As previously mentioned, I have been to Gadna. It feels strange to say it now, but not only did I not hate being in the Israeli Army for five days, I truly enjoyed it, and I took pride in waking up and putting on that uniform.

This post could be a simple narrative detailing our five days in the Israeli Army, but I've tried to avoid mere summary and go more profound and thoughtful posts.



A lot of the week was devoted to running, learning what do when a rimon (grenade) come your way, how to camouflage yourself, standing and walking in formations, cleaning, etc. Military stuff. You get my drift. A lot of it was also devoted to classes on Jewish topics.

If you're thinking that this sounds like Sunday school, you're in for a shock. The realization which I will now reveal to you is one which I've been working on since I came to Israel, but only now do I see the bigger picture in all of its completeness. These classes were about the Army. To some extent they were about ranks and different jobs in the Army, but the big picture of the week was more interesting than that.

The truth is that Jews have not, to any great extent, defended themselves in eight gazillion years. In the Diaspora we withered into skinny defenseless yeshiva nerds. In our return to Eretz Yisrael and in the foundation of Medinat Yisrael we fulfilled A.D. Gordon's well-put dream of a people of strong, intellectual laborers. It was in this newfound physical strength that we founded militant movements in the Land. These were not just militias striking out against their perceived enemies like the Islamic militants we see on the news now. These were, for the most part, defense forces involved solely in the defense of its people, the Jewish people. Haganah, the largest of these became the Israeli Army when the state was founded in 1948 and that mission of defense has remained its goal. This is no ordinary national military. This is not just an army of Jews. This is THE Jewish Army.

All my life I have seen American Jewish teenagers go to Israel and return wearing Israeli Army t-shirts. I have always thought of the Israeli Army the same way I have thought of the American Army. I would never wear an American Army t-shirt. Now I have a clearer picture that this is not just another national army, but that this is the first Jewish Army in two thousand years and I recognize the incredible significance of this Army and I have the swell of pride in this Army.

Now I want an Israeli Army t-shirt.



It is so oft-discussed here on EIE, I find myself surprised I have never spoken about on the blog before.

The truth is that in assimilating into the American (or British or German or Australian or etc.) culture, Jews lost their old Jewish identity. Not just the shtetl identity, but a national identity. With the loss of our own language we ceased to be a people and became a religion.

This identity is so ingrained in us that when (this actually happened with a speaker we had while the parents were visiting) an Orthodox man tells us we're Jews, but that because we identify as Reform we're not practicing Judaism, all we here is somehow "You're not Jewish." This is not what he said. What he said is that according to halachah, most of us on EIE are Jewish, but we're clearly, to him, not practicing authentic Judaism. What he is saying is that we have a Jewish nationality, but not a Jewish religion. For us, since we feel our nationality is American, and our entire Jewish identity is the religious one, in saying this, the speaker took away our entire identity. The parents were extremely upset by this. We got over it.

It was this week that I had an epiphany about this. When you ask the average "secular" Israeli whether they consider themselves more Israeli or more Jewish, they say Israeli. An American Jew is saddened by this because to us it means that Israel is no longer a Jewish state and that its inhabitants have been come simply Israeli rather than Jewish like France's inhabitants are simply French. What is really going on is a breakdown in vocabulary. Our respective vocabularies (American Jewish and Israeli) are different and neither of us knows how to say what we mean. What the Israeli means when he says he is Israeli and not Jewish is that he is a member of the Jewish Nation rather than the Jewish Religion. What the American Jew means by his outrage is that he cannot relate to Judaism as a peoplehood because he has become an American whose religion is Jewish, rather than a Jew who follows his people's religion.

What does this mean to me and where is it going to mean it? It means that I'm not making Aliyah and it means that I want to stay in the United States. Why? I'll give you an allegory. I am an American. This American identity is inextricably tied into a Texan identity because it is the part of America that I grew up in. Likewise, I am a Jew. This Jewish identity is inextricably tied into an American Diaspora identity. The allegory is imperfect and in this next sentence is where it breaks down. To leave American Jewry would be bailing out. The realizations that we come to here and the education I have that most American Jews do not have must be dispensed. I have to stay in America and help do what I can to enhance the Jewish lives of the rest of those of us who remain there.


AnnieGetYour said...

David- when you say that "The truth is that in assimilating into the American (or British or German or Australian or etc.) culture, Jews lost their old Jewish identity. Not just the shtetl identity, but a national identity." You are a little off base.

Jews haven't had a national identity for a long, long time, predating America, and possibly even the UK or Germany. There has not been a single, unified "nation" of Israel since the explusion in 70 CE. By suggesting otherwise you are giving prominence (unfairly) to Eastern European Jewry over Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews, some of whom never lived in "shtetls."

Also, be careful of blanket generalizations like "an American Jew is..." there are a lot of American Jews, and they all have their own opinions.

David A. M. Wilensky said...

Thanks for the comment.

It is true that we have not lived as a unified nation in quite some time, but through unique values, language(s) and customs we maintained a nationality or ethinicity (whatever you want to call it) and this is not a controversial opinion of this one person. This is an accepted notion in most circles.

As for my ignoring Mizrachim and Spharadim, I apologize. I'm usually the first to bring them up in JHist class. I really did not intend to be exclusive.

As for my blanket generalization, I'm glad that you can recognize it for what it is: a generalization. Obviously not all American Jews are this way, but if you're going to tell me that the average American Jew isn't this way, then I'm afraid you and I are interacting with two different creatures called American Jew.