Who Will Learn From Whom?

Across the sea they understand the meaning of "religious pluralism." Maybe we should learn from them?

A thousand times I've urged the heads of the Reform movement to strengthen their presence in Israel, and not just go rushing around upset every time they are threatened with new decrees that the Reform public cannot tolerate. But I was talking to the wall, and because they did not sow, they are now reaping the whirlwind planted by A.B. Yehoshua, who with strange cantankerousness is presenting them with his truth as though it were the Torah from Sinai.

It is not my truth. A number of the heads of the American Jewish Committee, insulted and shocked, asked upon hearing Yehoshua's remarks - Does everyone in Israel think that way? And my answer is: No, I don't think like my friend. If in his wrathful sermon he was trying to ask "What is a Jew?" - a far more important question than "Who is a Jew"? - then there is nothing in this tirade but vain arrogance. In many respects, the Jewish community in the United States is more Jewish than the Jewish "community" in Israel, and there is no reason for it to suffer from an inferiority complex.

Look, during just this past month Jews tried to awaken and stimulate American and international public opinion, which has been drowsily ignoring the genocide in Darfur, whereas here, in the land of the survivor and the remnants, not a peep has been heard. Here, before we deport them, we lock up 150 Sudanese refugees from the sword, who are fleeing from their slaughterers. From Nicholas Kristof in The International Herald Tribune, I learned of a girl in Philadelphia, Rachel Kuretsky, who instead of a bat-mitzvah party, organized a large rally in her city and has already, with the help of her peers, raised $14,000 for the victims in Darfur. Where are there other children like this girl?

And many good Jews showed up last week in support of the illegal workers in America - 11 million people who can be expected to be used and then thrown away. But what happens in Israel? The Jewish Immigration Authority traps foreign workers as though they were animals, making life a misery for entire families, and no one says a word. So what is more Jewish, what happens there or what happens here?

True, sometimes they are really annoying, the uncles from America, when they have the nerve to interfere in our domestic issues. As casual observers who detect every flaw, they are not happy with the treatment of black immigrants from Ethiopia or Arab citizens; they express indignation and concern, stick their long Jewish noses into our affairs and even presume to give advice and money.

They, who have been castigated, are prepared to gather to their bosoms anyone who defines himself as a Jew and identifies with the Jewish people, without checking into the ritual fringes in his family, back unto the first generation. Across the sea they understand the meaning of "religious pluralism" and the equality of all the religious streams in Judaism, whereas here we are still living under monopolistic Orthodoxy that meddles in the lives of citizens who seek the good of their country, and makes those lives a misery.

Will the Jews of America learn from us a chapter in mutual support and responsibility? Will we learn from them? Who will take an example from whom as to how to raise the miserable from the dung heap, and how not to abandon people in their old age?

It is not clear what Yehoshua is so proud of when his fury descends on the entire community, and Ted Koppel and Leon Wieseltier, as its representatives, stare at him as though saying to themselves: What is happening to the writer, what bee in his bonnet has stung him? One might think that the writer and his wrath come from a heroic state that conquers its impulses, and does not conquer and occupy its neighbors and oppress them for 40 years.

And one more little thing that comes under the heading of the renowned "Jewish mind" and not the "Jewish heart," which is famous in its own right: If in New York or Boston a tissue sample of genius were taken and sent to a laboratory, it is possible that it would yield a comparatively more developed culture - and one that is even more Jewish.

Israel is very Israeli, for good and for bad, and the Jews of America are not Israelis. This is obvious. But what is so Jewish about a place where we kiss more mezuzahs, prostrate ourselves on more holy men's tombs, cheat the landlord more and declare buffaloes strictly kosher? And in a case of the kettle - our kettle - calling the melting pot black, nothing cooled the temper of the important writer, who arrogantly poured boiling water on his astonished hosts.