Hat tip to Jeffrey Goldberg and The Jewish Channel for bringing to our attention a series of scare-tactic commercials the Israeli government's Ministry of Absorption is running to encourage Israeli Jews in the U.S. to return home — before it’s too late.
By too late, I mean before they start dating clueless Americans (Jewish or otherwise) who don’t “understand” Israeli holidays like Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance, and before they start having children who call them “Daddy” instead of “Abba” and talk about Christmas instead of Chanukah.
To my delight, Goldberg, who can always be relied upon for an astute analysis but has not previously, to the best of my knowledge, had much to say about intermarriage, noted in his discussion of the Israeli government’s $790,000 ad campaign, that while his views are “complicated,” intermarriage “can also be understood as an opportunity.”
Here’s more of what he has to say:
I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads. I understand the impulse behind them: Israel wants as many of its citizens as possible to live in Israel. This is not an abnormal desire. But the way it is expressed, in wholly negative terms, is somewhat appalling. How about, "Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.'s"? Or, "It's always sunny in Israel"? Or, "Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you"?
These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the "Christmas" ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren't in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I'm not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that's for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)
The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don't mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.
I hope some American Jews put together a parody version highlighting the dangers of Americans making aliyah and producing bizarre offspring who call them “Ima,” cut in lines, and are ignorant about July 4 and Thanksgiving. (You could do two versions of this: the secular Israeli child who hates all things religious and the Orthodox Israeli child who hates all things secular). Bear in mind, I say this lovingly, as an Israphile who has lived in Israel and even hosted an Israel birthday party for my daughter (who occasionally, of her own volition, calls me "ima").
Another video waiting for some enterprising parody-maker: an ad encouraging Arab Israelis who’ve settled elsewhere to come home? (I won’t even get into the Palestinian “right of return” minefield here, but that might be an amusing parody as well.)
Also, while we’re sort of on the topic of Jews and Christmas (one of the Israeli commercials feature a tot who, when menorah-lighting Saba [Zayde] and Savta [Bubbe] ask via Skype what holiday it is, yells out “Christmas!”): I’ll be talking about the so-called December Dilemma this Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Come see me! The free event includes free food!