Jews of Discomfort

Judea Pearl, or Reb Yehudah as I call him, is a UCLA professor of computer science, with a strong interest in artificial intelligence. He is the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal writer murdered by Pakistani Muslims. No one can forget his last words. “I am Jewish….My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish….Back in the town of Bnei Brak there is a street named after my great-grandfather, Chaim Pearl, who was one of the founders of the town.”

The following article (appearing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal) is not only insightful, but demanding. If you cannot do what he asks in the last paragraph, you are deluding yourself about your commitment to Israel as much as the yefei nefesh whom he targets in this piece.

What makes fog float in mid air, while raindrops fall straight down to earth? Physics teaches us that it is all a matter of “surface-to- weight ratio” — a simple parameter that determines whether soap bubbles rise or fall, and how many passengers a jet plane can carry.
The larger the surface, so the theory goes, the easier it is for an object to lift its weight against gravitational pull.

The analogy came to mind this past week, on Ti-sha B’Av, when I pondered the fate of the Jewish people and tried to assess our collective surface-to-weight ratio.

It was a particularly cogent day to compare the amount of energy we spend at the boundaries of our existence, facing outward to defend our being, vis a vis the resources we waste facing inward, on self- congratulation, finger-pointing and other forms of added weight.

Take the protest march on behalf of Gilad Shalit last month. Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the roads, tens of thousands stood by roadsides feeding the marchers, and millions watched the marchers on Israeli TV. I have not seen any of it on CNN, for it was aimed inwardly, toward the Israeli government. We would have surely seen some of it had this enormous energy been directed outwards, say as a protest against the UN or the Red Cross or foreign embassies for not doing their share in stopping the most blatant human rights violation of our generation.

Or take Peter Beinart’s much debated article “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” (New York Times Review of Books, June 10). Judging by the number of invitations I received to attend his lecture in Los Angeles, one would think that this creative intellectual has finally discovered a formula for peace or a new weapon to silence rockets without hurting civilians, or, at the very least, an Arab intellectual willing to accept Israel. None of the above. Reading his article again and again, all I hear is how uncomfortable he feels being a Jew at a time when Jews are accused of supporting a non-democratic entity called Israel, and how we can now extricate ourselves from this discomfort by speaking out, not against the distortions, but against a leadership that place their faith in the solid democratic character of Israeli society. I hear a desperate son coming home screaming: “Mother, the boys at school called you dirty names again. I hate you for causing me to face those bullies, and I hate you for making me feel so inadequate, unable to defend your honor except by joining them in amplifying your blemishes”.

Beinart was treated royally in Los Angeles because he is the prophetic voice for many Jews of Discomfort; they love him because he takes their discomfort and elevates it to a noble feeling of moral purity. They used to feel guilty for Israel’s actions, still concsious of her problems, no more. Elevated in virtue, they now see every blemish on Israel’s face as “the litmus test”
for her impure personality — hers, not theirs.

Observe another Jewish intellectual, the French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy, who is perhaps further to the left than Beinart. He too feels uncomfortable with some of Israel’s actions, and he too proposed ways to correct them. Yet instead of pointing fingers at the Jewish establishment, he takes to the trenches and, using his column on the Huffington Post, he tells his leftist colleagues: Stop this madness, look at yourself in the mirror. Is your liberalism dead when it comes to Israel? (Jun 7, Huffingtonpost)

It is all a matter of surface-to-weight ratio, says my physics book, Jews of spine confront their maligners, Jews of Discomfort blame their leaders.

Deep inside, Levy knows perhaps that ours may well be the last generation in which Jews can earn respect in academic and intellectual circles; pro-coexistence scholars are already pariahs in academia, forced to hide their sentiments from colleagues. (See my column in this newspaper, “Our New Marranos,” March 19, 2009), and if Israel goes under, Jews of Discomfort will certainly find themselves exorcised by the elite they now seek to appease. They would be remembered not for their discomfort, but for what they really were: members of a people who once supported a mistake called Israel — ruling elites do not easily forgive “mistakes” they labored to undo.

