The Jewish New Year was an important event for my family and for the Jewish community in which I grew up. Our community’s synagogue had mostly fallen into disuse by the early 1970s, although the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur still brought people back to the beautiful old building in a small town in the Rhode Island for at least a few years during this decade. Most of the families, or their children, had moved and had different lives. As a child, I remember the temple elder’s wife, Mrs. Sternback, her shoulders heaving gently in the front pew of the shrine, her tears being shed for her son, one of three Jews in our town who were killed during World War II. , whose picture hung in the common hall of the temple and whose name was commemorated on a plaque hung on the wall just a few meters from this destitute old woman.
However, Ms Sternback was not to be defined solely by her grief. She built a business early on selling kerosene to townspeople from a thriving gas station long before the deleterious effects of fossil fuels were known.
I knew I was different and an outsider in my community, but the tolerance of those who were different from most people there seemed to be a given, or at least that’s what it seemed like for a kid.
Now, as a member of the aging baby boomer generation, I still have substantial feelings about my heritage, even though the religious aspect of my background has long since faded. The synagogues I attended over the years were necessarily different from those of my childhood. Society’s mobility drove people apart, and with the loss of the immigrants who founded the Rhode Island Temple in my small town, came the loss of cohesion that I still mourn today.
When I joined a temple in upstate New York a few years ago, it was mostly a way of connecting with others and trying to preserve some of that sense of community from there. so many years ago, but it didn’t work out and I found myself at odds with the temple rabbi on a matter of militarism and almost like an outsider among the temple members. When I tried again this year to reconnect with this temple, the same feelings of foreboding returned and I knew that what once was could never happen again. I could never replicate the sense of community no matter how hard I looked.
A few years ago I joined a peace group near the town where the temple was. I found the same sense of strangeness when I told the leader of the group about a problem with anti-Semitism that I had experienced in the town where I now live in Massachusetts. He, the leader of the group, seemed disinterested in the matter, as had a local rabbi from a nearby temple to which I did not belong.
Among secular Jews and so-called unaffiliated Jews, those who do not belong to any synagogue, like me, Zionism remains a problem that presents a flashpoint.
The May 2021 report from the Pew Research Center “American Jews have very different views on Israelseems to correspond to trends in the attitudes of American Jews:
Israel, the only country in the world with a Jewish majority, is a particular concern for many Jews in the United States. Caring about Israel is ‘essential’ to what being Jewish means to 45% of American Jewish adults, and another 37% say it’s ‘important, but not essential’, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that was conducted from November 1 to November 1. from December 19, 2019 to June 3, 2020 – long before the latest outbreak of violence in the region. Only 16% of American Jewish adults say caring about Israel is “not important” to their Jewish identity.
A majority of Jews in the United States want the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors to end peacefully with a just outcome. However, these attitudes are complex and can be fueled and manipulated by new outbreaks of violence in the region that seem endless and are part of the geopolitical landscape of a seemingly endless and costly set of circumstances that the majority of American political leaders have since long abandoned. and is above all a question of human rights. For those in power in the United States and for those in power in Israel, Israel’s role in the ongoing chaos in the Middle East makes a Palestinian state a solution that is appearing further and further on a vanishing horizon. Full rights for Palestinians inside Israel are also a pipe dream.
Support and funding for Israel within the ruling duopoly is almost unanimous and woe betide any politician who opposes Israel’s military interests or military spending. Criticize Zionism as a Jew and legions of opponents will defame or slander a person as a self-loathing Jew. The demand of those in power is to ignore the fact that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank should be an independent Palestinian state.
As of February 2022, here are the numbers of US foreign aid offered to Israel:
For fiscal year 2022, the Biden administration has requested $3.3 billion in FMF for Israel and $500 million in missile defense assistance to mark the fourth year of the memorandum of understanding. The administration also requested $5 million in humanitarian funding for migrant and refugee assistance for migrants in Israel.
If a Jew criticizes this kind of spending given the Jewish exhortation to fix the world and stop doing what is wrong with others, then hateful Jewish slander will kick in. It’s all about money and it is a question of power. And money and power have now fallen on the war in Ukraine and on Russia, so that the fate of the Palestinian people falls into the background.
Church membership and church attendance have fallen sharply in the United States according to a Gallup poll (March 21, 2021):
Americans’ membership of places of worship continued to decline last year, falling below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, up from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
The latter makes no sense when religious fundamentalism is taken into account as it operates in the United States. Religious fundamentalism remains an opiate for some and exerts a significant influence on the Republican Party. For some fundamentalists, Israel remains a place where they hope humanity’s final battle will be fought.
When I see the ‘I stand with Israel’ banner on Facebook photos of parents and others, I recoil at the fact that this view does nothing to resolve Israel’s role as a state security in the Middle East and that the fate of the Palestinian people appears almost as an afterthought to many, or an obstacle to Israel’s hegemony in the Middle East.
My secular connection to Judaism comes from my days resisting the Vietnam War and my connection to the New Left. I am a true believer in those ancient beliefs of fixing a broken world and not doing to others what you find wrong. Even in the chaos of the real world, these beliefs remain unshakable and comfort me. Faced with the tenacity of the extreme right to extreme cries of “The Jews will not replace us!” and in the face of America’s rightward shift, the demand for informed believers on the left is greater than ever.