That’s the title of an essay by Michael B. Oren that appeared in the latest issue of Azure Online. Oren manages to weave together Herzl, the First Zionist Congress, Emma Lazarus, Henrietta Szold, the Union of Reform Congregations, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Louis Brandeis, Michael Chabon and Adam Sandler’s character in last summer’s comedy blockbuster You Don’t Mess With the Zohan into an essay about the growing schism between Israel and the American diaspora in the much vaunted but mostly ill-defined post-Zionist era.
Oren provides a concise historical context as he describes the existential dilemma faced by many Jews in a world where America and Israel compete for the hearts and minds of the Jewish imagination. He talks about two other movie characters – Avner in Munich (2006) and Eyal in Walk on Water (2004), Israel’s highest grossing film ever.
[Both] are Mossad operatives who despair of the cyclical violence in their country and seek a way out. But while Eyal remains in Israel, Avner immigrates to Brooklynâ€”just like Zohan.
The decisions of Eyal on the one hand, and of Avner and Zohan on the other, represent far more than dramatic devices. Walk on Water was directed by an Israeli, Eytan Fox, while the other two films are products of American Jews. The choices made by their protagonists thus, to a great extent, reflect the gulf between Israeli and American Jewry over which community best guarantees Jewish survivalâ€”physical as well as spiritualâ€”in a precarious, secular age. Which polity, these misleadingly superficial films ask, constitutes the sole Jewish utopia, the State of Israel or the United States? Which is the real Promised Land?
That is the question. Historically, many places other than the holy land have competed for the imagination of the Jewish people. Arguably, many of the greatest accomplishments of the Jewish people happened outside the confines of our holy land. However, Israel has always been our touchstone – the one place that we always longed for and called home – the focus of our yearnings and prayer. Oren does a great job fleshing out these issues without resorting to judgmental polemics. Me? I’ve made my choice. I’m off to the Kotel in a minute for Shabbat services. What are Jew doing tonight?
Read Oren’s article and let us know what you think.
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