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An Israel Birthday Party?

An Israel Birthday Party?

This week my almost 7-year-old daughter, Ellie –— eager to keep up with her friend who is having a Greek mythology-themed birthday party — decided she wants to have an Israel-themed birthday party.

Now I am not generally one for themed parties, mostly because of my utter lack of arts-and-crafts skills and my overall preference, as a busy mom, to eliminate unnecessarily time-consuming activities from my life.

But I perked right up when Ellie suggested the Israeli idea, because I know a lot about the Jewish state, having lived there, worked there, studied Hebrew, read a zillion books and copyedited countless Israel-related articles for The Jewish Week.

With the help of Behrman House’s Alef-Bet Quest software, I’ve been teaching Ellie Hebrew, and an Israel-themed party seemed like a good opportunity for her to show it off a little.

As vegetarians (OK, I cheat sometimes) hummus and falafel are already staples of our diet. And, perhaps most importantly, I know all the best spots in Queens for buying Israeli candy, toys, books and other goodies.

Of course, shortly after we settled on this excellent birthday idea, I started to worry about how her friends’ parents (most of them not Jewish) might react. Will they think it’s Zionist propaganda? Will an Israel theme make it too awkward to invite Sana, the Muslim classmate with whom Ellie’s gotten friendly?

I know it’s unavoidable, but it bums me out that one simply cannot think about Israel without immediately jumping to the Palestinian conflict. I hate the way the discourse, especially now in the wake of the Gaza war and the flotilla incident, is often so extreme: either you are entirely for or entirely against, with none of the nuances. While it has become fashionable to blame right-wing Israelis and the American Jewish establishment for stifling dissent, which many of them of course do, Israel’s most vocal detractors, who condemn no matter what and who always have excuses for (or simply refuse to acknowledge) Palestinian and Arab misconduct, are equally (if not more) to blame for this polarized and divisive state of affairs.

Yet again, I am veering off the “In the Mix” theme, but Israel is not entirely irrelevant since, as Ed Case of points out today on his blog, it’s certainly an issue interfaith families think about and, like many liberal Jews, are extremely ambivalent about.

And it’s sadly ironic to me that, this week, Ynet has an article by Rivkah Lubitch about new craziness on the part of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Perhaps inspired by Arizona’s new draconian immigration laws, the Chief Rabbinate has apparently issued positively Orwellian new directives enabling officials to check and revoke people’s Jewishness:

So, maybe you’re under the impression that a person who has a judgment from the rabbinic court that he’s Jewish might be exempt from further inquiry? You’re wrong. In effect, there is nothing that can you can provide that will prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that you are Jewish. The Marriage Registrar can always send you back to the rabbinic court for an additional hearing even if the matter was already examined in the past and there is a relevant court decision.

Moreover, according to the new directives (and also according to what I know from my experience on the ground) even if you didn’t go to register for marriage, and even if you didn’t go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn’t pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street – the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness, and revoke it, if they so will.

Way to go, rabbis! Israel’s isolated and embattled and the worldwide population of Jews is decreasing, so let’s harass those folks who have embraced Judaism and decided to convert. And let’s harass their children too!

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