An Open Letter to American (Orthodox) Jewry

The sermons that I heard (or didn't fall asleep to) mentioned Katrina a lot, but rabbis were eerily silent on the topic of the Disengagement. I find this a little disturbing, because all throughout the holidays we pray for the joy and peace of Israel.

Orit Arfa

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First, I'd like to thank you, America, for being a wonderful host to me after the terrible Disengagement. It was nice to spend time with my family in sunny Los Angeles, relax with manicures and pedicures, and zone out to the latest TV shows. I was able to gather new strength, gain new perspectives, and clarify my mission to go back to Israel and change a country.

However, it was less fun to go to shul on the High Holidays at my folks' Modern Orthodox synagogue. Services were terribly boring. But what really annoyed me was that no one talked about Gush Katif. The sermons that I heard (or didn't fall asleep to) mentioned Katrina a lot, but rabbis were eerily silent on the topic of the Disengagement. I find this a little disturbing, because all throughout the holidays we pray for the joy and peace of Israel; yet, while thousands of Israelis are in a state of suffering, uncertainty and confusion, no one seems to care, even though the liturgy expresses otherwise.

It was also interesting that on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, when we're supposed to reflect rigorously on the state of our soul, no one really talked about the fate-altering Disengagement. This certainly should have been a hot topic on the Day of Atonement, but again, it was easily evaded, if it was even on anyone's minds. And still, we prayed - all day - for righteousness, honesty and peace of mind - personal and national.

But, in America at least, Judaism is not about the Jewish people anymore. Judaism is about having a nice life and wearing nice outfits to shul, where you can network with equally smart, successful and well-dressed people. It's about saying morning and evening prayers because it feels holy and idealistic, and, hey, everyone wants to feel good about themselves.

For many American Jews, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur seemed all about how to continue living a nice, suburban life. The Torah might as well be a Tony Robbins self-help book, because it outlines great techniques for living, sprinkled with a few historic traditions and ethical codes.

I realized, during my nice stay with you, that you say you care, but deep down, I don't think you really do. You say you love Israel and that you are Zionists, but I don't think you really are. You see, Judaism is not about nationalism to you. Judaism is not about a people living free, independent and strong in their homeland; it's about having a nice house, a good parnasa, and a way of life that's safe and comfortable.

That's why many of you (and there are exceptions), didn't really like talking about the Disengagement. That's why some of you were even happy that it occurred, and that America was appeased, because God forbid, your generous host - your real nation -- would be mad at you otherwise. As soon as you have to take a stand or interrupt your lifestyle, you retreat to your prayer books and everyday say words like:

"Blessed are You, HaShem, Who redeems Israel, Who gathers the dispersed of Israel, Who loves righteousness and judgment, Who breaks His enemies and humbles wanton sinners, Who builds Jerusalem, Who sprouts the rays of redemption, Who restores His Presence to Zion."

These are supposed to be your values, but are they? Do you mean these prayers? Do you want these blessings? No, you do not. Because if you did, you'd be taking a lot more risks for Israel than you are now. You'd seriously consider - and what a thought! - fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the country. You'd save some money, pick-up your family, and take part in realizing your prayers - the ingathering of the exiles, the building of Jerusalem, the restoration of Zion - no matter how difficult it will be.

Or maybe the flaws are in the prayers and the Diaspora Jews who penned them long ago, because it's easy to absolve all responsibility to HaShem and just say, "HaShem restores Zion, HaShem breaks His enemies, I don't have to do a thing!" But HaShem once said, through his prophet Isaiah, "Of what are your great many sacrifices to me? I am full of the burnt-offerings and the fat of fed beasts." Prayers are considered the modern-day substitute for animal sacrifices, and HaShem's sick of them. He doesn't want your new moon and Shabbat invocations - HaShem calls them "iniquity." He says that you can pray all you want, but he won't answer them.

HaShem wants us to do what's right and to seek justice - thus says Isaiah.

But Torah is not about doing what's right anymore, is it? It's about making enough money to send kids to Jewish day schools, so that one day, they could also have a big house and two cars in the same neighborhood and send their kids to the same school and shul, and so on and so forth, forever.

And when Israel is at war with her neighbors, and her people are dying, they'll continue to send their kids to Jewish day schools, and say the same prayers in the same shul, and maybe they'll send some money to Israel, but they'll be glad they are in their beloved America. When Judaism is too difficult, why put yourself on the line? Why risk your life or your lifestyle? Why shed blood? After all, it's only a religion.

And I wouldn't want you to risk your life for a religion. But it's not a religion we're talking about. It's about a nation - the Jewish nation and its people - me, you, your spouse, your kids, your parents. It's about fighting for what is right and pursing justice. But that doesn't seem to be too important these days.

So, farewell America. I had a good time. You're a good friend, you can be there for me in difficult times, but I have to catch a plane and start finding myself some justice.