Saturday, August 07, 2010

A self-absorbed faux-interview? Two can play at this game

I guess it's been a slow summer. All my usual Internet foes are spending their time talking to themselves. First Dennis Prager re-imagined himself as the most anal-retentive and longwinded high school principal since "Breakfast Club", and now Tzvi Fishman has posted a fake interview with himself. Sigh.

I could fisk Tzvi's latest exercise in masturbation (can you say irony?), but maybe I'll just try to do what the best columnists seem to be doing these days: manipulate it so it's all about me instead.
Today we have the distinctive pleasure of interviewing INN's always fun and controversial, all-star blogger, Tzvi Fishman Friar Yid.
Hi, nice to be here. You know, self, I'm so honored you chose to interview me. I'm a huge fan of your work. Sorry, I don't mean to gush.
No problem, we're pretty pro-Gush around here as it is. Anyway, Q: Can you please tell us why you are so gung-ho on living in Israel? You write about it all the time.
Well, honestly, I think that Israel is a perfectly fine place to live, if that's what you want to do. Certainly there's something very inspiring about the Israeli national mythos about re-creating the historic Jewish homeland, connecting the Judaism of the Torah to its Biblical roots in the land, and fostering a collective pride at Israel's various accomplishments. On the other hand, it's kind of hard to be 100% behind a country that still doesn't have a constitution, hasn't figured out its border issues (granted, not exclusively its fault) and which has a bad habit of disenfranchising significant swaths of its people and neighbors when it's politically expedient-- be they Israeli Arabs, Settlers, Haredim, or the non-Orthodox.
Q: There are many Jews in the world, and they don’t all live in Israel.
Q: There are those who say you harp on the subject too much.
I suppose, but it's only because it's frustrating to see Israel have so much potential and see it piss it away. Not unlike my feelings about the United States, actually-- though I'm clearly voting with my feet as to which society I prefer.
Q: How did you become so in love with Israel?
Actually I considered myself an anti-Zionist for a number of years in high school (which happened to coincide with the second Intifada). I had one history teacher who taught us about the Middle East whose bias was pretty significantly pro-Palestinian, and it was easy to peruse some Neturei Karta stuff online and start getting on my high horse about how Jews were supposed to be better than their oppressors and so on.

But the reality is that as I started reading more, I began to realize that Zionism wasn't monolithic and most Israelis-- including various cousins I had connected with over email-- didn't hate Palestinians and were really just regular people who wanted to be able to live a decent life. Realizing that Israelis-- and Palestinians-- were flesh and blood folks, not stereotypes, was what really allowed me to flip my view on Israel and Zionism and finally come to admire the good things about the country and its history, as well as the really impressive personalities who contributed to its founding.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Actually from what little I've read about Jewish end-times-scenarios, it sounds like the in-gathering of the exiles will just "happen" when Messiah comes, suggesting it's not really going to be something people choose but something that the Messiah does, like magically making the Temple reappear, or getting 14 million professional arguers to accept him as their Supreme Leader.
Q: A Jew can keep the commandments anywhere. Why should he come to Israel?
Given that plenty of pious rabbis throughout the centuries could have and didn't? I don't see any particular reason why. Unless you're a big fan of oversize rocks or ridiculously salty water.
Q: [Being a light unto the nations] sounds very grandiose. How does that come to expression in your day-to-day life?
The biggest mitzvah my parents taught me was to be kind, or at least conscientious, to others. In everyday practice, I try to implement this by not actively being an asshole. I find the greatest expression of my values (which can be summed up in the Yiddishism of menschlikeit) is in teaching and helping young people.
Q: You paint a rosy picture, but what about all of the real problems in Israel...Where do they fit in with your great love for the Land?
This is one area where Tzvi and I actually agree. Every country has problems. As with America, I believe that Israel's problems are not a reason to give up on it. Rather, they're a reason to give it continued support and encourage it to improve itself.

I understand why some Israelis think American Jews forfeit their right to stay involved with it given that they don't live there. And there's no question that I am American, not Israeli, and that being Israeli comes with its own rights and responsibilities that I do not share as a non-citizen. But when Israel claims the mantle of "the Jewish state," when it appeals to a shared Jewish history or invokes the Jewish homeland, it necessarily is speaking to, and for, all Jews. And that means it is representing me, too. Israel wants financial and moral support from Jews abroad, and I understand that. These are not totally unreasonable requests to ask from "family." But a family relationship has to come from a place of mutual benefit, and sometimes it's hard to tell whether Israel still cares what its Diaspora counterparts think-- or if Israelis understand how hard and painful that rejection, that negation of connection, can be.

It seems to me that the real way towards getting some much-needed Jewish unity is by helping American and Israeli Jews remember that they're all real people instead of just the sum of each other's stereotypes.

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