Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Breach in the Dam

Ariel Beery has a thought-provoking op-ed in the JPost about well-intentioned "New Jews" who attempt to save the world while ignoring the needs in thier own community. Hmm.
A quote:
The good news is, then, that Jewish education works. A generation of young Jews around the world have internalized the message that "being Jewish" means fixing the world in its totality, without regard to race, religion or nationality.

The bad news for the Jewish state and people is that this generation of American Jews have taken from their education that acting Jewish means doing justice without regard to nationality or peoplehood.

While it feels good to support all peoples and all victims, the nature of the world in which we live in - where Hizbullah amassed thousands of rockets and attacked Israel; where Iran edges towards nuclear weapons; and where over a third of Israel's Jews, and, surprisingly, 20 percent of New York Jews live under or close to the poverty line - makes an ethics of universalism simply irresponsible at the moment.

It is at times like these that we who care about our families need remember the inherent obligation of peoplehood: Justice means providing full support to those whom you live with, those who would die for you, and the people whom you came from, no matter what the world thinks.

I agree insofar as Beery invokes the adage, you take care of your family first, then others. This recent war with Hizbulllah crystallized for me the need, more than any other recent Israeli crisis did, for Diaspora Jews to provide help in whatever form possible - financially, emotionally, spiritually- to our battered, courageous family in Israel.
But it gets complicated when you negotiate Beery's argument in light of another JPost article, about the anniversary of the staging of A Flag is Born, a 1946 Zionist play starring Marlon Brando portraying a Holocaust survivor who criticizes American Jewry's response to the Holocaust and makes the case for Jewish statehood. More inspiring was the activism and social sensitivity exemplified by the play's creator, Ben Hecht:

The Baltimore engagement was the most controversial. A planned performance at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. was relocated to Baltimore's Maryland Theater because Hecht would not permit his works to be staged at theaters, such as the National, which barred African-Americans. But Hecht discovered, just before the Baltimore showing, that the Maryland Theater restricted blacks to the balcony, which bigots nicknamed "nigger heaven." The Bergson Group and the NAACP then teamed up against the theater management, with the NAACP threatening to picket and a Bergson official announcing he would bring two black friends to sit with him at the play. The management gave in, and African-Americans attending the opening night performance on February 12, 1947 -Lincoln's Birthday- sat wherever they chose. Exuberant NAACP leaders hailed the "tradition-shattering victory" and used it facilitate the desegregation of other Baltimore theaters in the years to follow.

A Flag is Born was a triumph. It influenced American public opinion by reaching large audiences with an inspiring message about the plight of Holocaust survivors and the need for a Jewish state. It raised enough funds to purchase a ship - renamed the S.S. Ben Hecht- that tried to bring 600 survivors to Palestine, and focused international attention on the refugees when it was intercepted by the British. And Flag scored an important victory over racial segregation in Baltimore, demonstrating that, as Hecht put it, "to fight injustice to one group of human beings affords protection to every other group."

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