What? Me think?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 13, 1998
Last month, an Israeli journalist whom I know was invited to speak on the Oslo process by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Des Moines, Iowa. Two days later, the invitation was rescinded. What happened in the interim? My acquaintance made the mistake of listing on his resume his work 'coping with the campaign being orchestrated against Orthodox Judaism.'
When asked for an explanation of the cancellation, the JCRC director replied that the Des Moines Jewish Fderation is committed to 'religious pluralism.' The conection between religious pluralism and the Oslo pocess was not specified.
Not only did the head of the JCRC decide that the Jews of Des Moines should be spared the possibility of hearing views on the issue of religious pluralism at variance with their own, or even meeting someone who might hold such views, he picked up the phone and sent a stream of faxes urging the sponsors of the journalist's next scheduled speech in Iowa to follow suit and cancel his appearance.
Who said that the solicitude of one Jew for another is vanishing? Here was someone going to great trouble to save fellow Jews from the slightest possible exposure to dangerous ideas.
Unfortunately the desire to avoid confronting facts and ideas that don't fit neatly into one's small box of received verities is hardly unique to the Jewish federation of Des Moines.
At the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, which convenes in Jerusalem next week, 'religious pluralism' is sure to be one of the hot topics. But the delegates will not be intellectually challenged by a serious discussion of the issue.
No one will tell them that many of the 'facts' they are constantly fed are not facts at all. Take the alleged torching of a Reform nursery school in Mevasseret Zion by haredim last year. The police did not find one shred of evidence linking haredim to the crime. And it is far more plausible that the arson was connected to ongoing tensions between long-time residents of North African descent and more recently arrived yuppies, which boiled over around the time of the arson. Yet the charge continues to be the centerpiece of a highly
successful Reform fund-raising campaign in the United States, and repeatedly mentioned on CNN and elsewhere.
Like the oft-repeated accusation that Orthodox Jews do not consider Reform and Conservative Jews to be Jews, the tale of haredi arson has proven a useful fiction.
Hard-to-assimilate information will not be provided. Thus federation leaders will not have to wrestle with the fact that the Israeli Reform movement, which does not recognize patrilineal descent, might not pass the pluralism loyalty oaths forced upon Orthodox institutions in many American cities as a condition for federation funding. Nor will they learn that the standard portrayal of Reform and Conservative Jews unable to pray or practice their religion in Israel is nonsense.
THOSE WHO believe that the First Amendment's separation of religion and state (unlike the Ten Commandments) was given at Sinai will not be challenged to reconcile that view wth the proclamation of Israel as a Jewish state. Nor will they be asked to consider the ultimate impact on the ever more tenuous bonds between Israelis and Diaspora Jews of severing religion and state in Israel: Jews in Israel who define themselves exclusively as Israelis and those in America who identify as Americans, and never the twain shall meet.
Richard Wexler, past national president of UJA, was surely correct last year, when he accused the Conservative and Reform movements of taking food away from poor Israeli children for their own benefit. Federation projects that united Jews across a broad religious spectrum have been dropped in favor of institutions of particular religious streams. But who at the GA will decry the way the federations have been enlisted on one side of the debate over religious pluralism.
The federations simply caved in when confronted by the demands of Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative), for a $20 million war chest for Conservative and Reform institutions in Israel. Unwilling to test the fund-raising appeal of those institutions in the free market, the Conservative and Reform movements played on the fears of federation bureaucrats that decreased federation giving would mean fewer federation jobs. Thus the formerly 'united" federations were transformed into conduits for funding the Conservative and Reform movements.
It is perhaps appropriate that the pre-filtered proceedings of the GA are being held in Israel for the first time this year. There are surely few democratic countries where the cultural elites invest so much energy in attempting to suppress opinions with which they disagree, whether it be by banning Arutz 7 from the airwaves or demanding the closure of Yated Ne'eman for attacking the judicial imperialism of the Supreme Court.
When Ha'aretz's Ari Shavit dared to ask in print whether there wasn't something irrational about the Left's hatred of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a virtual lynch mob of his colleagues on the Left rose up to denounce him for breaking ranks.
'The high priests of Israeli pluralism,' he replied, 'made clear that pluralism is good - but not at home. And not for anything relating to the totem and taboo of our tribe.'
The sight of a new synagogue or religious school in a non-religious neighborhood causes Meretz activists to jump and scream like the fat lady spotting a mouse in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons. These brave champions of 'artistic expression' and 'free speech' are terrified of being exposed to the sight of religious kids. Their 'commando units' hold aloft placards proclaiming 'Tel Aviv is a free city.' Free of what? Free of ever having to confront their own Jewishness, or of even being reminded of it.
And in the name of that great freedom, they would deny local residents who want to pray in a shul or send their children to religious schools the right to do so.
Where I come from, those who march and protest against blacks moving into their neighborhood are called rednecks and bigots. In Israel, they are the 'enlightened population.'
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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