March 2, 2016

Prominent American Jew changes mind about Israel

Tikun - David Gordis has served as vice-president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He also served as Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee and was the founding director of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel. He founded and directed the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies which became the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies.

David Gordis is President Emeritus of Hebrew College where he served as President and Professor of Rabbinics for fifteen years. He is currently Visiting Senior Scholar at the University at Albany of the State University of New York. Here is the article he submitted to Tikkun. We publish it with the same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article,

David M. Gordis - The Israel of today is very far from anything I dreamed of and worked for throughout my career. I can clearly remember the day in 1948 when the State of Israel was established. I was in the fourth grade at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. The entire school was summoned to the schoolyard in celebration of the momentous occasion. It was announced that from that day on the school would adopt the Sephardic (Israeli) Hebrew pronunciation and abandon the older European Ashkenazic.  I well remember driving out with my parents to Idyllwild Airport, now JFK, to see the first airliner with the Israeli flag adorning its tail. This was a transformative moment. Jews had returned to the stage of history after the devastation of the Holocaust. Israel was to be the great laboratory for the rebirth of an ancient tradition in a new land and in a country committed to being a model of democracy and freedom for the world.

What happened? We can debate the reasons but the bottom line for me is that it has gone terribly wrong. On the positive side, Israel’s accomplishments have been remarkable.  Israel has created a thriving economy, and has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of the displaced and the needy. Israel has generated a rich and diverse cultural life and its scientific and educational achievements have been exemplary. In spite of these achievements, however, Israel in my view has gone astray. And it in in the area for which Israel was created, as a Jewish state, embodying and enhancing Jewish values that I see this failure...

Present day Israel has discarded the rational, the universal and the visionary. These values have been subordinated to a cruel and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities rivaling the worst in the western world and distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best.

And most depressing of all for me, is that I see no way out, no way forward which will reverse the current reality. Right wing control in Israel is stronger and more entrenched than ever. The establishment leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of this quagmire. So, sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.

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