This false assertion came from the mouth of A.B. Yehoshua, a renowned Israeli author. Israelis living in America are faring even worse, according to him. Here we go again then, the centuries-old question of “Who is a Jew?” coming at us from an unexpected, secular leftist writer in Israel, raising an undue dust storm while he, and all of us here and there, should be concentrated on more crucial questions, like war and peace, separation of religion and state, women’s rights, etc. But let’s start with what he said.
“They are partial Jews while I am a complete Jew,” the Israeli Prize laureate Yehoshua claimed at a lecture recently, referring to American Jews. “In no way are we the same thing – we are total and they are partial; we are Israeli and also Jewish. In recent years, my friends and I have needed to defend Israel against the matter of the state, as if it is merely an issue of citizenship, while Israel is the authentic, deep concept of the Jewish people … in no siddur is there a mention of the word ‘Jew’ but only ‘Israeli’. The name of our country and the territory is Land of Israel – and it is about this deep matter that we must defend against a Jewish offensive.”
Got it, my friends? You’re not good enough, you’re not Jews enough, because you’re not living in the land of Israel. What a lot of baloney. Being a Jew is not a political concept, nor it is a matter of where you live. If you’re a Christian, you have to live in the Vatican, right? Or, if you’re a Muslim, do you have to live in Mecca? If we go by the Halacha, you’re a Jew if you were born to a Jewish mother. Full stop. And even more so, according to the Bible, if you converted to Judaism you’re more Tzadik (righteous) than a regular Jew. Maybe even more than Mr. Yehoshua. And while I do understand what he means by the deep meaning of living in Israel as a Jew, I fail to understand what he means by “Jewish offensive” against him and people living in Israel. What in the hell is he talking about?
To me, as an Israeli and an American Jew, it looks more like there is no one without the other. It is very questionable if Israel would even still be in existence without the support of American Jews (a new survey just come out, testifying to the fact that American Jews give more money to Israel now than ever). Of course, Israel is central, you might even say the heart of the Jewish life. Absolutely. And yes, as we were growing up in Israel, we considered ourselves Israelis not Jewish. Jews lived abroad, in the “Galut,” in America and elsewhere, but we here were Israelis, living in and working the land of Israel. That’s fine with me. I liked this outlook as I was growing up. If he wants to say he’s more Israeli than a Jew, that’s fine with me too. But don’t go around dividing the Jewish people yet again, telling us who is a Jew and who isn’t. We have enough troubles as is.
Just a few days after Yehoshua’s lecture, a man leading his two kids to a daycare school in Toulouse, France, was murdered, together with his kids and another little girl because they were Jews. So what, then: The young Rabbi and the three innocent kids are still less Jewish than Yehoshua because they lived outside of Israel. As a matter of fact, they were probably much more Jewish than him. Because, truth be told, it takes more courage and pride—much more—as well as strong belief, to stay Jewish among the Goyim, being true to your heritage and values, than among Israelis. There—no big deal, just a fact of life; here—a big deal indeed, a constant choice and will to practice it.
As for us Israelis living in America, here’s what he said: “There are about 500,000 Israelis abroad who can easily glide into their Israeliness, which they consider only citizenship and not identity … there is nearly no home without a convertible outside.” Walla! “Nearly no home without a convertible outside.” Well, Mr.Yehoshua (I read your last novel in Hebrew, BTY; an excellent one), let me tell you that I know, let’s say, some thirty Israelis give or take, living in Sacramento, the capital of California. None of them has a convertible in their garage or driveway. For all of them, however, politically left or right, being an Israeli here in America, as well as an American Jew, is not a matter of citizenship (they cannot vote in the Israeli election, as you know); it is very much a matter of choice and identity.