Here’s my response to the responses. First and least important, the latke-shwarma debate. Perhaps I overstated the case, but more likely I just failed to explain it. In Israel, just like in the US, there’s a certain nostalgia for, or at least acknowledgment of, the Eastern European past. Not being Israeli, my sense of this comes only from the many Yiddish words that made it into Hebrew, the availability of latkes (yes, latkes) in Israel, the Mitteleuropa-esque cafe culture in Tel Aviv, and other randomly pieced-together and generally useless observations. The extent to which Judaism means remembering the shtetl or some upscale Central European variant depends on how much any given Jewish community is Ashkenazi–Yemenite Jews do not crave gefilte fish, etc.

Long story short, neither fried potatoes nor fried chickpeas nor spinning mystery meat count as “authentically” Jewish, or authentically anything, for that matter. Your grandma may have made latkes, but that doesn’t make latkes more Jewish than the “Arab” food some other Jewish grandma slaved over day in and day out. Think latkes, etc., were in no way influenced by Russian-Polish culture and climate? Go to any Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village and decide whether you’re eating the food of your Jewish ancestors or that of the nearby Christian peasants. It’s hard to say. My reason for contrasting latkes with shwarma will become clear, I hope, by the end of this post.

DK writes, “I will not have my Jewish culture dictated to me my Zionists.” This seems irrelevant. I’m addressing Zionists, thus “Israelophilia vs. Zionism.” I’m not addressing all American Jews, but rather those who spend a lot of time thinking, writing, and arguing in favor of Israel. I’m addressing those who, politically, already know where they stand, not trying to convince anyone to be more or less pro-Israel than they happen to be at this moment. As for DK’s point about latkes being more Jewish than “Arab” food, see above.

Jacob argues that replacing Israel with, say, Poland, is political, and, relatedly, artificial. I’m not so sure. Many Zionist Diaspora Jews are quite familiar with Israeli culture, and do not need to go out of their way to learn about it. (The same is true of all non-Israelis, regardless of politics or religion, with friends or family in Israel.) However, these non-Israeli Zionists make the assumption (as does Jewlicious commenter WEVS1) that it is inappropriate or insufficient to feel a cultural connection with Israel, when more serious issues demand our attention. The “not at a time like this” argument.

What we are looking at is an intentional–artificial, even– decision not to focus on culture. Because Israel is a touchy issue– and not because it is a new country– its Diaspora Jewish supporters cannot mention the state without a whole treatise on the Palestinians and ’67, rather than a comment about, say, shakshuka. Cultural knowledge and appreciation is considered secondary if not beside the point. Letting cultural Judaism remain shtetl Judaism, as do other Ashkenazi Diaspora Jews, is convenient for Zionists because it’s politically neutral. Fears that a latke-eating populace will take over the world have diminished greatly since that world population was wiped out.

Indeed, the Jewish case differs from the Irish one in the newness of Israel, but also in the non-existence of the towns and communities for which we are asked to be nostalgic. Israel is not our Ireland, but neither is Poland. For someone my age, with three out of four grandparents born in North America, with family in Israel but not Europe, and with Israeli friends and classmates, as someone who attended Hebrew school, not Yiddish school, as a child, it seems at least as natural for me to have a cultural affinity for Israel as to have one for the villages of Belarus.

Israelophilia does not require Israeli ancestry any more than Francophilia requires Gallic ones. Nor must an Israelophile agree with all policies of the Israeli government, let alone know about them. The problem now is that those who dislike Israeli policies, etc., are unlikely to see in Israel anything other than a political problem; the same, strangely, is true of those who consider themselves Israel’s greatest supporters. At this rate, the entire world, outside of (some) Israelis, is against thinking of Israel as a normal country. You simply cannot discuss Israel without discussing its politics. Even if there were some all-encompassing, once-and-for-all debate, and the pro-Israeli debater won, and the whole world agreed that this little piece of land should be governed by Jews… is that really all we’re after?

Crossposted at WWPD
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10 Comments

  • “Your grandma may have made latkes, but that doesn’t make latkes more Jewish than the “Arab” food some other Jewish grandma slaved over day in and day out.”

    We are talking culinary heritage as part of cultural heritage. What grandma made and did not make matters.

    “DK writes, “I will not have my Jewish culture dictated to me my Zionists.” This seems irrelevant. I’m addressing Zionists, thus “Israelophilia vs. Zionism.” I’m not addressing all American Jews, but rather those who spend a lot of time thinking, writing, and arguing in favor of Israel. I’m addressing those who, politically, already know where they stand, not trying to convince anyone to be more or less pro-Israel than they happen to be at this moment.”

    Okay, that’s a fair point. I misunderstood.

    “For someone my age, with three out of four grandparents born in North America, with family in Israel but not Europe, and with Israeli friends and classmates, as someone who attended Hebrew school, not Yiddish school, as a child, it seems at least as natural for me to have a cultural affinity for Israel as to have one for the villages of Belarus.”

