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Am I Israeli?

I'm certainly Jewish. But Phoebe Maltz tries once again to convince me I'm also Israeli, even though nobody in my family's lived there for over a thousand years:

While few American or other Diaspora Jews have actual, ancestral roots in the modern state of Israel, all have such roots in a Jewish nation as perceived by those of earlier generations. I've written about this before, but to reiterate: even if your grandparents lived in Eastern Europe and wouldn't have known what to make of zatar or tehina, the nation they were a part of is now based in a specific geographic locale, and that is Israel.
This seems question-begging. The number of Jewish people still living in the traditional Eastern European heartland is disputed, but the State Department says there are 600,000 to a million in Russia plus, presumably, more in Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics, etc. Be that as it may, why isn't the geographical basis of the "Jewish nation" right here in North America where I live? There are slightly more Jews in North America than there are in Israel and significantly more Ashkenazim.

May 18, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

We're all Africans when you get right down to it.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 18, 2006 2:00:15 PM

Nah, we're all martians.

Posted by: Miguel | May 18, 2006 3:05:09 PM

why isn't the geographical basis of the "Jewish nation" right here in North America where I live?

Here's one reason.

Just saying....

But that still doesn't make you Israeli.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | May 18, 2006 3:14:26 PM

I don't think either of us are Israeli. I'm not sure where you're getting that.

Posted by: Phoebe | May 18, 2006 3:28:31 PM

It IS question-begging- in the correct meaning of the phrase, that is, it assumes the answer in the question (not, as Matt seems to think, that it provokes the asking of another question). Here is what Phoebe says (emphasis added:

"even if your grandparents lived in Eastern Europe and wouldn't have known what to make of zatar or tehina, the NATION they were a part of is now based in a specific geographic locale..."

Now, the answer to Matt's question (why isn't the locale of the Jewish nation somewhere around 90th Street and Broadway) is simple: American Jews don't form a "nation" by any stretch of the imagination. American Jews have always strenuously identified themselves as part of the American nation. American Jews love being Americans. If you asked American Jews if they were part of the "Jewish nation" they would say no, and none except people with actual dual nationality would say that they are "part of the Israeli nation."

It's also clear that the Jews of Eastern Europe don't form the center of the "Jewish nation," as they are almost all very assimilated and would not identify themselves as part of the "Jewish nation." It is true that in the Soviet era Jews were formally identified (on their ID cards) as being of Jewish nationality, in the way that all Soviet citizens had a nationality (Russian, Georgian, etc.)

But the statement that Phoebe makes assumes the existence of a "Jewish nation as perceived by earlier generations" and I question whether there ever was any such thing. Certainly Jews in eastern Europe understood that they were of a nationality different from their neighbors- Jews in Poland (for example) were always Jews, never Poles, and they never loved Poland and never wanted or were permitted to identify themselves as part of the Polish nation. But the idea of a "Jewish nation" - a self-governing political entity- was a product of 19th century nationalism emerging into Zionism, a political ideology that was never held by a majority of European Jews. So I do not accept as a given that there ever was a "Jewish nation as percieved by earlier generations." And if there never was such a "nation," the question "where is it now?" doesn't make any sense.

Posted by: JR | May 18, 2006 5:30:01 PM

The leader of the major country in North America is now proud to proclaim that America is a Christian country. You could join Kurt Vonnegut and proclaim that, at this moment, you are "A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY." Greatest and shortest book of the new millenium.

Posted by: Mel | May 18, 2006 5:43:15 PM

I thought Yglesias was a Sephardic name.

Posted by: Wade | May 18, 2006 7:24:00 PM

The point of Phoebe's post is to justify the colonisation and ethnic cleansing (past, present and future) of the Palestinian arabs, as are almost all attempts to elide American judaism with Israel.

Posted by: otto | May 18, 2006 9:26:11 PM

Care to elaborate on that a bit, otto? Civil discourse. It's a concept. I just read Phoebe's post and I can honestly say that the "point" of the post is not the justification of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

Posted by: fnook | May 18, 2006 10:03:21 PM

otto, just curious, but what do you think the word elide means?

Posted by: SoCalJustice | May 18, 2006 10:44:57 PM

Not what I think it means, I'm guessing.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 19, 2006 12:52:25 AM

But the idea of a "Jewish nation" - a self-governing political entity- was a product of 19th century nationalism emerging into Zionism, a political ideology that was never held by a majority of European Jews

You're conflating the notions of "nation," meaning only a group of people with a shared history and culture, and that of a "nation-state."

The idea of the Jewish people as a nation, B'Nai Yisrael, goes back to the Torah. In fact, it's the very heart of Jewish theology, that Yahweh offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, and the Hebrews, the spawn of Jacob, were the ones who accepted it. By biblical accounts, this long predates King Saul or the establishment of a formal Jewish "state."

The Hebrew word for nation is "goy." The plural, "goyim," is obviously still employed in the vernacular to refer to members of all the other nations of the world. Jewish "nationhood" is certainly not an invention of the Zionist era.

Posted by: R.J. Lehmann | May 19, 2006 1:39:25 PM

I'm pretty sure Matt understands what "question-begging" means, and I don't see him making the usage error of which he stands accused.

Posted by: ot | May 19, 2006 2:48:57 PM

I understand where Maltz is coming from, but to be perfectly frank, I find her vision of Jewish identity -- attempting to fit Jewish-Americans into the template of "generic hyphenated American," (as if Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc all fit into the same "generic hyphenated American" template) -- to be just as artificial, and just as evasive on questions of identity, as the "angsty cosmopolitan secularist cultural Jew" model which she tries to run away from, if not more so.

