Keeping Up With This 70-Year-Old Can Be Exhausting
OpinionFrom Where I Sit

Keeping Up With This 70-Year-Old Can Be Exhausting

We celebrate Israel's birthday, but how important is the country to American Jews?

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Kotel is a key attraction, but what of the nation around it? (Photo by Patrice Worthy)
The Kotel is a key attraction, but what of the nation around it? (Photo by Patrice Worthy)

This may not be the most considerate thing to say when you’re invited to a 70th birthday party, but the guest of honor wears me out.

Some days I lack the stamina to keep up with the honoree, who stays active every hour of every day, even on designated days of rest.

To keep track of this septuagenarian, I use email, Twitter, Facebook and other online forums, as well as newspapers, television and radio.

But there is more material than I have time to consume, so I take in what interests me most and forgo the rest.

Then there’s the extended family, bickering constantly over what constitutes proper behavior. They talk over each other, which they find preferable to listening to a contrary opinion.

Frankly, I suffer from Israel fatigue.

The investment of time and energy, not to mention emotion, necessary to stay up on affairs in Israel — no matter your religious or political leanings — can be exhausting.

There is today’s crisis. Last week’s unresolved issue. Disputes that are measured in years. Resentments accumulated over decades. History that is counted in millennia.

I sense that a significant percentage of American Jews — away from the online debates, where intelligent discourse is dwarfed by ad hominem attacks and the triumph of emotion over reason — have become, if not disinterested, then less interested in a story that, from afar, can appear to change little over time.

Besides, there’s more than enough going on in this country that demands attention.

Yehuda Kurtzer, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, has spent years studying the relationship between Israel and American Jews.

Several years ago, he offered this explanation: “Israel fatigue is not the controversial syndrome of ‘distancing’ or disengaging from Israel, nor is it the act of criticizing Israel from afar (whether it is in one’s own interest or altruistically on Israel’s behalf). Israel fatigue is a different syndrome whatsoever, and it stems from the combination of a desire to engage seriously with Israel together with a frustration that aspirational Israel is not getting there as fast as we want it to. … Israel fatigue is the feeling of a Zionist rooting for his team to win, and sometimes feeling that the team is less motivated than the fans.”

On a recent Sunday, a Jewish brunch group met at a Toco Hills restaurant. They talked about everything under the sun but little about Israel, and even then it wasn’t really about Israel but about talking about Israel.

The focal point of their Jewish lives is the United States, not an ancestral land of milk and honey.

I suspect that — and here I expect pushback — a significant percentage of American Jews regard Israel less as their personal Jewish homeland than as a primarily Jewish country, but not one they consider their own.

That is not a distinction without a difference.

I have wondered whether there is room for a post-Israel Judaism, whether the bulk of American Jews — and ever more with each passing generation — do not think of themselves as part of a diaspora.

In Europe, anti-Semitic attitudes and increasing anti-Jewish violence have motivated a growing number of Jews to leave for Israel or at least think about making aliyah (“going up” in Hebrew).

Even with a 57 percent increase in U.S. anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 compared with 2016, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League, American Jews feel more secure than their European co-religionists.

I don’t dismiss the naysayers, who insist that American Jewry is complacent and doesn’t understand its precarious position in this land of the free and home of the brave and who recommend that we all, figuratively, keep a bag packed.

The 70-year-old’s local birthday party is scheduled for Sunday, April 29, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Park Tavern in Midtown Atlanta.

Israel can be fascinating. And stimulating. And inspiring. And invigorating. And frustrating. And maddening. And upsetting. And, yes, exhausting. Israel can be all of these things — all at the same time.

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