The worst arguments seem to me to be family arguments. The more you know someone, the fiercer the argument can become. Parent to parent, parent to child, brother to sister. Maybe it’s because you know how to hurt the other person, you know them too well. Maybe it’s because you have a stake in the decision they are making. Maybe it’s because there are egos involved.
The Jewish community, in the diaspora and in Israel, is one big family. Nobody can argue as well as we can. We do not need any outside influence to create deep rifts amongst ourselves. As our nation is becoming more polarized, so are the Jewish people across a fair number of topics. It is not a good trend, and becoming more polarized and antagonistic will not help America nor the Jewish community.
I was in Israel earlier this year with our Federation as part of the Front Porch initiative. I had the opportunity, for the first time, to hear from Avraham Infeld. He is president emeritus of Hillel International and is also currently working with the Reut Institute in Israel. Infeld is quite well known for his topic of Jewish memory versus Jewish history, which is quite poignant. On the day he spoke to us, his topic was a little different. Infeld discussed how a few changes to Jewish life that have occurred over the past 200 years have created the fundamental differences that are the core of our arguments today.
First is the concept, and then the recreation, of our homeland, Israel. While I believe that the majority of Jews around the world look at Israel as a blessing, there is no doubt, Israel’s creation has sparked more arguments, amongst ourselves, than it has solved. Self-governance creates opportunity, but opportunity breeds decisions and this decision-making has led to serious rifts in our family. There are whole discourses about the negative impact too much choice has in our lives.
The second change has been the creation of various denominations of Judaism. While Christianity has been spinning off variations since inception, Judaism has remained virtually unchanged until the past 125 years. The old joke: For every Jew, there must be two synagogues- one that he attends and one he wouldn’t step foot in – becomes more truthful each decade. Again, more choice has led to more disagreement. Not only are we arguing about religion amongst ourselves, but we are arguing about religion between Israel and the Diaspora.
Finally, the third change is our ability to assimilate. For centuries, assimilation was not a question, issue or even thought. Today, being Jewish is, unfortunately, only an option. Think about that statement. Many Jews will commend me for writing it that way. Many others, they will ask, why would I say that it is unfortunate? While I have no facts or statistics to back up this next statement, I would guesstimate close to half the Jewish population of the world does not recognize themselves as being Jewish or are not engaged in anything Jewish in their lives. Quite a change from, say, 200 years ago.
I have to admit, I think Avraham Infeld had a fourth core change in the fabric of Jewish life. Maybe I can convince Rabbi Binyomin Friedman to write about this topic more in-depth one day. I know he, too, teaches about the effects of these changes to the evolution of Jewish life today.
Notwithstanding, I think it is easy to see that the majority of our Jewish family arguments can be traced to one of these fundamental changes in Jewish life; and our arguments are becoming more vicious and bitter. One common theme is choice. With choice brings dissension and debate. Choice does not always suggest that one path is right and one is wrong. But, often we attempt to use right versus wrong to make our point. That kind of tactic is divisive and polarizing. And if I cannot help to change the Jewish community with these thoughts, maybe this information will at least help to deflate the arguments within my own family.