DUAL LOYALTY (AGAIN)

Auerbach, Jerold S.

DUAL LOYALTY CAGAIN Jerold S. Auerbach The specter of dual loyalty haunted generations of immigrants to the United States. Yet for Jews, unlike other immigrants, a special compromise of loyalties...

...Any American, in the more recent words of columnist Joseph Alsop in an open letter to an Israeli friend, "must always put American interests first...
...As their eerie cadences rose through a suddenly hushed city, everything froze except their sound...
...if it is, it is by no means certain that all American Jews would, or should, choose as Americans rather than as Jews...
...Although that relationship defined normality within the personal, professional, and geographical worlds that I inhabited, it did not take very much exposure to another culture to realize how essentially pathological it truly was...
...identities as Americans and as Jews and to confront the possibility of a conflict between them...
...Yet questions were asked, and the need to provide assurances never was entirely assuaged...
...it stole identity from those to whom it provided opportunity most bountifully...
...It seemed, when I stepped outside, as though every car had been abandoned in place...
...rather of American Jews...
...I had never taken that claim with any seriousness...
...We were all admonished not to get involved in public activities, lest another Philistine named McCarthy smite us down...
...no oath can certify its presence...
...The events were appalling enough...
...Astonished, because it made us confront the difference in our perspectives...
...It was the only other country in the world that made any competing claim upon my allegiance...
...Israel not only offered the past...
...Personal success, not participation, was the panacea for social ills...
...Enlightenment and emancipation meant nothing less...
...Dahab, a desert oasis halfway down the east coast of the Sinai peninsula...
...patriotism...
...Dual loyalty offers the rights and responsibilities of citizenship without eliminating the ultimate possibility of alternate loyalties for Jews who desire them...
...The birth of Israel, even in our overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood, generated no public enthusiasm...
...Would we, it suddenly became clear, respond as Americans who were free to leave, or as Jews who were obligated to stay...
...American Jews, he wrote, "suffer from no political schizophrenia...
...Those who denied the duality might yet confront a tragedy in which others imposed upon them what they could not yet themselves accept...
...back in Jerusalem, our family walked through the Old City to the Western Wall, one of our favorite observation (but not participation) places...
...The soothing rhythms of the silent generation muted all trans-adolescent concerns...
...The visit was too brief for anything but a myriad of conventional responses, from exhilaration to discomfort with a consuming desire to return to Jerusalem, whose spiritual magic was enveloping...
...I was an Anglo-Saxon in a Mediterranean culture, a middle-class suburban academic in a relatively proletarian country, a civil libertarian exposed to a constant military presence and ubiquitous personal searches...
...We were astonished to receive letters from American friends, alarmed by the deteriorating situation, who urged us to consider a safe haven outside the country until the crisis subsided...
...Molded by the forms of Diaspora Jewry, I could hardly repudiate them without denying everything that I had become and much of what I valued...
...It seemed pleasant, distant, and anticlimactic until a tier of eight torches, high overhead, adjacent to the Wall, were ignited, bathing the plaza in their glow...
...If, as Michael J. Arlen has written in Passage to Ararat, Armenians in the United States have lived "in somebody else's country," so, too, have American Jews...
...Yet nothing evokes identity more sharply than immersion in another country and culture...
...I regained my past and, with it, an identification that exposed buried layers of myself as a product of that past...
...I felt as marginal there as I always had here...
...Neither could erase the other...
...If Jewishness meant only religious ritual (associated with either incomprehensible Old World forms or dehydrated Diaspora expressions) or financial donations as, sadly, too often it did then the loss hardly was unbearable...
...It contained a small settlement, from whose barbed-wire enclosure we were excluded...
...It cannot be imposed...
...Multiple loyalty need not mean inconsistency or duality...
...one of two recent ancestors who had left the Pale for Palestine in the 19th century...
...It does not require much sophistication to appreciate the ideological and psychological motives behind these assurances, which lie at the core of the state itself and its meaning for those who have chosen to live there...
...Israel enabled me to confront a personal and historical past which the terms of accommodation to American life, as they had been transmitted to me, had obliterated...
...Most did not believe that the "agonizing choice" between the United States and Israel would ever be necessary...
...Consequently America, I came belatedly to understand, demanded more of me than I was willing to give in return for less of itself than I could any longer accept...
