The rift between American Jews and Israel

Countless articles and books address the vexing rift between American Jews and Israel.  They are short on solutions and long on confirmation bias.  Daniel Gordis adds another tome to the pile in We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel (HarperCollins Publishers, 2019), but he is also short on solutions.

Gordis's 14th book is receiving plaudits and endorsements from big-name pundits and politicians.  Yet I find little in the book that adds to my general knowledge of the subject or a solution to his desperate plea opening the Introduction, "WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?"

He ought to know the answer by now after years officiating at the Shalem College in Jerusalem, speaking on the college-synagogue-Jewish lobby circuit crisscrossing Israel and America, making a mint, debating doubters like Peter Beinart and fellow travelers of J Street.  Yet he doesn't offer the reader outstanding, "why didn't I think of that" answers to heal the rift.  There is nothing explosive if that's what a book-buyer is expecting.

"My goal is to put the big ideas about the relationship into the public sphere, so that we can all engage in a rethinking of why the relationship between the two communities is fraught, deepen the conversation that many in the Jewish world are having about the rift, and even begin to muse on some possible directions for healing the break."  We are way past musing.  Just ask my foreign students and my children living overseas.  

Moreover, the new government of Israel has multiple ministries addressing the rift, spending billions of shekels.  There are thousands of overpaid NGO officials with inflated memberships soliciting tons of money and little to show but glittering generalities claiming to have the answers.  Unless we find the right answers, Gordis concludes, darkness may descend on the two Jewish nations of Israel and Diaspora.

I'm not going to list the religious, political, and nationalist causes Gordis identifies for the rift.  They are commonly known to people familiar with the subject.  The book is interesting because Gordis provides a great deal of novel history and recordations of lesser known interactions between advocates and contrarians.  Their points differ little from better known more usually quoted sources.  Suffice it to say he spends more than 200 pages and nearly 250 footnotes on the history of the Jewish people and the rift.  This is an excellent primer for students new to the subject of Israel and aliyah, but the book will not make them feel better about leaving their lifestyles and birthlands behind.  You cannot fix the rift with intellectual "truths" about history or detailing the threats to Jewish survival in Diaspora.  Gordis is more  truthful and a realist than many observers when he offers readers this portent: "If anything, what is surprising is not that the relationship is wounded, but that it has survived intact for as long as it has."

So Gordis takes a stab at answering the ultimate question: "what anyone should actually do." He offers six points for healing the rift, but I cannot imagine how they will save the Jewish people.

There is a bit of sunshine on the horizon.  Diaspora support for Israel is regularly reported as on tenterhooks in poll after poll of young Jews.  A new poll suggests there is a sea change in their views about Israel for the positive, as they age into their late 30s and 40s.  This is when Americans trend away from youthful progressive ideas and hook onto more conservative ones, though not giving up on the causes of their youth.  That's why, having been a teacher of international gap year students in Israel, I list as the number-one rift-healer bringing Diaspora Jewish youths and young people of other backgrounds to Israel to see for themselves.  COVID-19 hit these programs hard.  Masa high school and college study abroad, yeshiva and seminary programs,  Birthright, and student exchange programs are critical in healing the rift.  Spend money bringing them two and three times to get to know life in Israel.

Gordis writes a four-page advocacy statement for these programs.  They are, in my experience, the most healing and lasting means to realize the dream of Gordis — i.e., "The light simply must be ushered in."  The young people bring the light in their eyes home with them whether they make aliyah or live overseas.  Bring them to Israel make her a light unto the Jews of their nations.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the manager of an investment fund, university teacher, business consultant, speaker, and writer who can be reached at

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