Woody Allen has a lot to answer for. Gal Gadot provides a lot of the answers.
It has been impossible this summer to ignore the superstar status of former Miss Israel Gadot as she wooed and wowed the world in the lead role of Wonder Woman.
Gadot is everything that Allen is not.
Allen’s screen persona is the archetypal nebech. It’s hard to think of Allen without relying on Yiddish words and humor. His characters are weak and make you pity them. They are also full of self-pity and doubts. Allen recreated cinematic comedies in the 1970s by turning nervous and nervy nerds into heroes. Gadot, on the other hand, is the embodiment of powerful woman (and it’s quite a body at that). In the movie she literally saves the world. She’s not the victim, she’s the savior. She’s a super-hero and super human at the same time.
Not coincidentally, Allen is as stereotypical a New York Jew as they come – arguably he created the stereotype – while Gadot is a Hebrew-speaking native Israeli and proud of it. She’s not scared to let people know she was a combat trainer in the IDF. In fact, she’s not scared. Period.
Last week I was discussing with a friend from England the problems that even proud Jews have there in the current atmosphere. Over breakfast at a Jerusalem street cafe, surrounded by people talking – loudly and without fear – in Hebrew, she noted that it was often uncomfortable to be openly Jewish in London.
The solution, I told her, was not to shy away from it but to meet the antisemitism, and more frequently expressions of anti-Israeli attitudes, head on, or at least with head held high. Acting like a victim does nothing to end abuse.
Some of my recent thoughts and discussions on the subject stem from an essay by David Hazony in the June-July issue of The Tower, titled “Israeli Identity and the Future of American Jewry. After decades of ominous demographic statistics, the American Jewish community faces a stark choice about its future. Can Israeli culture offer a way out?”
The article is long but worth reading. Hazony discusses the two great problems that face American Jewry today: “assimilation” or “continuity” or “identity” and what “may be called the ‘Israel problem.’”
Hazony notes: “These two factors – assimilation and Israel-angst – are the real sources of crisis. These and not others, like antisemitism or terrorism, because they are problems of the spirit: a collective Jewish spirit that is no longer sure of its future or even its present, an insecurity that both expresses and exacerbates the problem. These issues have, simply, made ‘being Jewish’ into something problematic for the next generation of non-Orthodox Jews.”
Like Hazony, I believe that Israel should be part of the solution, not the problem.
In a community that seeks a cause and longs to help, activism could be channeled toward finding the inner Israel. This is the Israel that is not foreign. It’s the recognition of the fact that this is where the Jewish people was born, whose landscape, climate and surroundings lie at the very foundation of the religion.
And while I don’t belittle the importance of Yiddish (my Bubbe would turn in her grave), it’s important to recognize that being Jewish doesn’t even start with Yiddishisms, let alone end there. Israelis speak Hebrew. And Allen’s angst-filled mannerisms seem pathetic and out of place under Mediterranean skies.
You can’t understand Israelis without understanding Hebrew. Allen doesn’t represent Israeli Jewish youth, be they Ashkenazi, Sephardi or any other identity. (And keep in mind that when Israelis talk about “marrying out,” it is more likely that they are referring to marrying someone from a different Jewish community than marrying a non-Jew.)
There are American Jews who make their support for Israel contingent on the country, or at least its leaders, behaving in a certain way. Imagine Irish-Americans making their Irish identity conditional on the politics of the Republic of Ireland or Italian-Americans determining their cultural affiliation by whichever of the ever-changing governments happens to be in power in Rome.
Jewish identity and support for Israel should not be a matter of Right and Left.
As Hazony puts it: “Have you ever noticed that evangelical support for Israel does not seem to buckle into existential crisis just because Israel – the manifestation of God’s will – is one of the least religious countries on Earth, in which gays thrive and abortions are legal and the government sponsors actual Shari’a courts? For evangelicals, the contradictions are not a cause for crisis for the simple reason that their own identity is not dependent on the policies of the Israeli government. Their support flows from identity but does not define it, much the same way that [Abraham Joshua] Heschel’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement flowed from his deep Jewish identity rather than defined it.”
Israelis hear threats by American Jewish liberals to disengage if the country doesn’t do what they want and shrug. We’re not scared of losing them. If their love is conditional, we’ve already lost them. They’ve cut themselves off from the family.
I was not surprised to read recently that the pro-Palestinian advocacy group which goes under the misleading name Jewish Voice for Peace had begun a campaign urging American students not to participate in Birthright Israel trips, the all-expenses- paid short tours of Israel that have revolutionized the way participants relate to the country. JVP’s voice is getting shriller. What does it have to fear? That young Jews will see firsthand that Israel is not the evil state that JVP likes to demonize?
The JVP Facebook page says: “Our Judaism is grounded in values of solidarity and liberation, not occupation and apartheid.”
Judaism was, indeed, the groundbreaking religion when it comes to values of social justice, solidarity and liberation. And for all its faults (no country is perfect), Israel remains a standard bearer in these values. But we aren’t a cowering, Allen-like Diaspora figure. When we’re hit by rockets and terrorists, we fight back. And it turns out that our experience in tackling terrorism is helping save the world from global jihad.
We refuse to be the victim. We cannot forgive or forget the Holocaust, but making its commemoration the central point of our identity is to belittle who we are and have always been. Similarly, universalizing the Holocaust reduces it to the point when everyone is a victim. That’s not a good place to be.
Meanwhile, it is not only Gadot who is showing the beautiful face of Israel.
In the tikkun olam
category, Israelis are “mending the world” through medicine, technology and agricultural developments. They are treating in Israeli hospitals Syrians injured in the civil war. And they are helping hurricane and earthquake victims. Israeli movies and TV shows have a growing international fan club – Fauda followers are eagerly waiting for the second series of the TV thriller just as Wonder Woman’s fans are excited about plans for a sequel.
And here’s food for thought. Last week Time Out London
put Barbary, a “modern Israeli” (but unfortunately nonkosher) restaurant, at the top of the 100 best restaurants in London list. Several other Israeli restaurants were on the list, as was Monty’s Deli, boasting “Jewish soul food, made with love.” Israel is fighting back, one bite at a time.
May the coming Jewish New Year be one in which we eat together rather than devour each other. And go, Gal, go!