...The first moment of palpable connection came on the first anniversary of the Yom Kippur war...
...The last evening of Chanukah...
...I saw through American eyes and responded within a framework of American expectations...
...But if the United States was someone else's country, Israel certainly did not seem to be mine...
...There was, I learned, a paternal great-great-grandmother buried in Safed...
...Time, in an article last spring on American Jews and Israel, reported "some concern about a heightened sense of 'double identity.' " But double identity need not mean dual loyalty, a concept that struck American Jews as "offensive and wrong...
...Yet, in Israel, neither could I escape the palpable sense of sharing in the collective experience of a people a people who, for the first time, I could acknowledge as mine...
...Yet for Jews, unlike other immigrants, a special compromise of loyalties was possible...
...Our loyalty to America can never be questioned...
...That recognition demanded something from Israelis...
...where allegiance was nourished, not assaulted...
...Bonds of allegiance deteriorated...
...Confronting identical situations, I discovered widely divergent responses...
...Yet, in ways that would have seemed incomprehensible to me at the outset, the overwhelming legacy of the year was connection and, ultimately, loyalty...
...Joseph M. Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee when the state of Israel was established, declared as axiomatic the proposition that "there can be no political identification of Jews outside of Palestine with whatever government may there be instituted...
...He is the author of UNEQUAL JUSTICE: LAWYERS AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN MODERN AMERICA, which was published by Oxford University Press, 1976...
...For the first time it was possible to confront the beginning of loyalty and its duality...
...Israel was not, of course, any other culture...
...Mine, in Israel, enabled me to feel a part of, rather than apart from, a people...
...It was easy enough to be Jewish and American if Jewishness was religious rather than nationalistic in content...
...The historical circumstances which stripped so much of the nationalistic content from American Zionism in order to pacify the Jewish establishment and the Christian majority have long since vanished...
...It is possible to live elsewhere...
...At a different ideological level I was dismayed by the pell-mell efforts of so many Israelis to emulate American technological affluence and consumer materialism usually at the cost, there as here, of non-material values that are not easily reconcilable with wealth, growth, and progress...
...We listened together...
...A family history that vanished mysteriously in a Rumanian shtetl two generations earlier emerged for contemplation and comprehension...
...At 11 in the morning sirens sounded their first call to a moment of remembrance...
...Loyalty had deteriorated from an honorable relationship between citizen and state to a suspicious token of conformity to reactionary and repressive values...
...Family members who had disappeared, reappeared, literally and metaphorically...
...feelings of estrangement intensified...
...Loyalty, the commitment of my self, was the least that I could offer in return...
...We were sufficiently apprehensive to gather a small emergency food supply, heeding the wry warning of friends that in case of war, men would rush to their army units while women would empty the supermarkets...
...Now, within barely more than two months in a foreign country, the luxury of detachment was obliterated and the barrier between "me" and "we" had begun to crumble...
...Confine Jewish identity to religious affiliation and the problem of dual loyalty would disappear...
...Multiple loyalties, Louis D. Brandeis insisted, were objectionable only if they were inconsistent, but there was "no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry...
...emotions are more difficult to analyze than reasons...
...Spontaneously everyone sang together, then lingered for a while to savor the experience, and disappeared into the night...
...But its potential demand upon Diaspora Jews was far more substantial: recognition that dual loyalty might still be an inescapable dimension, and dilemma, of their own consciousness...
...To be an American Jew was implicitly to deny that proposition...
...Americans from Vietnam, Israelis from Egypt and Syria...
...During my entire adult life in the United States loyalty had been poisoned first by the anti-communist fanaticism of the 'Fifties and then by the Vietnam war and law-and-order lawlessness of the late 'Sixties...
...zigzagging trenches and a few bunkers near the water's edge...
...Unwittingly (perhaps), I had managed to remove myself from the primary institutions that defined Jewish life in America...
...Yet promises exacted their price, and assimilation was costly, in ways that can never be measured precisely, to those who experienced it...
...But it required more diffidence than even I possessed not to take it personally, not to be profoundly affected by the assurance that my presence mattered...
...What meaning, if any, lies in that distinction...
...In the end, Israel immersed me in the two inescapable and formative experiences of Jewish history: dispersion and return...
...Graduate training and early career strivings the ultimate soporifics lulled me deep into the enveloping folds of privatism...
...For most American Jews it doubtlessly did disappear, if not in the first generation then surely by the second...
