Should Israel be American Jewry’s football team?

Or should Israel be American Jewry's fantasy baseball team?

Actor Duke Hill 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Actor Duke Hill 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We get excited over our sports teams, don’t we? We go to games and scalp tickets to get great seats. We buy hot dogs, peanuts and beer, and spend ridiculous amounts at the stadiums. We wear the jerseys; hang the pennants on our walls, and get custom license plates to demonstrate our pride. We call in to radio shows or write in blogs opining over a player’s action or a referee’s call. We are loud, boisterous and passionate.
There is little we won’t do, and few expenses we won’t incur. Yet that is all we do, because we have no real say in how a team is managed, or which players are traded. Team owners and coaches may hear or read our opinions, but they make their own choices.
For many Jews and Christian Zionists in America, Israel is the team we love. We rush to visit, bring planeloads of people, like a busload of children arriving at Yankee Stadium; if they’re from an influential school, they may even step onto the field to shake Derek Jeter’s hand. Zion-seekers with the right organization might get to the Knesset floor or be welcomed at the home of Israel’s president.
We buy Israeli products, hang flags on our homes, and get passionate about her politics. Some write about it; others hold dinners to declare their solidarity and profess their beliefs. Whether it is Peace Now or the One Israel Fund, American Zionists are enthusiastic about their buffets serving up carved meats, sushi and opinions.
Yet unlike sports, where the outcome does not truly change lives, we are in a position to effect policies that impact the lives of the people who live in Israel. Whether AIPAC is lobbying the Hill for money or simple verbal support, or the former American Jewish Congress helping draft a proposed constitution for Israel, Americans are more than committed fans. They are pseudo-citizens, influencing events inside the country itself. Often enough, it motivates actions that impact the 7.5 million people who call Israel home.
In almost every case for practically every western nation, their expats, or American-born kin, feel some attachment to their native lands, but they do not get actively involved in the internal politics of those countries. Israel, however, carries a different set of rules. But is it right?
I wrote a piece questioning whether Israel was worth our blood, sweat and tears, but one particular comment received hit me hard. It was less about the article’s overall point – it questioned my use of the term “our.” An Israeli pointed out that it was indeed, neither my blood, nor my sweat, but allowed me the tears of empathy.
Well taken, it left me unsettled. My brother, visiting from his home in Modi’in, Israel, told me that there are increasing feelings among Israelis that Americans interfere with what should be internal policies, like interlopers doing more harm than good, because we demand what we are not in a position to fight for.
Americans send a lot of money to Israel. American Friends of “This or That” raises money and sends portions to the paired organization in Israel. Trees get planted, schools are built, and we buy emergency kits for use in Judea and Samaria. Rabbis raise money from Christians to feed poor Jews; pastors raise money for churches and feed hungry Jews – it’s a wonderful mosaic of diversified aid for the people on the Land of the Book.
Also, many Israeli politicians come to the United States seeking money for political ambitions. They come to sell the books they just authored about how great it is to be them while they were in power, or to generate capital for their newly formed non-profits. All of that aid and fundraising comes with a price – participation. American Zionists are not mere spectators, we want to be involved – we need to be involved.
The debate as to whether Israel is just a country or a nation of people throughout the world is at the heart of the issue. Long before Israel was reborn Jews longed for Israel and called it home even though they would never step foot on its sands. The situation has changed in many ways, but remains the same as ever.
At the end of the Passover seder Jews proclaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem” – yet they can all go if they wanted to. Alas, the cry is not for a plane ticket, but for the rebuilding of the biblical Temple and the restoration of the nation heralded by the coming of the Messiah; and that is where the issue lies.
For the residents of modern Israel, the decisions made by its government, its taxation and social welfare policies, as well as its deployment of the military are less about rebuilding the Temple than about getting through the days, the weeks and years. It’s about life, as in any other country.
When a transportation strikes occurs, Israelis cannot get to work, but Americans can read about it from our desks at work. If conflicts arise between religious and secular communities, it becomes a sermon in synagogues across the Five Towns and Teaneck, but it is an impediment to basic life for those living with it.
Yet, it is those very sermons that help keep the passion and motivation alive in Diaspora; something Israel and its citizens cannot afford to lose. It is a delicate balance.
Israel is a calling for Zionists in America as it is for many living in Israel, too, but it is also real life for them. The rhetoric over striking Iran is heating up, yet many Israelis feel that it is they who will pay the heavy price of a wrong move.
American Zionists must understand that their actions in trying to shift the tide of internal policies within the country does more than serve an esoteric longing for a mighty Jewish nation, it radically impacts the lives of the actual people living there every day.
Likewise, Israelis must appreciate that their neighborhoods, backyards, streets, sands and air are parts of the fundamentals of Jewish hope, continuity and strength. One cannot exist without the other, although just one bears the brunt of the consequences.
The Diaspora has always been around, and will remain. Those who make their homes in Israel do not bask in that luxury. As we continue our collective struggle for lasting peace and a harmonious Israel, American Jews will remain strong fans of Israel, but it is nothing like a football team, for they will always be actively involved. More like a fantasy baseball team, Zionists can plan, strategize and build the best theoretical country they can imagine. Then it should make those recommendations, but allow Israelis to choose what’s best for them.
The writer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations