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November 9, 2012

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PAGE 4A By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week Maybe I'm just jealous of the free offers being made to young Jews today, but part of me worries that down the road, these well- meaning programs and proposals--like trips to Israel, High Holy Day services, books for children and Shabbat meals--may have a negative effect on a generation that is being coddled and spoiled Jewishly. The fact is that college students and Jews in their 20s are being showered with a variety of opportunities of engagement from a Jewish community deeply concerned about its future and believing that th best way to attract the next generation is to provide benefits at no cost. A young woman in her 20s who is actively engaged in Jewish life in New York toldme she HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 9, 2012 Is 'Free'Judaism a good idea? enjoys going to synagogue but would never consider paying for membership orfor High Holiday seats. It's just an alien concept to her and she doesn't have to make the choice because free services are available. Surely free offers have appeal for the tar- geted audience, but is this a sign of strategic planning or desperation? Should limited reso.urces be focused on young people who have shown little interest in Jewish engagement rather than, say, parents who want very much for their children to have a day school education but are struggling mightily to meet increasing tuitions? And who is to make these major decisions? Have com- munal leaders and organizations relinquished their role to the philanthropists and private foundations with the funds to generate these Augie March's America By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News Scratch another item off my bucket list: I finally finished reading Saul Beliow's "The Adventures of Augie March." I could say 1 did it in about three weeks. but it really took almost 30 years. I tried reading Bellow's 600-page novel in college, but stumbled over what Critics and teachers assured me was its greatness: the narrator's exuberant, gushing, embrace-it-all prose, a hybrid of Yiddish-inflected street talk and self-taught classicism. Philip Roth, all low comedy, high intentions, renounce the "foreign" and even scandalous circumstances of his birth. He demands that America take him as he is. The spirit of Augie March lives on in Hispanic-American writers like Junot Diaz . and Gustav0 Arellano, who view the world not as outsiders trying to fit in, but as children of immigrants who--as products of the same pop culture, public education, rollercoaster economy, and everyday mishegas as you or I--don't exactly know what you mean when you refer to them as the "other." programs? There are no simple, across-the-board answers, but it's a discussion the community should be having. When we think of "free" in the American Jewish community, Birthright Israel is the first program to come to mind. For more than a decade now, this bold project, conceived by a few mega-donors and now supported as well by Jewish federations and the government of Israel, has brought Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel for 10 days free of charge. The results have been incredible. Not only have more than 350,000 diaspora young people participated, but studies show that the impact of the trip on their attitudes toward Israel and their Jewish identity have been significant and positive. An early skeptic, I now am a majorbeliever in the program, having gone on two trips myself and seen the transformation that takes place among these young people. But it doesn't have to be completely free. Some Birthright programs, like those for South American Jews, have established a practice where participants take the modest $250 deposit they put down for the trip and return it to the program when they come home. And that seems to be working just fine, with "a very high rate of participants" giving Letter from israel "I've seen the Mexican future 0fthis country, the coming Reconquista---and it's absolutely banal." writes Aurellano, in his memoir of back, according to a Birthright spokesperson. I was pleased to learn this week that North American participants now get an e-mail about a month after their return from Israel with directions on how to get the refund of their $250 deposit and asking if they would like to donate it, or a portion of it, back. Fifteen to 20 percent of alumni donate a portion or all of their deposit, the spokesperson said. If everyone donated the deposit, it would increase the coffers of the highly c6stly pro- gram by about $10 million a year. Perhaps more importantly, it would create a model for Jewish giving for young people who have conditioned to expect things for free, from pop music to news online. The Torah provides us with a paradigm here. When the Israelites were in the desert, God commanded that they each contribute a half shekel, in part for census keeping and itl part to maintain the mishkan, the portable sanctuary. The overarching message was that everyone is counted by being a contributor, even through a modest amount. It's a lesson that still applies. We need to