...Yet the feeling (combined with the wish...
...I experienced those rewards in a variety of circumstances, but none more compellingly than from Israelis who communicated the importance of my presence to them...
...It was inconceivable to Brandeis, writing in 1915, that American and Jewish interests might conflict...
...They did not understand how we could stay...
...It is allegiance and commitment, freely pledged not recited or extracted...
...Jerusalem came to feel more like home than any place material or spiritual that I have ever inhabited...
...It occurred to me that since 1941, when I was five years old, the United States had been at war for approximately 15 out of 33 years, yet never once had I felt personally endangered or, after 1945, personally committed...
...Nomenclature is revealing: we speak of Irish Americans or Mexican Americans, but not of Jewish Americans...
...Loyalty taps a complex set of emotions and values...
...That task was facilitated, however inadvertently, by the Jewish institutions to which I had been exposed synagogues and philanthropic bureaucracies...
...As I watched him I felt transformed from spectator at his vigil to participant in ours...
...A solitary man stood by his open car door, head bowed...
...I grew up believing that it was the duty of American Jews to be good Americans, not to return to Zion (really or metaphorically...
...In my family the opportunity to cast four consecutive votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt marked the final rite of passage to full-fledged Americanism...
...He spent the 1974-75 academic year in Israel as a Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright lecturer aT Tel Aviv University...
...it mended many of the frayed threads between past and present...
...This position continues to define the boundaries of legitimacy for American Jewish existence...
...Would we say to Israeli friends, or to ourselves, that Israel was too dangerous for us but safe enough for them...
...The tacit agreement between my parents, my rabbi, and me permitted the synagogue to vanish after I turned 13...
...These were inchoate impressions until Chanukah...
...My sharpest memory from that interlude is the televised return of prisoners of war...
...The Old World existed only to escape from...
...It was both a surprise and a relief to be in a setting in which loyalty was healthy, not suspect...
...No one had ever told me that it made a difference whether I remained in the United States or left, largely because it did not matter...
...So, too, has the euphoria of the melting pot...
...There was a substantially less severe mood than Orthodox dominance there usually imposes...
...Early in the morning preceding the first day, 35 assorted Americans straggled on a bus for a five-day Sinai trip: adults, children, and yeshiva students...
...It is nourished, or destroyed, by experiences which every individual calibrates on some internal standard of devotion, obligation, and identification...
...I cannot identify the alchemy that produced this comprehension...
...The experience (and tension) of participation was inexorably heightened during the prolonged crisis that preceded the Syrian and Egyptian renewal of the UN peacekeeping force in November of 1974...
...an escape from restrictive particularism to the expansive uni-versalism of liberal values...
...Not that Israel couldn't live quite well without me...
...I awoke during the Tet offensive in 1968 to the discovery that loyalty was a problem, my problem...
...And a relationship with the history of a people, obliterated by the promise of rebirth in America, was tentatively cultivated...
...At every level of daily contact with other people language, dress, manners, custom I encountered abundant evidence of my foreign-ness...
...As a historian I was familiar with dual loyalty as a problem for immigrants as an accusation against them, if not as an expression of their own complicated feelings...
...Connections with a family history, severed by migration, death, or indifference, were tenuously established...
...It had, after all, done so for all of its life and mine without evident hardship...
...A year and a half separated wish from fulfillment...
...An undercurrent of anxiety connects these reassurances, for the very existence of Israel, to say nothing of its centrality in the modern Jewish consciousness, compels American Jews to confront in novel ways their The "agonizing choice" may never be necessary...
...One month after Richard Nixon's triumphant re-election, I went to Israel for the first time...
...But it became clear in retrospect that they had coaxed me from isolation to identification...
...and some palm trees...
...America was benefactor but it was also, as- one Jewish immigrant described it, thief...
...If, in 1974, it was not safe to be a Jew in Israel, was it (in the ultimate meaning of the term) safer to be a Jew somewhere else...
...Until recently these were, for me, academic issues...
...including the granddaughter of my grandfather's sister, both of whom my father had located in Israel during his attempt to discover family survivors of the Holocaust...
...There is no more effective incubator of commitment and loyalty...
...their reciprocal relationship was too old and too deep for Jews either in Israel or in the Diaspora successfully to deny their enduring strength...