Overall, being a Jewish American isn't something that I've really felt conflicted or... well, anything much about. I just never really felt that it was noteworthy. It's just a fact about myself and many other people I know. I don't think of myself as a particularly well-adjusted person overall in life, particularly not at this moment, but of all the things I'm not well-adjusted about, being an American Jew isn't one of them.

Posted by: Julian Elson | May 19, 2006 3:18:25 PM

Julian Elson wrote:
but of all the things I'm not well-adjusted about, being an American Jew isn't one of them.

Phoebe Maltz, or rather "Phoebe Maltz" is a pleasingly quaint character. Old-fashioned modern, like someone out of a Whit Stillman movie -- who knew young angsty Jews still existed? I thought it was all Adam Sandler, John Stuart, and Sarah Silverman these days. Funny, foul mouthed, and well-adjusted.

But "Phoebe Maltz" is a better literary character than John Stuart or "Julian Elson". Angsty is good reading.

Posted by: Ikram | May 19, 2006 4:27:48 PM

You're conflating the notions of "nation," meaning only a group of people with a shared history and culture, and that of a "nation-state."

Who is conflating these notions? It seems to me that Phoebe is. By her logic, just because my grandparents were Irish-Catholic doesn't mean that I'm not Italian, even though I was born and live in America. Fogettaboutit.

Posted by: Just Karl | May 19, 2006 7:37:03 PM

My reading of her article was that she was employing the non-political unit sense of the term "nation" in referring to the Jewish nation, but she also feels some duty to recognize that that nation now has geographical locus in the land of Israel. Which does not necessarily connote allegiance to the political state of Israel.

To stretch the analogy quite a bit, I remain a part of Mets fan nation, even though I now reside out in the diaspora -- in my case, in Northern Virginia. I can feel a special kinship to Queens and its role as home of the Mets, without particularly caring who the current borough president is or what kind of job he or she is doing.

Posted by: R.J. Lehmann | May 19, 2006 9:18:20 PM

I read her differently. I think she's attempting to compel allegiance to Israel by demanding it's recognition as the geographic location of the non-political Jewish nation . Otherwise, Matt is right. The location of the Nation would be in whatever place the greatest number of Jews reside.

Posted by: Just Karl | May 19, 2006 11:27:44 PM

But "Phoebe Maltz" is a better literary character than John Stuart or "Julian Elson".

Plus, she's way cuter than they are.

Posted by: phoebefan | May 20, 2006 3:43:51 AM

Are there implications to be drawn from PM's post for claims made by and about Clipper Nation and similar?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 20, 2006 10:27:13 AM

"Phoebe Maltz, or rather "Phoebe Maltz" is a pleasingly quaint character. Old-fashioned modern, like someone out of a Whit Stillman movie"

Bullseye.

Posted by: Petey | May 20, 2006 12:16:46 PM

"Overall, being a Jewish American isn't something that I've really felt conflicted or... well, anything much about. I just never really felt that it was noteworthy."

I never really knew I was Jewish, or thought much about it, until I spent some time out in the American provinces.

If you've spent your whole life inside the pale, it's amazing what spending some time outside it will do to your perspective.

Posted by: Petey | May 20, 2006 12:28:14 PM

I've never thought of myself as anything but "American," but as a Jew, Israel is important to me the same way Ireland is important to the Irish. My support for a Palestinian state has less to do with sympathy for Palestinians than it does with the corrupting effects that long-term occupation has on Israel.

But the Israel I grew up supporting no longer exists: it's no longer a secular, quasi-socialist state intent on creating a society as vibrant, dynamic and socially just as reasonably possible. And I think one of Israel's founding principles - the Right of Return - is directly responsible for that, since the rise of the Israeli Right Wing coincides with the huge influx of people from former Soviet states, esp. Russia. (Yes, Sharon and Netanyahu are sabras; but they get their support from a Right Wing that I believe would barely exist if it weren't for immigration.)

Israel also suffers the usual fate of a country once its more idealistic founders/first settlers have died. (The same thing happened in Africa, and modern India.) The trick is to find some raison d'etre that can keep a country dynamic once the initial fire has gone out. Unfortunately, Israel really is surrounded by nations who, even if they don't actively push for its destruction, wouldn't do much to stop it, either. That has made survival Israel's one overriding raison d'etre, crowding out the other things that make survival meaningful, that give a nation identity beyond its demographics.

Jewish identity is a strange thing, particularly to non-religious Jews, since it's mostly imposed from the outside. Petey hit the nail on the head: nothing brings out my Jewishness like encountering anti-Semitism. And nothing revives my Zionism like encountering anti-Zionists. And, yes, anti-Zionists are anti-Semitic (in the traditional meaning of the phrase). I've yet to encounter one who didn't, at some point in the conversation, resort to some good old Jew-baiting.

Posted by: CaseyL | May 21, 2006 12:42:11 PM

"the rise of the Israeli Right Wing coincides with the huge influx of people from former Soviet states, esp. Russia."

It does? That's news to me. The Likud first took power in '77, more than a decade before the big immigration wave that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then they held power for all but 2 of the next 15 years, until Rabin was elected in '92.

Posted by: Haggai | May 21, 2006 1:37:00 PM

"Petey hit the nail on the head: nothing brings out my Jewishness like encountering anti-Semitism."

It wasn't any anti-semitism I encountered outside the pale that convinced me I was Jewish. Instead it was a few other reactions.

There was the not at all unpleasant experience of being an exotic to the locals. And there was the sorta creepy experience of being met like a long lost friend by the isolated Jews who had grown up there.

But I found oddest the 'all you people look alike' experience. Inside the pale, I've never had a single person say I looked like Woody Allen in my life. But it was a repeated reaction outside.

Posted by: Petey | May 21, 2006 1:57:04 PM

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