Review of Judaism 3.0: Judaism’s Transformation To Zionism – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Posted By on June 26, 2022

Her advice?The only response to anti-Zionism, is Zionism.

A new book claims that Zionism is more than a conscious option open to Jews toexpress their Jewish identity. Instead, Zionism is developing into a key,indispensable element of Jewish identity. More than that: Zionism today isbecoming the glue that will maintain Jewish identity and strengthen it goingforward. The author, Gol Kalev, is a former Wall Street investment banker, nowliving in Israel, where he writes for The Jerusalem Post and is thechair of the America-Israel Friendship League Think Tank.

In his new book,Judaism 3.0: Judaisms Transformation To Zionism,Kalev writes:

He contrasts Judaism 3.0 with Judaism 1.0, when the original organizingprinciple was the Temple and the physical presence of the Jewish people inJudea and with Judaism 2.0, (or Rabbinic Judaism) after the Templewas destroyed and the Jews were exiled. The Temple was replaced by thesynagogue and the sacrifices were replaced with prayer. This is when theinsular ghetto replaced the insular life in Judea, and the yearning to returnto Zion replaced the actual presence in Jerusalem. [p. 12]

While he applies this broadly, Kalev also devotes a portion of his book inexplaining how this applies to American Jews, at a time when American Jewsface a high rate of assimilation on the one hand and outright intimidation andattacks both on colleges and in the streets on the other.

In Chapter VI, The Transformation of Judaism American Jews, Kalevnotes that political Zionism originally had little to offer Jews in America.Political Zionism was a way to address the misery of the Jews suffering fromantisemitism. That was a powerful message in Europe, but America in the 20thcentury, by contrast, offered Jews freedom and a level of acceptance thatthey had not experienced in Europe. Jews integrated in American society.They did not need Zionism, and saw it as an encumbrance if not a threat totheir status in America.

This integration led to a change in their Jewish identity in America. Therewas a denationalization from Judea the yearning to returnto Judea and the association with Israel changed. Judaismwent from a nation-religion to being reduced to being a mere religion.

And then on top of that came the secularization.

With the weakening of religion as the glue that anchored Jewish identity,over the past 80 years, other glues served as substitutes to maintain thatsense of Jewish identity:

1. Memory of the Holocaust: The Holocaust has been the mostsignificant Jewish issue that united the Jews in the second half of the20th century through today. The Holocaust, along with its lessons andmemories, drives Jewish organizational policy and has dominated much ofthe Jewish community ethos

2. Nostalgia for Ashkenazi/Eastern European roots: The secondAmerican Jewish glue was the culture of Yiddish, the shtetl, Jewish food(gefilte fish, bagel and lox) and Eastern European Jewish heritage. [p.139]

According to Kalev, while the memory of the Holocaust and nostalgia forthe Eastern Europe past have succeeded in replacing the fading glues ofreligion, insularity and discrimination, memories of the Holocaust arefading as the generations of Holocaust survivors die. The same holds truefor nostalgia for the old country which may actually be for the best.

On this point Kalev notes:

Astonishingly, nostalgia to the old country became nostalgia tovalues and elements of life which the Jews utterly detested while theywere there. The ghetto life in Poland that was considered miserable in real time,became idolized in AmericaThe retroactive glorification of Yiddish andPolish/Russian old country was done since there was no tangible connectionto the real old country to Zion. [143; emphasis added]

Today, in the face of the weakening if not outright lack of glues fortheir Jewish identity, for a growing number of Jews, as important as theirJewish identity may be for them, it takes a back seat to other roles andother cultural identities. He is less likely to bring up his synagogue orJewish school and more likely to bring up his college, a country club or hisjob. Instead of discussing the weekly parsha, he is more likely to want totalk about the newest restaurant or movie.

The concern that Kalev is focusing on in his book is not the Orthodox Jewswho connect with their Jewish identity through its religious component, norwhat he refers to as engaged Jews who are active in Jewish causes andevents.

Instead, the concern is for the majority of the Jews for whom beingpart of the Jewish community is not an important commitment and is low ontheir hierarchy of identities and priorities. The culture of the typicalAmerican Jew is the American culture. Jewish culture today for many iseating a bagel with lox and cream cheese.

What passes for Jewish culture today for the majority of Jews is not enoughto maintain a sustainable connection to their Judaism.

One attempt to create a new expression of Jewish identity in progressivecircles is found in the call for Tikkun Olam righting wrongs,doing good deeds, doing charitable work and making the world a better placeto live. But Kalev writes that as an attempt to strengthen Jewish identity,it is doomed to fail, because

that is a very weak connector, since other groups engage in similarcharitable actions.