...We lived in Forest Hills, which was not, to my knowledge, a hotbed of Zionism (or anything, except tennis...
...The perquisites of marginality, I discovered, were not easily relinquished...
...It was not apparent to me at the time how all of these experiences had coalesced or, indeed, that they had...
...but the possibility should be entertained that it may...
...But it was remote from my personal experience, even as the grandson of Eastern European immigrants...
...Children found playmates, friends located each other, and people jostled gently (for Israelis) for position near the Wall when the final candles were lit by the Sephardi chief rabbi...
...If the New Deal defined the limits of political orthodoxy, a synagogue Bar Mitzvah defined the varieties of religious experience...
...Even fervent Zionists were reassured that Zionism was consistent with Jerold S. Auerbach teaches American history at Wellesley College...
...Some time after sunset we reached our destination for the night...
...we were together...
...heightened empathy for Jewish variations elsewhere...
...Yet what began as their celebration instantaneously became one for all of us, as they doubtlessly intended that it should...
...These reassurances rested upon a more basic, and starkly simple, proposition which had never persuaded me either historically or emotionally: the Jewish people as a nation and Israel as their homeland...
...Whatever the internal autobiographical sources of my American marginality might have been, the external social and political context had made it virtually impossible for me to exist in anything but an adversary relationship to my country...
...Our fourth-floor terrace overlooked one of the busiest intersections in residential Jerusalem, where the din of traffic except on Shabbat was unremitting...
...we did not imagine that we could leave...
...Parents can easily anticipate the difficulties of a long journey for children, but it is far more difficult for an assimilated American Jew to confront his own discomfort in the presence of yeshiva buchers...
...I might be labeled an American Jew, but I certainly defined myself as a Jewish American...
...It was dark and cold and uncomfortable as we sorted through sleeping bags and backpacks...
...Indeed, it rapidly became the problem during the cascading public horrors of the late 'Sixties and early 'Seventies...
...I felt as antagonistic toward soldiers from my own country as I felt connected to soldiers from another country...
...Indisputably, America was the promised land for generations of Jewish immigrants and their progeny, who reaped the benefits of its promises...
...that one's presence makes a difference is deeply sustaining...
...Beyond any doubt, however, it occurred...
...By the end of the year, when Israeli friends assured us that we would return, because it was home, I understood them...
...Although Israel made my Americanness more salient (as would any foreign country), it also invited me to be Jewish in a setting where the comfort and discomfort, the rewards and risks of that identification were uniquely experienced...
...But in Israel, where I (or anyone) was one of three million participants in what was, despite all the internal divisions, an intense community existence, it did seem to make a difference...
...To experience the subtleties of its holy and historical power was to make contact with some of the deepest mysteries, richest memories, and most demanding obligations that define Jewish identity...
...But 12 hours on a bus were sufficient to numb the strongest of antipathies, and to plunge all of the passengers deep into their own private reveries...
...nothing moved during the long moment of silence...
...More purposefully than the rest of us, and with a different set of priorities, the yeshiva students prepared their chonukiot for the lighting of the first candle...
...For in at least one meaning of home, which they understood, I could not leave at all...
...No test can measure its depth...
...if it is, it is by no means certain that all American Jews would, or should, choose as Americans rather than as Jews...
...It was a bewildering and disturbing experience, which made me realize for the first time how deeply my own national loyalty had been corroded...
...The "agonizing choice" may never be necessary...
...We were not forced to choose, but I would like to believe that we would have remained...
...but I doubt whether any other place can live as fully in me...
...I felt the gathering psychological momentum of that experience: If I was, however inadvertently, assuming some of the risks of Jewishness, then why not savor its rewards...
...Indeed, the gain was considerable...
...if it were, they have no doubt that they would act as Americans...
...Politically, I was uncomfortable with prevailing government policies regarding the occupied territories and with the pervasive social stratification within Israeli society...
...it comes from within...
...Worse yet was the government manipulation of patriotism, flag, and law-and-order that invariably accompanied them...
...we sang together...
...Now the question is not whether a new amalgam is possible, but whether the loss of an alternative identity is desirable...
...Israel was foreign, and for two months after my arrival I was overwhelmingly conscious of myself as an American abroad...
...Years later I was rediscovered by various federations and organizations, but since I had never permitted my commitment to anything else to be measured by money, I declined to make an exception then...

Vol. 1 • April 1976 • No. 9


 
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