Some American Jews use the Hebrew term “tikkun olam,” literally repair of the world. If you will, tikkun olam is one way to give expression to the Jewish moral principle of giving to others. Many Jews feel that they are spreading goodness, as they indeed are, in the name of Judaism.
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Respondents to a 2013 poll of American Jews by the Washington-based Pew Research Center were asked about characteristics or behaviors that were “an essential part of what being Jewish means to them.
The least popular answers were eating traditional Jewish foods, observing Jewish law and being part of a Jewish community. Topping the list was remembering the Holocaust, leading an ethical/moral life and working for justice/equality: in other words, tikkun olam, the social and moral face of Judaism.
The desire to repair the world is more common among Reform and other non-Orthodox Jews, for whom tikkun or rendering aid to others is an important part of Jewish observance. Orthodox Jews in America are also familiar with the term, but they maintain their Judaism more through religious law and tradition.
It’s well and good to want to repair the world, but it sometimes seems as if tikkun olam focuses on repairing political aspects of Israel: the state’s attitude to Palestinians, to Africans, to Barack Obama or the nuclear agreement with Iran. There are groups within American Jewry that don’t “connect” to the government elected by the Israelis and want to repair what’s broken.
The “fixers” are also the ones who will invite Breaking the Silence to American campuses or oppose a lecture by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. They will be mad that Israel is not implementing the plan for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall because it doesn’t want to annoy ultra-Orthodox Jews, but they will try to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, in order not to annoy Muslims.
They will establish an organization to counter the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and blame the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for destroying relations with Obama, but ignore the voices in Israel that oppose Obama’s policy or the Iran nuclear agreement for fear of harm to Israel. The extremists among them can even be found in organizations supporting the boycott of Israel.
But Israel isn’t a tribe in Africa, or a school in Guatemala. Israel is a strong and independent state that juggles complex foreign and domestic relations — and does so quite successfully. Israel has always been and will continue to be the home of world Jewry. It can handle criticism or crises involving American Jewry, but it has never volunteered to be the model for those who chant the mantra of tikkun olam. American Jews are siblings, not our parents. There is a growing feeling among many Israelis that part of American Jewry views Israel as a burden, because it isn’t aligning itself with a certain vision that they have planned for it.
For that reason, it’s important to clarify (lovingly) that this is not a one-way relationship, in which Israel must submit when something isn’t conducted as some American Jews expect. In this complex family relationship, which is largely based on a shared fate and on mutual respect, Israel also has the right to criticize or to follow its own piper when it comes to domestic policy, even if it’s occasionally off-key. Not every statement critical of American Jewry has to encounter a wall of political correctness — we may be siblings, but even siblings sometimes quarrel.