferent Tel Aviv students who evinced no interest in the Book of Job or in Lurianic kabbala.
I believe that, whether we like it or not, the Jewish people have a special role in history. But to forgo it is essential. It’s enough for me to be a former Jew, like many good people in history. My disconnect from Judaism does not stem from indifference. As of now, I believe that it’s the proper response to the arrogance of the parties that comprise the government, all of which are waving the banner of Judaism proudly. I don’t want to be associated with Kahanism in any way shape or form – not even by association.
The despicable plans to buttress Jewish identity in virtually every realm of life demand a response of sweeping boycott, as well as a sharp counter-movement. If this is the direction Judaism is taking, the result will be that many people will not wish to be part of it.
Under the present circumstances I do not want to say ‘who has sanctified us through his commandments’ or to ‘recount the heroism of Israel.’ I look forward to better days, when Judaism will return from ‘a thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech,’ in Paul Celan’s words.
When that happens, I will be able to light a Hanukkah candle. But that time is not visible on the horizon.