Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eli Talks #3: Two Zions

Welcome to Eli Talks #3, A Tale of Two Zions.

The main reason I chose this particular talk out of the selections Miriam sent me is this: I disagree completely with most of it.  More later.

First, here's the talk, and a comment about the name "Mishael."  I think it is an excellent name.  I wonder why it's not more common.  Daniel, Mishael and Azariah were a threesome but somewhere along the way Mishael fell off the name wagon.  OK.  Onward, or as they say so pithily in Israel, "Yala!"

Eli Talks' Miriam Brosseau says:

Rabbi Mishael Zion is nothing if not a family man (he even wrote a haggadah with his father); and that includes his extended family of the entire Jewish people. Which makes the premise of his talk all the more provocative. What does it mean for a family to be simultaneously united and divided?

In some ways, I find his premise to be totally intuitive. Of course! It's a descriptive talk, not a prescriptive one. This is just how it is! And I love the way he intertwines Hillel's deceptively simple teaching about responsibility and selfhood.

In other ways, it's an unsettling position. The Land of Israel isn't the only great dream of the Jewish people? And hey, even if we are talking about Israel and America (or Jerusalem and New York, as it sometimes feels), what about the rest of the Jewish world? What are they, chopped liver?

Ultimately I do think it's a prescriptive talk - a talk that's trying to encourage a sense of mindfulness. We are a people with a project...or two. We are in it together. So we should learn from and with one another and get it together. Cuz if not now, when?

(And if you liked this talk, a good companion piece is Gidi Grinstein's "Flexigidity.")

OOTOB's Ruchi Koval says:

I mean, I loved the stories about the grandfather - how could you not?  And of course about working together, etc.  But there's  underlying premise here that I really just can't get around, and the irony is I felt that way when I first watched this talk a couple of weeks ago, before #bringbackourboys.  Before Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were kidnapped - three kids, teens, unarmed - just for being Jews.  Not for being Israelis mind you, as one is not Israeli but rather American.

How can we say we're better off than in our ghettos, when there are plenty of neighborhoods - shockingly, the whole middle chunk of the country - that is unsafe for Jews?  How can we say our dreams have come true when kids are kidnapped for no reason whatsoever?  How can we say this is the successful story of our arrival?  By the same token, how can we say the Diaspora experience is the fulfillment?  The only thing Israel has over America is its holiness.  And it had that before 1948.  If you look at our prayers, it's all about Israel.  Every single thing we say references Israel.  "God, thanks for the awesome meal!  Oh, and bring us back to Israel!"  Really.  True story.

And part of that is fulfilled by Israel today.  The holiness.  The intensity.  The opportunities for Jewish expression.  But much is NOT fulfilled.  Much is unfulfilled.  And it's unfulfilled in the Diaspora too.  That's why we continue to wait for the Messiah... may it be soon.

In this vein, not only isn't the rest of Diaspora "chopped liver" (yum) but Israel is the epicenter from which all radii, um, radiate.  So Israel, then unifies us ALL.  No matter which Jew I am chatting with, Israel is something we can talk about, even if no one has been there.  This actually happened to me at a rest stop in upstate NY when three teens with tattoos and chains walked in.  I was terrified, till they came over and seriously bageled me!  In Hebrew! We all care about it.  Most of us know someone there!  (The only thing that really comes even halfway close is Jewish NY's weird relationship with Miami.) So Israel, far from being a competitor (!) to "us," is a unifier.



  1. Are you sure the kidnappers knew that one of the boys has American citizenship?

    1. Good point. I'm sure they didn't. But if they had, other than not being smart politically (not that I'm hearing any major outcry from America) would they have cared?

    2. I'm sure they wouldn't have cared, but in his case he has dual citizenship.

  2. Should be workingJune 20, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    I find the talk problematic in many ways. "American Jews" seems to me to mean for him not very observant Jews who are all interested in universalizing values, not nationalism. But a lot of American Jews are quite particularist and devoted to Israel, and of course some are observant as well. And there are anti-Zionist American Jews, both observant and secular. And vice versa with Israel--"Israeli Jews" are a numerically small group but pretty heterogeneous, I think. Maybe more univocally Israeli-nationalist, but I am imagining not in the homogeneous way that the speaker describes. But at least with regard to "American Jews", I find his characterization distasteful in how reductive it is.

    Ruchi's response is FULL of stuff to discuss. I think you, Ruchi, are saying that it is wrong to call either the US or Israel a fulfillment of a dream, because the actual conditions are not so dreamy (I don't agree that the whole middle chunk of the country is unsafe for Jews, and surely in terms of opportunity for--but not guarantees of--prosperity it all beats 18th-century European ghettos, but I agree it doesn't seem to live up to a promised-land model).

    But I get a little confused with your turn to Israel's holiness. I think you are saying that Israel is holy (because God promised it) and yet it's not as of now the fulfilled promise. I would also agree that it doesn't look like a perfect fulfillment of the supposed promise now, but I guess we disagree as to why. For you I think, but am not sure, that this is because it's not holy in how life is lived there (i.e. it's a secular state with "opportunities for Jewish expression" but not more, i.e. "complete actualization of the expression of Judaism"?) This touches on the sensitive but fascinating subject you have brought up before of what a "Jewish state" would mean to you.

    But you also say that Israel, as a concrete entity, "unites" us, as a topic of interest and conversation. THAT I totally agree with. Everyone has an opinion, even if we disagree. I wouldn't quite call that unity though. It means we have a common topic of interest. But this seems to be on a totally different plane than the holiness part of your response.

    1. I agree with you that there are some large-scale generalizations here. But it is a 12- minute talk so I suppose forgivable.

      Yes, I am saying that neither Israel nor the US are the promised land right now, whereas the speaker seems to indicate that they both are.

      However. I further deviate from Tue speaker's message by asserting that even now there is an inherent and qualitative difference between the two. That is holiness. The reason Israel is still not totally the promised land is not JUST because of how life is being lived there - that's just a symptom - but because the Messiah isn't here yet, God-awareness is so weak, the Temple isn't many reasons that would, of course, ultimately affect how life is lived there.

      I would call the Israel piece unity. We all care deeply about it. It's like a common child we share, albeit with joint custody. We are connected through it.


The purpose of OOTOB is Jewish unity via mutual respect and education, and we reserve the right to decline or edit any comments that are rude or mean. Comments are moderated, so it may take some time for your comment to appear. Thank you for your participation!