I will end with a request to readers. If you agree with my views or share my concerns, do not simply succomb to the temptation of sending this article to another member of your synagogue. Take to the trenches and face outward. Knock on the door of your gentile neighbor or office mate and say: Remember, Joe, how I used to go along with all your sarcastic criticism of Israel? Times have changed, Joe. My people are in trouble, and there are things I must do even at the risk of testing our friendship. I want to tell you how strongly I feel about Israel, what is factual and what is malice in what you hear, and why our world will not be the same without that tiny, shining spot called Israel.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

8 comments to Jews of Discomfort

  • aron feldman

    Great article!

    In your previous essay you cite Benny Morris and here you cite Peter Beinart.One has seemed to be intellectually honest enough to do “teshuva” so to speak with regard to the constant self flagellation that they hope will ingratiate us Jews with our neighbors.Let’s hope Beinart can come around too

  • aron feldman

    Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the roads, tens of thousands stood by roadsides feeding the marchers, and millions watched the marchers on Israeli TV. I have not seen any of it on CNN, for it was aimed inwardly, toward the Israeli government. We would have surely seen some of it had this enormous energy been directed outwards, say as a protest against the UN or the Red Cross or foreign embassies for not doing their share in stopping the most blatant human rights violation of our generation

    An excellent point!The whole Shalit Movement has been hijacked by the Israeli LW. IMO since the Israeli Left has such a visceral hate for the current government they would rather make them look bad,than actually call out the Red Cross,UN,Jimmy Carter and others for their complicity and kid gloves treatment of Hamas in this whole awful saga

  • Bob Miller

    “Knock on the door of your gentile neighbor or office mate and say: Remember, Joe, how I used to go along with all your sarcastic criticism of Israel?”

    I must be leading a charmed life. I have not experienced this from neighbors (I live in an integrated neighborhood in Indy) or office mates. One non-Jewish supervisor in our Indiana plant was even seen wearing a Tzahal T-shirt.

    Likewise no sign of this when we previously lived in Texas.

    Not to get overly political. I think the sarcasm and enmity might be a largely “blue state” (Democratic Party) phenomenon.

    [YA – Not so fast, Bob. The sarcasm and enmity may come from more liberal circles, but that just means that you have an even larger task ahead. Trust me. I do this for a living. Some of the groups that have been most supportive (the most likely to wear the Tzahal T-shirt) are now the most vulnerable.

    Take evangelical Christians – the single largest group of non-Jewish supporters of Israel. There has been a full-court press on the left-leaning and center parts of the evangelical world by the Palestinians, and it is meeting with significant success. Watch the trailer to a film (the first of a series in production) called With G-d On Our Side, and you will get the drift. Evangelical support has been theological and Scripture based, leading to what is called Christian Zionism. Largely, it stems from covenants that G-d made with the Jewish people that they see as irrevocable. Many evangelicals have little interest in the history of the region, or in the competing narratives of Israelis and Palestinians. When other (i.e. Palestinian) Christians appeal to them to listen to their tales of misery, they listen – and open themselves up to badly distorted, revisionist history. They are shocked to learn that their Christian Zionism means herding people into Gaza, the world’s largest prison camp; shocked to learn that their houses are taken away to make room for Jews from Brooklyn; shocked to learn that they are providing a blank check for Israeli bloodlust and aggression. They are vulnerable, because they have little or no familiarity with the real history and context. This is why all of us need to bring up the topic of Israel, and create a counterbalance to what we know they are getting exposed to – or will be exposed to – and not wait for them to bring up their questions. (They may be too shy, and in some cases, it will be too late.)

    Another group that we must address is the Great Amorphous American Middle. The people who turn on their TV’s and watch image after image from CNN and MSNBC. (Sorry, not everyone watches Fox.) They may not say anything to you after watching clips of the Flotilla, but they are forming impressions. They will be open to listening to another side, but only if we initiate the conversation. The Palestinians do it all the time, by whatever means they can. Do we love Israel less than they do?]