    First of all, I have found that generally, non-Zionists have been here longer than Zionists. As for Yiddish school, we almost all went to Hebrew school as kids, not Yiddish school. Hebrew won the language battle hands down a long time ago. However, your comment about Belarus isn’t accurate. Not all of us are interested in Yiddish only as it existed in Europe or deconstructed in Academia, but rather, how it existed here in the U.S. Many of our ancestors spoke Yiddish for longer (I’m talking late 19th, early 20th century, kids and even grandkids of immigrants) because Yiddish speaking Jews were still coming to the U.S., and Hebrew was not yet the uncontested victor.

    If you go to surviving Yiddish icons like the Knishery, they are popular (and have Gawker/Heeb net wars over them http://heebmagazine.com/blog/view/129 ) because they are private sector and alive, not museum pieces. This is not Belarus; this is downtown NYC. There are no comparable Israeli places, because there was no State of Israel 100 years ago.

  • I don’t know why I always get a headache from reading these posts, I think it’s just academia flashbacks. But History, she’s a harsh mistress, no?

    “Indeed, the Jewish case differs from the Irish one in the newness of Israel, but also in the non-existence of the towns and communities for which we are asked to be nostalgic.”

    Er… No again, not really. As with Poland, & Central Europe in the mid 20th century, the famines & wars of the 18th & 19th century did quite effectively depopulate Ireland. The drastic effects were present across the Irish landscape in forgotten & deserted towns, and in millions of missing people. Ireland has never again attained the population it once had before the last Great Famine of 1845-49. As wiki put it on their entry: “The immediate effect on Ireland was devastating, and its long-term effects proved immense, permanently changing Irish culture and tradition for generations.”

    But other than regretting the misapplied analogies, I really don’t see the huge point here Phoebe. I think the essence is captured here perhaps “Letting cultural Judaism remain shtetl Judaism, as do other Ashkenazi Diaspora Jews, is convenient for Zionists because it’s politically neutral.”

    But really that’s not much of an issue either. Everyone has their own unique perspective of ‘the mother/home/old country’. It varies with individual & family experience, reading, depth of knowledge of history, and of course legend & myth. This not only changes through time, it changes with each cultural milieu, which adds yet another new perspective. We see Israel not only thought the lens of America, but in the context of communities of Jewish refugees that survived the Holocaust to populate not only it, but many of our neighborhoods here in the US & Canada, (and South America for that matter). Is there something unusual, wrong, fallacious or reprehensible about this very natural inclination?

    And it’s perfectly silly to think that Israel is the only country for which politics defines it, or in which there are huge ‘political problems’ with it’s neighbors or the surrounding nation states. Again history is replete with examples. The Papal states for 100’s of years, indeed all of what we now know as Italy before 1870. Ditto for Germany for much of the same time period. Ditto for Turkey or the Ottoman Empire prior to WW1. And the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that. Europe was in turmoil for 100’s of years in the period prior WW1. Filled with all manner of ‘problematic’ states all presenting chronic political crises of one sort or another for decade upon decade. Or how about America, post WW11? Or America Today? You really can’t think of America anywhere today w/o thinking of politics, and what might have been.

    Really now. What was the point of all this confused nonsense? Just wondering… Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • There seems to be a bit of confusion here about what it means that Arab food is no less Jewish than Eastern European. My point is that, well before Israel, well before shtetls (?), there were Jews in the Middle East and North Africa. These communities stuck around in some cases until the founding of the state of Israel, in others (North Africa) until these countries gained their independence from European colonizers. The cuisines of these communities, more climate-appropriate I suppose than that of Eastern Europe, seem to have influenced Israeli cuisine, meaning that all “Arab” influence is not necessarily “Muslim,” but is in fact often from Arab Jews.

  • Phoebe! They’re ALL Jews! They’ve ALL contributed to the culture and continue to do so. Why is this so difficult to understand? Why should one should one take precedence over another? Geez, this may even have to do more with regional food preferences & food distribution networks than anything else. What’s wrong with that? Is heritage, tradition & culture just one path that we need to inscribe on people? Sweet reason kid! What about all the Asian Jews? They eat & like Asian foods!

    I think Jewish momma had it right on the first thread. Start with the basics, the Torah & literature. Let the rest take care of itself. My head still hurts from this. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Correction: The 5th sentence in my post above should now read: “Why should any one take precedence over another?” That should make it a bit more clear. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Thanks VJ.

    Torah, Food, Baby.

    1) do you know what the Torah portion is this week?
    2) have you cooked dinner for anybody?
    3) have a baby?

    Answer “yes” to all three, and I will leave you alone. Must be all three, two is not enough.

  • Why on earth would I want to be left alone by a Jewish Mother?! I confess. I’ve not done 2 out of 3 mentioned above. Have at it. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Two of the three are very easy. The baby is harder, but the first two make it easier. Cheers to you, too.

  • I hope this is not too OT, but let the word go forth: Fellow Jewish Mothers, thou shalt love thy daughter-in-law.

    Thou shalt kiss the ground she walketh upon.

    For it is all up to you, fellow Jewish Mothers.

    You are the woman of the hour. You have the power. You are the glue. You are the gatekeeper. You are the permission giver.

    Send not to ask why you have no grandchildren. It tolls for thee. It is thy fault.

    Kiss her. If she is within ten years of his age, in either direction, and of the tribe, and has no police record, kiss her. Do that. There. I had to say that.

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