If anything, it supports the notion of universalim of Judaism not beingany different than any other group, religious or otherwise.

Moreover, a Jewish person engaging in such good-doing does not need to doit in a Jewish context. [p. 147]

In other words, the failure of Tikkun Olam as a bond to Judaism lies in thefact that it does the opposite of what it is alleged to do. Instead ofconnecting Jews to their unique identity, it promotes the idea ofuniversalism, that Judaism is no different from any other religion.No different than any other group. This is especially true when Tikkun Olamis made all about human rights or humanitarian aid. The approach toinspiring Jewish identity through Tikkun Olam is self-defeating and doomedto failure.

Along with this weakening of Jewish identity in the US we are witnessing theambivalence of Jews towards their Jewish leadership. In the 20th century,these leaders were not only looked up to by American Jews they wereinfluential and other leaders, both national and international, met withthem regularly.

But today, while the appearances continue, as new faces replace the oldfamiliar ones, the Jewish community does not accept the Jewish leadership asunquestioningly as it once did. The new leaders do not carry the samegravitas, and besides American Jews are free to bypass them:

An American Jew can access his own tailor-made basket of leaders that suitshis own evolving preferences: A rabbi, a teacher, a blogger, a progressiveJewish thinker, a comedian, a tour-guide he had in Israel or an Israelipolitical leader. Hence the Jew can now turn away from Jewish Federations,the UJA and other Jewish structures as the point of orientation for Jewishleadership, and instead turn towards Israel. [p. 151]

Going a step further, Kalev suggests the same applies to the end of the oldJewish icons. He contends that Jerry Seinfeld, Barbara Streisand and JonStewart are no more personifications of todays Judaism for those lessaffiliated than J. R. Ewing and his family are personifications of todaysDallas. Similarly, the old image of the Woody Allen stereotype of the weakJew is now historic and no longer contemporary. Jewish symbolslike Yiddish, a pastrami sandwich and bagels & lox are no longersingularly relevant to the Jewish identity as much as they have becomerelevant to Americans of all backgrounds as a Jewish reference pointThisis just like most customers in Italian restaurants are not Italian and mostof those ordering Chinese takeout are not Chinese [p. 155].

Enter the Israelization of the American-Jewish experience, where

thanks to the expanding array of relatable Israeli products and experiences,Judaism, through Zionism, is becoming increasingly relevant for theyoung American Jew. This is not by duty, but by choice. [p. 157; emphasisadded]

Israel is no longer seen as an object of charity, as symbolized bythe blue JNF box. That was in the past. Today, Israel is considered for whatit offers, both internationally through its innovations,entrepreneurial spirit, art and culture, wine industry, academic centers andthink tanks.

Kalev is not talking about inspiring a sense of Jewish pride and identity onthe abstract level. He writes about concrete elements that AmericanJews can connect with as expressions of their Jewish identity. He suggeststhat this allows for a non-political connection with Israel, one that makesit possible to embrace Israel even while disagreeing with its policies something that Palestinian Arabs are beginning to realize:

The ability to disconnect or suppress politics paved the way forPalestinians in the West Bank to seek employment and mentorship by Israelis,and to even get funding for Palestinian start-ups from Israelis.This underscores how audiences can connect to Israels success anddesirability without endorsing or having a particular opinion on politicalissues. [p.158; emphasis added]

In a similar way, an American Jew who enjoys Israeli products does not dothis as an endorsement of Israeli policies and will not suddenly stopidentifying with Israel just because of a policy he disagrees with.

This does not ignore the fact that there are those who support BDS, butthere too, due to the wide range of Israeli products it becomes evident thata literal boycott of all Israeli products is not the goal of the BDSmovement, but rather the attention that can be gained by advocating for thatcause.

The Israelization of the American Jewish community is therefore not apolitical phenomenon, but rather a cultural one. Israeli showssuch as Fauda, Shtisel, Mossad 101 andTehran are now showing up on American TV, with the result thatAmerican Jews are exposed to new Jewish icons.