recognize that the prevalent notion in our society is that cost equals value. In our daily lives as consumers we've come to Idea on page 19A Is Palestine history? and crystal-clear prose, I got, while Bellow left me scratching my head at sentences like this: "I have a feeling about the axial lines of life, with respect to which you must be straight or else your existence is merely clownery, hiding tragedy." Or exactly the opposite, I'd think, and put the book back on the unread books shelf, squeezed between Ulysses on one side and the complete works of Henry James on the other (it's a very sturdy shelf). This time, however, I decided to buckle up and go along for the ride. Augie, Bellow's narra- tor. is a teenag'er when the book begins, a poor kid raised by an abandoned single mother in Chicago in the depths of he Depression. The Jewish milieu is unmistakable although Juda- ism plays no role at all. The Jews in Augie, like the fish in the parable made famous by David Foster Wallace. are so deeply adapted to their Jewish setting that they barely experience it as a difference. This is reflected in the famous opening line--"I am an American, Chicago born'--in which .Bellow stakes a claim for the Jewish immigrant not as an outsider try- ing to fit in, but as an insider claiming what is rightfully his. From start to finish, the book is an asser- tion of this birthright. Augie isn't ambitious in the mold of some other famous Jewish literary heroes, from David Levinsky to the young Norman Podhoretz of"Making It." But he does have a sense of entitlement--not to fame or riches, but to fulfilling his destiny no less and no more than any other American. The shock of this assertion has rubbed off in the 60 yearssince the book was written--but as Bellos contemporary Delmore Schwartz wrote in an early review (quoted in the late Christopher Hitchens's introduction to the 50th anniversary edition): "For the first time in fiction, America's social mobility has been transformed into a spiritual energy which is not 6omed to flight, renunciation, exile, denunciation, the agoraized hyper-intelligence of Henry James. or the hysterical cheering of Walter Whitman." In other words, Auie refuses to apologize for having been born t(o immigrant stock or to growing up Mexican-American in southern California, Orange County. The immigrants you fear, he writes, are buying groceries, playing Xbox, shlepping their kids to soccer practice, and in many ways appreciating this country more than those who have been here for two generations or more are able to. "[T]he sad beauty of this country is that we forget," he writes. "We forget that dumb ethnics as- similate, that they share the goals and dreams of any Mayflower descendant. It takes a snot- nosed, presumptuous minority to kick the United States in its amnesiac britches every couple,of years...." White Americans can't accept this, and the last four years have been a national argument about what makes someone a"real" American and what dues must still be paid by those whose background doesn't fit a handful of neat categories. And it's not just Obama-- another outsider Chicago bootstrapper raised by a single morn--whose background worries voters. As a Mormon, Romney has also had to win over those who've decided what it means to be in the mainstream. The world of Augie March is an old story for American Jews, but it this morning's headlines for recent immigrants or the great- great-grandchildren of Africans brought to this country as slaves. Whenever a politician refers to the Midwest as the "heartland" or to small towns as the "real America," I want to scream. I've never understood what makes Main Street in Ottumwa any more American than Broad Street in Newark or Queens Bou- levard in Flushing. Nearly every American came here from somewhere else, stumbling down gangplanks or into airport runways in pursuit of possibility. Those who fear them claim to be defending some idea of "Americanism," when all they are doing is slamming Shut a door that was ope n for their parents or grandparents. Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC blog. !THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGK MANAGEMENT. I   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE    ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 41 Press Awards HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 pei year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for the rt of the U:S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish Nws, inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32739. