On one hand, history has given us Jews enough reason to feel insecure in our identities. We have enough expulsions, massacres, rapes and devastations to keep up from seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. Even now in the early 21st century in a place like North America, the insecurity continues. Like the battered child who is rescued from years of abuse but can't get past jittery anxiety in a safe foster home because of the depth of the trauma, diaspora Jews as a population seem to believe that the good times we currently live in are a facade that will eventually disappear.
The problem is that coping mechanisms that have developed to handle this belief are both dysfunctional. On the religious side we have many Torah-observant Jews who miss the old ghettos of Europe and have voluntarily rebuilt them her in Canada and America. You know the type. They dress like their grandparents did in the alte heim, they insist that Yiddish should be our first language and they continue to insist that the Gentiles around us are the same nasssssssty goyim as they were in Europe. Can't beat 'em so avoid 'em.
The other group are the secular part of our brethren. Like their predecesors in Western Europe they see assimilation and eventually abandonment of our heritage as the solution to the hatred hiding below the surface. Can't beat 'em so join 'em.
However, both these approaches ignore the single most important positive Jewish event in Jewish history of the last two millenia - the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. This has created a third group of Jews, one which is aware of its insecure position in the world but sees its Jewishness like the British see their Britishness and the Chinese their Chineseness. They are Jews, they have no jealousy of other groups and see no reason to either hate or suck up to them. This third group is quite unsettling because neither the first nor second quite know how to handle it.
For the ultraOrthodox the idea of Jews confidenly living in this world with their Jewishness simply being part of it is difficult to comprehend. Their philosophy is that Judaism is at odds with life in this world. For the secular population which is happier being Jewish American or Canadian as opposed to being Canadian or American Jews the idea of a Jew without a hyphen on either side of the world is also bewildering.
This explains perhaps why Israeli jews are getting increasingly frustrated with their North American brothers. Israel, despite all its successes, lives under the black cloud of hatred that covers the skies of the MiddleEast. It knows that it is one whackjob with a bomb away from a mortal crisis. It desperately wants to live in peace but isn't prepared to commit national suicide to achieve that peace. But when it reaches its hand across the ocean for help or support what does it get in response?
From the ultraOrthodox it gets no hand back. Like their cousins in Israel the Agudah community and those to the right of it are parochial. They have little interest in the greater good of the Jewish nation. Only those pan-communal causes that might affect its well-being draw its attention.
From the secular community there is a hand back but its swatting the Israeli one away. American Jews, or rather: Jewish Americans, long ago lost that family feeling that should bind all Jews one to another. For them tikun olam is about recycling, not about bringing the Divine into this world. Alternative marriages, abortion on demand, Obamacare and ecofasicm are their priorities, not their brothers in Israel who are on the wrong side of the politically correct debate since they're oppressing those supposedly poor so-called Palestinians.
It's a mindset I've always been curious about. At one point in North American history Jews dealt with open hatred and exclusion from the majority population by building up their own communities and showing they could be as diverse and successful as their Gentile rivals. Jewish hospitals, schools and universities are the legacy of that fierce desire to succeed with or without the approval of the Gentiles.
Something changed in the middle 20th century, it seems. With the increasing acceptance of Jews into Gentile institutions like universities and country clubs the pride that demand that our fathers and mothers build their own society disappeared. Suddenly the greatest Jewish goal was to be accepted as a member of the local WASP club or get into the local university. Jewish success was measured by how assimilated you could be while still calling yourself a member of the tribe.
To this day that lack of Jewish self-respect haunts and harms us. What is J Street other than a Judenrat desperate to seek the approval of the politically correct Jew-hating crowd? Why does the ADL oppose Sheldon Adelson's latest initiatives to ensure Jewish continuity other than because it makes Jews stand out instead of making them seem like just another member of the American mosaic?
Israel is the future of our people. Israel is the centre of our national life. It is time we took a cue from the confident Israelis and recognized that we need no approval from society around us, that we don't need to tailor our views to their approval and that our destiny is decided by the Divine will, not that of the Western world. We don't need their country clubs. We need our Land, our Torah and our self-respect.