When I was a kid, I caught wind of a Jewish family’s woes over a daughter and her decidedly non-Jewish dating habits. The remedy, said her folks, who were good friends with mine, was a summer in Israel. So she went. When she came back she announced she had an Arab boyfriend.
Israel, I guess, can do that.
The few serious girlfriends I had before making aliya were Jewish, so no problem there. But just after I got out of the army, I met a non-Jewish woman.
Not only that, she was German, having come on one of those programs aimed at promoting understanding and reconciliation.
She was very blonde and statuesque, straight off a poster for the Hitler Jugend. Making things even more interesting, her grandfather had served in the SS.
The thud of dropping jaws among some of my family and friends was quite audible. When they met her, of course, they liked her. But the undercurrent remained. It was one, big “Let me get this straight: You meet a gentile, with Nazi DNA, yet, and this happens in Israel?” My multi-continental romance lasted a little over a year, but I marvel to this day that it even came to be. After all, this is the Jewish state (or state of the Jews or whatever Jew-centric way you want to refer to it), and it’s this which is supposed to encourage Jewish continuity.
So now we read that Yair Netanyahu, the son of no less than our prime minister (the man who insists that the country be known to all as the Jewish state), has found a Nordic shiksa of his own.
Oy vey ist mir! I MUST ADMIT that I live for moments like this. Not out of any sense of enjoying other people’s problems. Rather, such moments bring to the fore exactly what kind of Jew-centricity we want for this place. Even better, they bring the wackos out of the woodwork.
Here’s the reaction to young Yair and his non-Jewish squeeze by MK Nissim Ze’ev of Shas, as told to The Jerusalem Post: “It’s a big problem. As the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, [Binyamin Netanyahu] must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household.
I bet it pains him.”
Judging from Norwegian media reports, there wasn’t much pain last week in Davos when Netanyahu père boasted about the relationship to that country’s prime minister, Erna Solberg. And why should he have been in pain? I mean, every parent wants his or her child to be happy, and if the tall, lithe and blond Sandra Leikanger makes Bibi’s boy happy, what’s not to boast about? Besides, it’s not as if there’s a ring yet.
Still, people are clucking their tongues, hoping that at the very least Leikanger, said to come from a family of staunchly pro-Israel Evangelical Christians, will convert to Judaism.
Convert? For what? Their next date? Lehava, a group whose self-proclaimed goal is to halt assimilation primarily by working to prevent intermarriage (as well as the rental of real estate to Arabs), prefers to take the long-term approach, posting the following on its very Kahana-esque Facebook page: “Bibi Bibi… your father is turning in his grave... Your actions legitimize assimilation and the destruction of the Jewish People! Go back and tell your son about the seriousness of the matter.”
If the prime minister tells his son anything, it’s probably that he, too, once sowed his wild oats (and not strictly within the parameters of Halacha, either).
He could, of course, offer some advice: For heaven’s sake, Yair, tell the girl to check the privacy settings on her Facebook page.
Closer to home, Haggai Ben-Artzi, brother of Sara Netanyahu and Yair’s uncle, was positively apoplectic.
“It’s terrible, just terrible,” he told the haredi website Kikar Hashabbat.
“And the son of the prime minister, no less. It is the worst threat and has been throughout the history of the Jews.” And if the couple were to tie the knot? “I’d take to the streets,” Ben-Artzi practically wailed, “and tear my hair out....”
Things got so crazy, the affair made headlines everywhere.
• The Jewish Press: Netanyahu’s son dating Norwegian gentile • The Yeshiva World website: Yair Netanyahu dating a non-Jew; PM boasts [of] their relationship • The Los Angeles Times: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is scolded over son’s romance • Britain’s Independent: Benjamin Netanyahu under fire from right-wingers for letting his son date a non-Jew • And the always august Time magazine: Netanyahu slammed over son’s shiksa.
NONE OF THIS should rattle anyone, because nothing sells news like a bit of scandal – whether there’s a scandal or not. It should, however, make us stop and think about the way we view our country and its leaders.
For all the talk about insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, we have yet to come to an agreement among ourselves as to what “Jewish” should mean. Sure, religious people would like the country to be run according to the precepts of Judaism.
Secular people, on the other hand, believe “Jewish” should refer to no more than the Law of Return and the country’s Zionist populace and whether they wish to keep Shabbat or not, eat kosher or not or be buried solely in a white shroud or not.
Likewise, the same freedom holds true for one’s choice of a life partner.
After all, no matter how we view ourselves, there is no escaping the fact that by making a decision to live here, our fate remains tied to the Jewish people, its history and its religion. When you live in a country whose flag features the Star of David, whose lingua franca is ancient and liturgical, and whose army hands each recruit a Hebrew Bible, you simply cannot avoid this. Just by being here you are part of the tribe. This might pose issues for religious- or tradition- minded people seeking partners, but it is not assimilation.
Naturally, we should expect our leaders to set an example. But we have absolutely no right to demand this of anyone else in their household. It was not Yair Netanyahu people cast their votes for.
Bibi can take heart, though, because this kind of thing is known to happen to people in power. Look at Dick Cheney. For years he hung with a crowd that frowns upon samesex relationships. Hell, he was even the congressman from Wyoming, where they’ve been known to kill a gay or two. But then it emerged that his younger daughter was a lesbian.
Somehow, though, he was able to retain his standing among conservatives, something our prime minister should note if things between the young couple do indeed proceed to the next level.
So let’s keep everything in perspective.
And as they might say in Grimstad, Sandra Leikanger’s hometown, “Gratulerer.” The Jewish Press was kind enough to point out at the end of its coverage of the affair that this is Norwegian for mazel tov.