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Stam Mike Etzkin Kim Fischer Society Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Richard Ries Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bornstein Terri Fine Ed Ziegler Production Department David Lehman David Gaudio Teri Marks Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosky Caroline Pope By Ira Sharkansky That is, has its various leaders lost the oppor- tunity to make their place name into a country? Most likely yes, but itwill not disappear soon from agendas of international politics. In other words, the idea will hang on, and provide stimulus to Palestinians and others feeling they have justice and history on their side. However, if the past is any guide--and it usually is--nothing will come of it. The story is well known, encapsuled in that epigram made famous by Abba Eban, that Pal- estinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The other side of the story is that they are darlings of the third world, and of much in the firstworld. It's politically correct--from Obama Washington across all of Europe and beyond to unimportant places--to say that they deserve a state, that the "two state solution" is the best alternative available, and that Israel has not done enough to bring it about. Iran plus a few others go beyond what is conventional and provide money and munitions to the most extreme Palestinian groups that reject all compromises with Israel. Indications are that things are not going well for the Palestinians. An insistence on explicit Israeli preconditions for beginning negotiations, like accepting the legitimacy of 1967 borders and the idea of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, has not gone well even with diplomats friendly to their cause. The United States and other western governments are urging--even warning--the Palestinian leadership not to venture into the United Nations to improve the status of Palestine. Individuals said to be part of the Palestinian leadership (a group whose amorphous char- acter is part of the Palestinian problem) are showing something close to panic by urging Jordan to re-occupy the West Bank. Not only would that absorb the Palestinian idea into something else, but it would require the very unlikely assent of Israel. Mahmoud Abbas gave'a rare interview in English to Israeli media in which he asserted that he would welcome an opportunity to visit his home town of Safed, but that he recognized the city as Israeli. As long as he was in charge, there would be no armed uprising. His path is that of politics, diplomacy, and passive resistance. That is an admirable posture, but must be viewed in the wider context. Abbas' term as president ended almost four years ago, Hamas and other extremists are in control of Gaza, and are projected to win any fair election in the West Bank. Also working against Palestine is the con- fusion tendfng toward chaos coming out of Arab spring. At the least, this weakens the Palestinian case in the short run. Diplomats of the world are more concerned with Syria, Libya, Egypt, and a few other places. At the worse, from the Palestinian perspec- tive, the results so far of Arab spring have given a lift to anti-western Islamic extremists who weaken enthusiasm for Palestine in western capitals. To be sure, there are those who say that Israel must forestall extremism by giving in to Palestinian demands. However, current and foreseeable Israeli governments are unlikely to cooperate. The Palestinian issue has all but disappeared from Israel's political campaign. Distrust and disbelief about the Palestinian cause is widespread in Israel. One sign of it is the 3-1 preference for Mitt Romney among Israelis polled on the American presidential contest. With all of the problems facing the prospect ofa Palestinian state, and the likelihood that its time has passed, the idea is deeply embedded in the conventional wisdom of the politically correct. This may only mean that the idea cannot die. The medical analogy of coma is appropriate. The patient is showing minimal signs of life, but without indications of death or recovery. Perhaps the best argument for keeping it alive is that it cannot die. There are perhaps 3-4 million Palestinians without a state framework divided between Gaza and the West Bank, plus uncounted others claiming refugee status unto the third and fourth generations. It is assumed that many want to come home, and some actu- ally say that, with some of them waving keys to homes that no longer exist. All this represents an anomaly, i.e., unusual but by no means unique in international poi i - tics. Close to the situation of Palestinians is that of the Kurds as well as numerous unhappy tribes in Africa.Other unhappy natiorial groups, e.g., Scots, Welsh, Basques, Catalonians, and a few others, benefit from living in countries that grant formal or informal kinds of autonomy, allow nationalists to express themselves, with less carnage than associated with Palestinians or Kurds. Israelis being Jews, and the land at issue being holy, complicate any assessment of Palestine's future in world politics. Those elements help to keep spirits alive. We can count on no end of political speeches, international travel by Palestinians claiming leadership, visits to Palestine by governmental leaders and aspiring activists, financial aid to Palestine out of proportion to aid given else- where, along with vocal support in favor of the two-state solution by one and all, including Israeli politicians who want to preserve their country's status within the orbit of the politi- cally correct. The idea of Palestine is too well connected to disappear. "Hanging around" is the best description for its status and prospects. It's here, won't disappear, but has shown no signs of accomplishing its advocates' aspira- tions. Ira Sharkansky is professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.