We Stand Divid­ed: The Rift Between Amer­i­can Jews and Israel

  • Review
By – August 19, 2019

What will it take to rec­on­cile Israeli and Amer­i­can Jews? How should our think­ing evolve so that this trou­bled mar­riage” can not only be saved, but once again thrive? 70 years after the found­ing of Israel — achieved with over­whelm­ing sup­port from the Amer­i­can Jews — rela­tions between the two groups is at an all-time low.

Daniel Gordis bold­ly attacks these ques­tions with unusu­al verve and deep knowl­edge. As he delib­er­ate­ly uncov­ers lay­er after lay­er of the issues and explains each one with clar­i­ty and patience, we begin to see how the rift occurred and why the caus­es of it res­onate so ful­ly today. Gordis, Amer­i­can born and raised, has lived and worked in Israel for decades and so is the per­fect indi­vid­ual to take us on this exis­ten­tial journey.

Through his lucid prose we learn about the com­pet­ing views of Judaism envi­sioned by Amer­i­cans and Israelis, the two largest Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in the world. Are the Jews a nation, a peo­ple, a reli­gion? Are Amer­i­can Jews in exile? What is their rela­tion­ship to the con­cept of Dias­po­ra? Is Zion­ism the den­i­gra­tion of the exile or a rev­o­lu­tion against exile?

Gordis posits in this aca­d­e­m­ic yet acces­si­ble book that the rela­tion­ship between Amer­i­can and Israeli Jews had enmi­ty at the out­set. He tells us that the very def­i­n­i­tion of Zion­ism is the recon­sti­tu­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple as a nation in its home­land, noth­ing less than the nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ment of the Jew­ish peo­ple. But doesn’t this put Amer­i­can Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time, par­tic­u­lar­ly when they open­ly declare their wish to stay exact­ly where they are? He shows us that ever since polit­i­cal Zion­ism was cre­at­ed in 1897, the rela­tion­ship between Israeli and Amer­i­can Jews has been com­pli­cat­ed and tense, sub­ject to mis­un­der­stand­ing on even the most fun­da­men­tal level.

To say that Gordis knows his top­ic and is well-qual­i­fied to write this insight­ful book is a vast under­state­ment. Twice a win­ner of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, he is senior vice pres­i­dent of Shalem Col­lege in Jerusalem, Israel’s first lib­er­al arts col­lege; a reg­u­lar colum­nist for the Jerusalem Post; and the author of sev­er­al books on polit­i­cal activ­i­ty in Israel.

Unlike oth­er books about Israel, though, We Stand Divid­ed does not focus on the country’s han­dling of the Pales­tin­ian con­flict or its atti­tude toward non-Ortho­dox Judaism; nor does he blame these prob­lems for the schism. The cause of the rup­ture is not what Israel does,” he tells us, it’s what Israel is,” point­ing out that because 85% of the Jew­ish world lives in Amer­i­ca and Israel, the fate of Judaism lies firm­ly in their hands.

The book attempts to craft a blue­print to help insure the future of the Jews. Though Israeli and Amer­i­can Jews see the threats and oppor­tu­ni­ties they face dif­fer­ent­ly, Gordis demon­strates that heal­ing the breach depends on under­stand­ing how and why the two groups grap­ple in their own way with issues and shape their fun­da­men­tal views of democ­ra­cy and moral com­mit­ment. It is only through under­stand­ing each oth­er that the way for­ward will become clear.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

Discussion Questions