Today, there is a lot of discussion about the current status of theconnection between American Jews and Israel, a connection that is oftenportrayed as weakening. But there is a development in Zionism that mayindicate a change that will help to strengthen those ties: Aliyah. Above, itwas pointed out that there is a distinction between duty andchoice. The same applies here, as Zionism is understood to gobeyond immigration to Israel:

Zionism was perceived to be about the establishment of the State of Israeland making Aliya. Indeed, Aliya was essential in the early years of Israel,and for decades Israeli leaders urged American Jews to make Aliya. A Jewchoosing to stay in the Diaspora was viewed with disappointment by Israelis,exerting some degree of guilt feeling someone who is not fulfilling hisduty as a Jew. [161]

Not only were Jews expected to make Aliyah once they arrived they wereexpected to Israelize. He was expected to shed his Diaspora identity andaccept the Israeli culture. Today, there is still an expectation that uponmaking Aliyah, he will learn Hebrew and speak the language. In the 1920s,this expectation led to the formation ofHebrew Language Brigadeswhich would reprimand people who didnot speak Hebrew to each other. Kalev compares this to France today, whichhas tried to do something similar with its own immigrants. (An obviousdifference is that unlike Muslim immigrants to France, Jews returning toIsrael have a cultural and historical bond to the country.)

Today, the pitch is not to make Aliya but to maintain strong connectionswith Israel, including coming to visit Israel, but also to be exposed to thecountry without having to be on a path toward Aliya even experiencingIsrael through a phone or laptop and dont forgetBirthright trips. In addition to the practical side Aliyah there is also the ideological side. Kalev quotes Herzl that Zionism includesnot only the aspiration to the Promised Landbut also the aspiration tomoral and spiritual completion.

The removal of the Aliyah requirement frees the way for unaffiliatedAmerican Jews to gain greater involvement and exposure to their Judaismthrough Zionism.

Today, since Judaism is not the defining element of the Jewish identity ofmost American Jews, in order for Judaism to be relevant, it has to beattractive and desirable. According to Kalev, the challenge is thatAmerican Judaism needs to thrive in a non-committal environment.

An American Jew increasingly seeks the non-committal component for hisvarious experiences, including for his affiliation with Judaism. But suchnon-committal affiliation is not possible under Judaism 2.0. The ask forthe American Jew is to commit more: join and come to synagogue more often,send your children to Hebrew school, donate to the UJA, be a member of theJewish community center and the other community Jewish organizations.[p.175]

Kalev contrasts this with those Israeli Jews for whom their religiousaffiliation is secondary to their Jewish identity. For such an Israeli Jew,his experiences in Israel shape his Jewish identity. Whatever his attitudetoward Jewish religiosity may be, he remains committed and fully affiliatedwith Judaism. This is in contrast with what Kalev calls Judaism 2.0, whereJewishreligious affiliation is the primary measure of the depth of onesconnection to Judaism.

Those American Jews who are not among the 20% who are Orthodox or among thestrongly committed are in danger and many are already disaffiliated. Forthem, Judaism 3.0 through Zionism is not necessarily going tobring them back to Judaism, but it doesprovide new ways to connect with Judaism. For some, this will preventfurther estrangement, while for others it may serve as a catalyst toreconnect.

Today, one aspect of the lives of American Jews acting as a catalyst isantisemitism, which is reaching levels that just a few years ago would havebeen unimaginable. We are in a situation where Jews on campus are afraid toopenly identify themselves as Jews.

But this rise in antisemitism can have a different effect as well:

This forces the unaffiliated and under-engaged Jew right back into hisJewish identity. But what is this identity? What is the point of Judaismthat such a Jew in abstention passively seeks to go back to? It is notthe synagogue which he has not frequented, nor the Holocaust that he doesnot think much about. The rise of such Jewish existential thinking leadsthe Jew into Israel as his identity benchmark this is the relevantassociation with his Jewish affiliation this is where he hears or thinksabout Judaism.This reality is exactly what Herzl envisioned when he saidthat anti-Semitism is a propelling force into Zionism. [p. 177]

From this perspective, the current rise in antisemitism as anti-Zionismpressuring American Jews to criticize Israel actually has a positivedimension. Kalev argues that the more an American Jew engages with theissues of Israels policies, the stronger his connection to Judaism. Sincemuch of the criticism directed towards Israel comes from unaffiliated Jewswho are drifting away from Judaism anyway, paradoxically, thecoincidental engagement with Israel of this group helps keep themJewish.If Not Nowcould be seen as an example of this.

Kalev is not suggesting a plan of action. On the contrary, he sees thistransformation where Zionism becomes a key component of Jewish identity assomething natural and organic. And it is a process that is happening now.Judaism 3.0 is as natural a transformation as the transformation to RabbinicJudaism from Judaism 1.0.

And the future of Jewish identity depends on it.

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