The greatest divide in the Jewish world today is between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry.
Christiane Amanpour was on my balcony scanning the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount with her eyes. The CNN journalist had come to my home to interview me about “settlers” and the Bible, and I guessed from her line of British accented-questioning – “but do you hear God telling you to take this land?” – that she was hoping to ensnare me into saying something politically incorrect and juicy.
Suddenly, her eyes locked on the large Israeli flag fluttering on the balcony and asked: “What is the symbolism of the two blue lines on the flag – is it that Israel will control the land between the Nile and the Euphrates?”
Nothing would have made her happier than if I had gone biblical on her and said that yes, God had promised this land to the children of Abraham! But instead, I went liberal: “You know, I heard that the two lines represent the splitting of the Red Sea and that the star in the middle is the Jewish people leaving the slavery of Egypt and walking toward the freedom of Israel. The flag represents the Jewish people’s fight for self-determination after 2,000 years of oppression, and the values of liberty.”
Amanpour, looking somewhat dissatisfied, left the flag motif and went onto other topics.
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However, when I think about the flag of Israel today, with the Star of David flanked by two blue lines, I wonder if it represents the reality of the Jewish people. Back in the Exodus, we were one united nation, walking on dry land as two giant walls of sea stood on either side of us. But today we are actually two nations, 6 million living in Israel, 6 million living in the US, with a huge ocean separating us. Maybe the right way to draw a flag of the Jewish people is two Stars of David on either side, with a thick blue line going down the middle?
The recent Kotel scandal was a powerful tremor, with some pundits calling for a divorce between American and Israeli Jews. Also, many articles have been written over the past few years questioning whether Israel’s nationalist values comport with American Jewish liberal values. And even without political issues that divide us, the life of the Middle East is not like that of North America, linguistically, culturally and even Jewishly. Like two continents set on tectonic plates, the Jewish people can easily drift apart.
I, too, have been guilty of perpetuating this drift. I have been flying to North America for years for speaking engagements, teaching seminars, and fund-raising. Whenever I arrived at a fabulously wealthy synagogue or temple, my Zionism and my Israel-first impulse would kick in hard. In my mind I would imagine the building empty, sold to non-Jews, the congregants packing boxes to ship to their new homes in Israel. A strong sense of Zionism is a good thing, but the frustration and jealousy I felt toward American Jewry put a barrier between me and the people I came to see.
A few years ago I listened to an audiobook called Millionaire Mind. In it, the author said that if you meet a very successful person and subtly curse his good fortune because of jealousy, you will never become a millionaire. The only way to become rich is by rooting for and blessing the successful person to keep on winning. This wisdom hit me like a ton of bricks: Here I was trying to strengthen Israel through building a connection with American Jews, but I was sabotaging the whole thing with my righteous indignation and jealousy.
Now I took it upon myself to reform my ways and become a blesser. Today, whenever I come to a synagogue or temple in North America, I bless the building and the congregation, I bless the rabbi, and the Jewish education, and I bless the couples to have more children and to raise them right. I certainly did not come all the way from Israel to cause more division – I come from Israel to reconnect with my American mishpaha (family), to send them blessings from Jerusalem, and to make sure we as a people don’t drift apart. Of course, now that I’m a sending good energy, my work has become much more successful.
But still, being a staunch Zionist can lead to frustration with American Jewry, some of whom make little effort toward building the Jewish state, the greatest project of the Jewish people in 2,000 years. So now, after blessing the congregation, I urge them to take a small step toward Israel, like committing to drinking Israeli wine on Friday night. This certainly supports Israeli business, but more important, it puts the water and the fruit, the air and the soil of Israel itself to enter and unite with the body. Many people have told me that since they began they have accepted upon themselves to drink Israeli wine, they feel more connected with the homeland. This is a small step, but a meaningful one.
Indeed, the greatest divide in the Jewish world today is between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry. That divide has been exacerbated by tensions having to do with religious control of the Western Wall, acceptance of conversions and marriages, and questions of the future of Judea and Samaria. But while real questions underlie these tensions, the resulting rift in our peoplehood is disastrous and plays right into the hands of our enemies.
We mustn’t listen to those cynical voices who call for divorce – they are not our better angels. On the contrary, will have to work hard to hold hands across the Atlantic, and use the Internet and the airplane to stay connected. Let’s do everything possible to the ameliorate tensions between us and thereby ensure that the flag of Israel remains with only one, unified, Star of David.
Yishai Fleisher is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron.