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Lost: Last Shreds of Sanity in the Prime Minister’s Office

September 7th, 2009by Gershom Gorenberg · 10 Comments · Politics and Policy

Gershom Gorenberg

So Aunt Yardena from Rehovot skypes her nephew Jason in Boston.

“Jason,” she says, “why don’t you come visit? We’d all love to see you. The last time you came was before three years.”

“Three years ago,” he corrects her. “I wish I could. Get in some wind-surfing, see the whole family. But college is running around 100K a year these days, and Mom and Dad are still sitting shiva for their Madoff money.”

“Why should you pay for it? You want to be – how do you say frier in English, sweetie? There’s ads in the papers here. And on Youtube. From the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Jewish Agency. Young Jews are being lost to assimilation. Call us and give us their names, and we’ll bring them to Israel.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about this,” Jason says, a little hurt. “You know, I’ve been in Israel seven times. I go to the egalitarian minyan at Hillel every Shabbat, and I helped organize the Breaking the Silence exhibition on campus. I even have a name that begins with J. I’m not really assimilating.”

“They are really talking about intermarriage, that you shouldn’t marry the wrong person, you know, sweety.”

“Aunt Yardena, Americans don’t get married at 20. And the last three girls I – well, anyway, they were all Jewish.”

“Sweetie, so for once take out a girl who isn’t Jewish. Then I can call and give your name and we can all go to Eilat together.”

“I don’t know. Well, there’s Lisa down the hall. She’s a Wiccan, I think. This week, anyway.”

A couple of weeks later, at an undisclosed location, Jason is woken up by a phone playing Wiccan chants. So is the phone’s owner. “It’s for you,” she tells Jason, a little surprised. “There’s no caller ID.”

“Jason,” says a deep, guttural voice on the other end, “Lisa is a strategic threat to the state of Israel. Like the water crisis, or the Iranian bomb.  Meet me tomorrow evening in front of Harvard Book Store and I will give you your ticket to Israel.”

“Wait a sec,” Jason says. “How’d you get this number? What’s your name? How will I recognize you?”

“We don’t reveal our sources. Or our names. I can only tell you that I have a Canadian passport. That’s because, emm, I am a Canadian. And I will recognize you.”

OK, I admit that most of this isn’t straight reporting, but the YouTube ad is real, as is the fact that the video is cosponsored by the Prime Minister’s Office, just like the ad on the front page of Ha’aretz on Sunday, with “Lost” posters for Pablo Cohen and Natalie Weber and other fictional young Diaspora Jews.

According to Ha’aretz,

The head of the campaign, Motti Scharf, compared assimilation to the critical water shortage. “Even though this is an existential problem, the public in Israel is displaying apathy towards it because the process is slow and not dramatic, out of sight,” he said. “The time has come to put the issue on the table.”

By “assimilation,” apparently, the organizers mean intermarriage. Scharf, to his credit, only labeled this “an existential problem” (a term regularly used for the Iranian bomb) and not “a second Holocaust” (another term regularly used for everything from a Swedish newspaper article to the Iranian bomb). But watch that YouTube ad. Notice the train tracks at the beginning, and the sad flute music. Subtle, huh?

I have nothing against Jews marrying Jews. I did it, and so did my wife. But I don’t really think that who Jason dates in Boston is the business of the prime minister of Israel. If extra cash is lying around the till at the Finance Ministry, they could use it, say, for schools here (including Arab schools that are even more poorly funded than Jewish schools. The pupils, unlike Jason, are Israeli citizens). I also suspect that the average assimilating American or Australian Jew will not feel more attached to the Jewish people after finding out that an organization in Israel has received her name as engaging in Un-Jewish Activities.

But, then, this is just part of a modern trend. Once people educated their own kids, and supported their own elderly parents. Fortunately, modern state-backed institutions now help out (well, not with educating kids in Israel). So another former family function has just been institutionalized. Instead of mothers having to hassle their sons for dating the wrong girl, the State of Israel will do it for them. That’s what creating our own state was all about.

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mo-ha-med // Sep 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

    The ‘Lost’ advertisement is unbelievable! I just read that Masa removed a link to this campaign from their website…
    The implicit accusation that those who make the ‘wrong’ life choice are immature children incapable of making their own decisions and ought to find their photos on a milk carton is quite insulting… But calling them an ‘existential problem’ sounds akin to a treason accusation.

    I am also shocked – do pardon my former naivete – to realise that Israel sees itself as the State of Jews more than the State of Israelis — your comment on underfunded Arab Israeli schools is extremely well put.
    I guess I knew it but never saw it as bluntly as I have now…

  • 2 Joel Katz // Sep 8, 2009 at 3:12 am

    Haviv Rettig Gur (jpost.com) offers up this conclusion on the ‘disconnect’ between Aunt Yardena and Jason:

    “Speak to the heads of Masa and you’ll discover real bewilderment and resentment at being forbidden by unfathomably sensitive Americans to express some of their most intrinsic values as Jews. They are right.

    Speak to the Americans, whose existential crisis is indeed assimilation, but who understand this as a call to fashion new worlds of personal meaning and individualistic affiliation, and you’ll find real anger at the callous Israeli attempt to define who is “lost” and who is “found.” They’re right, too.”

    Joel Katz
    Religion and State in Israel

  • 3 g // Sep 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    HYSTERICAL!!! Really great post! definitely one to send the parents.

  • 4 S Brennan // Sep 9, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Gershom,

    Thanks you made me laugh….at least I think I was supposed to laugh?

  • 5 Reimond // Sep 9, 2009 at 2:49 am

    Given his interest in Breking da Silencio, he should marry Lisa, convert to wicca and they can cast spells on Israeli soldiers while they are throwing stones at them in Bilin. Better hope they dont cast a spell on Sapir College, and then its gets returned to the Palestinians

  • 6 Adamchik // Sep 9, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Gives a new dimension to the phrase, “Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.”

  • 7 Natalie // Sep 10, 2009 at 12:07 am

    A more apt campaign would be to send diaspora Jews to the Palestinian territories, so they can see first hand what is being done in their name.

  • 8 dave // Sep 10, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Well, this is all part of the fallout from Ariel Sharon’s premature demise. Say what you will about his past, by the time he became PM (and had no one’s job he wanted to take) he started behaving responsibly and doing a masterful performance at what is a thankless job. We are still suffering from the vacuum left by his demise. He should still be in power, instead we have this unholy alliance between Netanyahu and the far right showing us that indeed, their idea of the role of government in a democracy is much different than ours.

  • 9 Gunnar // Sep 10, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Josh Feldman is doing just fine. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/thehotstoneleague/2009833923_is_feldman_joining_the_cy_youn.html

  • 10 VA // Oct 5, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Haviv Rettig Gur (jpost.com) offers up this conclusion on the ‘disconnect’ between Aunt Yardena and Jason:
    “Speak to the heads of Masa and you’ll discover real bewilderment and resentment at being forbidden by unfathomably sensitive Americans to express some of their most intrinsic values as Jews. They are right.
    Speak to the Americans, whose existential crisis is indeed assimilation, but who understand this as a call to fashion new worlds of personal meaning and individualistic affiliation, and you’ll find real anger at the callous Israeli attempt to define who is “lost” and who is “found.” They’re right, too.”
    Joel Katz
    Religion and State in Israel

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