Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Exile Experience - Today!

Some readers might find this post too hard-hitting. Please feel free to record (polite) comments in the comments section below. We might find the ensuing conversation fruitful.

In preparation for thinking about Megillat Esther and Purim, I picked up Yoram Hazony's book, The Dawn, which I am enjoying. In his introduction, a piece struck me that reflected quite accurately some of my feelings regarding the difference between living in Israel and Chutz La'aretz (The bloded sections are my emphasis!):

"When sovereign in the land of Israel, the Jews are confronted directly with questions of national morality: How to govern justly, how to obtain security and peace, how to establish the pious and good society in the face of the terrible obstacles encountered by any realistic appraisal of the proclivities and aptitudes of men. But in Israel the Jews at least have the advantage of sovereign authority: The government may muster vast material reresources and promulgate laws in the service of the public interest; the intellectual leaders may freely study, teach and write in the pursuit of truth; and the leaders of the spirit may go about inculcating a love of Justice and peace among the people. In sum, when sovereign in their own land, the Jews at least possess the power needed to determine and implement an ideal according to their own lights, whether they choose to make appropriate use of this power or not. And it is no coincidence, either, that it was when the Jews possessed this power, living on the land and fighting for it, that they also found themselves directly confronted by their God.

In exile, whether in ancient Persia or in a more contemporary one, Jewish life must somehow persist without the immense resources made available by independent, sovereign power. In exile, the Jews must live in dispersion, their institutions weak, their concerns wandering far from Jewish things, and their politics alienated from every obvious source of cohesiveness, direction and strength. It is clear at the outset that under such conditions there is no possibility of freely seeking and implementing any Jewish ideal. To live in a society ruled by others means that the government and the laws are not the product of a Jewish concern for the general public interest, and that they are certainly not the result of an interest in the well-being of the Jews as a nation; that Jewish intellectual endeavors are under constant pressure, whether overt or implicit, to conform to alien norms; and that Jewish leadership, if it is capable and effective, is perpetually viewed with a certain measure of suspicion and even fear-both by the community of non-Jews, and by members of the Jewish community concerned that Jewish success may be interpreted by the gentiles as a challenge to their authority. "

On the Lookstein blog, there was a powerful piece recently that bemoaned the fact that Israel is pretty marginal to Jews in the diaspora. Read it here.

As for me, I would like to make two additional comments:

Recently I was in America and talking to people about the current mood in Israel in the aftermath of the Lebanon War. These are caring, idealistic Jews who love Israel and are informed about it. What struck me is how out of touch they were regarding the mood, the pulse, the atmosphere of Israel. It seems that however much one has Jpost or Haaretz as your Home Page, it is difficulty to really connect with the spirit and feelings of being here. Some things do not transmit will even in a virtual global village.

Second, I cannot express how much I palpably feel, whenever in chu"l, the bitter words of David Hamelech - כי גרשוני היום מהסתפח בנחלת ה' לאמר לך עבוד אלוהים אחרים - in other words, outside Israel, we really do march to another nations's drum, and we are dramatically influenced by their cultural values, their fashions, norms and priorities. It can be no other way. And it is incredible how when we live in Chutz La'aretz, we are so so unaware of it. But coming from Israel, it really hits you in the face. Living in another culture compromises you, influences you in untold ways. (see also this earlier post.)

But Thank God, today we do have a choice where we live!

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