On July 4, Marking the Independence of American Jewry

Jews in America have learned the difference between supporting Israel the country, and blindly supporting the actions of Israel's governments - and that's worth celebrating.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Mazel Tov, America! One hundred and seventy-one years and 51 days separate the American and the Israeli independence days. Great effort is necessary to bridge that gap. In Tel Aviv, the Fourth of July is celebrated with a traditional party in the U.S. ambassador's residence. New York honors the Fifth of Iyar (albeit not on the exact date) with a giant parade down Fifth Avenue. But the genuine and profound merging of these two dates cannot be the result of planned celebrations, however joyous. Since 1948, there is only one group that faces this challenge in any meaningful way: American Jewry.

That's one serious challenge. For many of the people who accept it, the task is a daily one. Part of their lives. I have cousins who are American, around my age. For years we have shared the same interests, experienced the same stages of life, been disturbed by the same problems. I would say there is only one issue that clearly separates us: Jewish and Zionist identity.

Each time the subject comes up, the differences are starkly obvious. They are preoccupied with it; I much less so. I live in Israel - the Jewish state and the realization of the Zionist project. For me, Judaism and Zionism are not an existential question; I simply live them day after day, from morning 'til night, whether I want to or not. The experience dictates the consciousness.

My cousins live in Brooklyn. From a young age they have had to define, for themselves, where they stand on these issues. How they bridge the gap between May 14 and July 4. Through conversations with them over the years, I have been exposed to fundamental questions that shake the world of a Jewish American, or an American Jew - for example, the question of whether it is better to marry a Jew. For the majority of Israelis, this is not a question that must be faced on a regular basis. The decisive majority of the potential partners out there on the streets of Israel are Jews.

In the political sphere, on the level of the community and the two countries, the issues become broad and strategic - and perhaps more interesting. It would appear that, for the majority of American Jews, the answer to the charged question known as "dual loyalty" was fairly simple - high loyalty: To be a proud American patriot, and a proud Israeli patriot. To ignore the nuances; not bring up the dilemmas; to, at most, address them within oneself, or behind well-closed doors. Not to seriously question - certainly not out loud - what Israeli patriotism means for an American Jew. Not to thoroughly examine what genuine support for Israel is for American Jewry, or what kind of support it needs.

The past decade has been one of change. What began with a brave little trickle became a flood over the past few years. To my mind, it is perhaps the most important thing that has happened in American Jewry since the establishment of the state of Israel. During my visits to Washington, D.C. and New York last month, I confirmed the extent to which my gut feelings were based in reality.

American Jews are increasingly coming to realize that support for Israel does not mean automatic support for the Israeli government, whatever its policies. American Jews are increasingly coming to realize that genuine support for Israel means supporting Israelis - and that there are many Israelis to support, of all different types and streams. American Jews are increasingly coming to realize that they can reconcile their liberal-democratic values in America with similar ones in Israel. And that there is even something odd, twisted almost, about maintaining two separate moral scales - one for Washington, another for Jerusalem. It's called a double standard.

To the impartial Israeli observer, it's almost like being born again, like the coming-out of an entire community, or at least a large part of it. Like any coming-out, it's a painful process that involves great apprehension. But once it happens, there's no going back. A great many American Jews now recognize that their support for Israel cannot end with generous donations, a Birthright trip and knee-jerk agreement with every whim of the Israeli government, even when it stands in complete contradiction to the clear interests of both Israel and the United States. And many American Jews now recognize that real American-Israeli patriotism means helping Israel, and Israelis, to get the Zionist wagon back on the path of levelheadedness, moderation and compromise.

From my perspective, as an Israeli, perhaps that is the real Independence Day of American Jewry.

Israeli and American flags.Credit: Alex Levac
New Jersey revelers celebrate Independence Day on July 4.Credit: Reuters

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