  • Ori

    We would have surely seen some of it had this enormous energy been directed outwards, say as a protest against the UN or the Red Cross or foreign embassies for not doing their share in stopping the most blatant human rights violation of our generation

    Why? Most media would rather cover things that fit their narrative.

  • Bob Miller

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    In light of your note on my last comment above, what is the Simon Wiesenthal Center (or any Jewish organization) doing to develop a strategy we can employ in addressing our information and concerns to friendly-but-vulnerable associates and neighbors?

    [YA – I don’t know what others are doing. I can tell you about some of our contribution. You can start with http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4442915&ct=8205381 We have placed hard copies of this brochure, Top Ten Anti-Israel lies, as inserts in major US dailies. Besides their value in communicating with our neighbors, they also serve as a good introduction to the issues with which we need to familiarize ourselves, if we want to answer the sometimes unasked questions of the people with whom we interact. You don’t need a PhD in political science or history, but some basics regarding these ten issues will go a long way. I think that Alan Dershowitz’s two books are particularly valuable, because he is both a clear thinker and definitely on the left – which means his arguments will work for both Blues and Reds.

    For those even more serious, I would add a few more lies, some of them still to be fully rolled out by Israel’s enemies: 1) The settlers are 300,000 relgious fundamentalists who believe in a Divine right to every inch of Biblical Israel 2) Gaza is the largest prison camp in the world (this one is increasingly popular, and heard lately from some governmental figures around the globe) 3) The precipitous decline in the Christian population of the Holy Land is the fault of Israel 4) Israel’s armies drove out 700,000 Arabs in a land-grab during the War of Independence 5) Israel steals Palestinian water to create lawns for settlements, while Palestinians go thirsty 6) Israel maintains a system of segregated roads in occupied areas in order to pursue her program of ethnic cleansing 7) The continuing expansion of settlements increases settler population, which is why the Israeli electorate has moved to the right, and is incapable of pursuing peace.

    If you are uncomfortable reacting to these items, you need to do a bit more reading. (Some of them are not easy – they contain multiple layers of lies.) We are not talking volumes, though. Much can be learned by osmosis, if you are determined to make mental notes of the facts and arguments you will need to possibly deal with in interacting with people.]

  • Shua Cohen

    Reading Rabbi Adlerstein’s article only adds to the enormous sense of depression and emotional exhaustion that overwhelm me, when confronted with the reality of the dangers that Eretz Yisrael and Klal Yisrael face today. We are in a terrible, terrible state of affairs, both internally (regarding our relationships with one another as a klal and our relationship to the Ribbono Shel Olam) and externally (regarding the tribulations we face from the nations of the world, both near and far).

    I believe that Rabbi Shafran (in “An Orphan in Shul,” above) offers the only cogent response as to what we must believe, and therefore how we are to act, in the face of the existential threat to Klal Yisrael in this generation. As we approach the final geula (the end-game, so to speak) everything else is just tiflus.

    “Ours are times when it is, or should be, more clear than ever that the conventional roads to hope – diplomatic, military, political – are all dead ends, times for realizing, in the Talmud’s words, that ‘there is no one on whom to rely other than our Father in Heaven.'”

  • Bob Miller

    Shua Cohen,

    Do you advocate abandoning any effort to convince outsiders?

  • Shua Cohen

    > “Do you advocate abandoning any effort to convince outsiders?”

    >> In light of my firm belief (some would say naive belief) that the conclusion of the geula is coming very, very soon (see “Rav Chaim Kanievsky: We Are Near the End,” Matzav.com, July 21, 2010)– YES…ABSOLUTELY! Outsiders and non-Torah observant insiders are irrelevant now.

    Instead of buying half million dollar (plus) diaspora homes and building $30 million dollar golus yeshivas, we need to be packing our bags and flooding Nefesh b’Nefesh with so many applications that only Eliyahu NaNavi will be able to help expedite the aliyah process. As Rav Shalom Arush said: “Those who don’t come to Israel while they still can may be lucky to escape from the USA with a plastic bag and a pair of pajamas.”