When President Truman recognized Israel in 1948 after the War of Independence, American Jews wholeheartedly supported the fledgling Jewish state. After the Six-Day War, things began to change. Since Israel “made the mistake” of decisively winning that war and acquiring the extra territories of the West Bank, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula, the media began portraying her as an occupier. All of a sudden, the plight of the Palestinians took center stage and the liberal sector of American Jewry believed the Arab propaganda, “hook, line, and sinker.” Acclaimed columnist Bret Stephens wrote of the phenomenon, “Why is nothing expected of Palestinians and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of Israel and nothing is forgiven?” This observation is totally lost on the American Jewish left. As far as they are concerned, the Palestinians can do no wrong and Israel can do nothing right.
With that said, Israel has been rapidly losing its hold on young American Jews who increasingly perceive the Jewish state as antithetical to their liberal points of view. More and more Jews, especially millennials, are far less attached to Israel than their parents were, a situation that has both Israeli officials and American Jewish leaders concerned about Jewish continuity in the US. Add to that equation the fact that the millennials do not know anything about Israeli history and do not appreciate the significance of a holy land for Jews. Their own Jewishness is in question.
To be viewed as “kosher,” the American Jewish left have
adopted the concept of tikun olam when advocating
Jewish political involvement, and striving for social justice
as a pretext for activism
To be viewed as “kosher” (like the pig who shows its split hooves to falsely show legitimacy) and the reason for existing, the American Jewish left have adopted the concept of tikun olam (“repairing the world”) when advocating Jewish political involvement, and striving for social justice as a pretext for activism. Today, Jewish Americans carry on the culture’s tradition with good deeds and service.
Tikun olam was quietly lifted out of context from the Aleinu prayer to accentuate social justice. It was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, we have been led to believe that the only purpose of the Jews in the world is to campaign for all kinds of liberal ideals all in the name of G-d. That and nothing more. Religious observance is superfluous and negligible.
Tikun olam has been intertwined into modern democratic rhetoric. It has become a positive watchword for any value, even if a particular value is not rooted in Jewish tradition. Tikun olam has become the religion of the American left. It commands the allegiance of the liberal non-Orthodox, who make up the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community. What they seek to do is to imply that the Jewish traditions and mesorah that we have fought and died for are outdated and old-fashioned relics that are not needed in a modern society. With that understanding, Jewish existence and identity are not necessary, and so we do not need a Jewish state of our own in our ancient homeland.
Consequently, Jewish justice activists attempt to defame Israel’s importance and weaken America’s bond with the Jewish state. The 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of US Jews indicated that for Jews in America, a large part of being Jewish is living an ethical life and working for justice and equality. That is all fine and good – but it is not enough.
Barack Obama was hailed the “tikun olam president.” He repeatedly stated the significance of tikun olam to his life, nurtured by his liberal mentors in Chicago, and it was because of this commitment – and not in spite of it – that he was the most hostile American president toward Israel in modern history.
We need to counter this toxic approach. A new generation of traditional Jews, proud of their heritage and zealous to preserve it, is unimpressed with America’s convoluted interpretation of Judaism. These Jews know that their ancestors did not live to worship a political party nor die for contemporary causes that come and go as the populace’s attention span wanes.
They recognize that the American Jewish future depends on overcoming the superficial and ignorant equation of Judaism with leftist politics. What is needed is a real Jewish renewal – a community that stands for religious liberty, not against it, affirms the alliance between the United States and Israel rather than undermines it, and believes it is a community that is steeped in Torah and, because of that, has a compelling reason to continue. It’s time American Jewry repaired itself instead of the world, before it is too late.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org