May 23, 2006

Jewish or Israeli?

I was reading an interesting interview in the Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew edition). The interview was with Eitan Wertheimer. Eitan runs the family business named Iskar, most famous for having been sold a week or so ago to Warren Buffet for the grand total of 4 billion dollars. Many have wanted to interview the Wertheimer family members since the acquisition, but it seems they are very private people and initially gave a few interviews but have since stopped (they even rejected Forbes according to the article).

The impression I had from the interview is that the Wertheimer family is not religious (though they are descendants of Rashi). However they are also not anti-religious and in the interview he said many things that show his sensitivity to religion in different ways. He said one very interesting thing in the interview I wanted to comment on, as he said something that was similar to a topic I have written about previously.

The interviewer asked Mr. Wertheimer if during business dealing abroad does his Jewish identity, rather than just his Israeli identity, become more dominant?

Mr. Wertheimer's response was (my translation from Hebrew),"In Israel I generally think Israeli. Abroad - generally Jewish. When I am in Israel there is less meaning to being Jewish. Specifically when I am abroad I find myself putting on a kippa and visiting shuls.. etc.."

Something about Israel makes Israelis feel that just being here makes them feel Jewish and they do not need to act Jewish or perform the requiremensts of a Jew. I am Israeli - that is most important and supercedes yet includes Jewishness, and therefore i do not need to show my jewishness in any other way, as it is already manifested in my being Israeli.

This is a major factor in the argument of those who reject Zionism, specifically secular Zionism. Aside from the specific problems that upset them at the founding and early years of the State, what upsets them greatly is the fact that Jews no longer need to perform mitzvos or act Jewish in order to feel part of the Jewish nation. They can live in Israel and that makes them feel Jewish. Just the fact that when an Israeli leaves Israel and feels the natural need to show his Judaism in ways he normally does not proves the fact that Israel has replaced the concept and community of Judaism.

Thuis argument does have a point and if one pays attention he will see very commonly that Israelis travelling abroad (in jewish communities around the world - not necessarily backpacking in Thailand or Singapore) will act more "Jewish" than they do back at home.

It is an interesting phenomenon


  1. that is interesting. and common. you see it here, lots of israeli tourists.

  2. very... are there lots down under?

  3. When I was in high school on my first trip to Israel, this was the part that bothered me the most. Our guides had us doing activities like interviewing Israelis to ask them about things like this - all of them basically said that they were better Jews than we were because they simply lived in Israel.

    And we were the ones who were observant!

  4. I have heard that from many Israelis as well. I never realized that this is what they meant..

  5. Great post. I was not familiar with this concept.

  6. j.b. - thanks - it is an interesting penomenon

  7. yep, there are heaps of israeli's who visit here as well as shlichim (for various organisations and schools or on sherut leumi) and just those who have decided to move.

    i think after the army the thing to do is to travel... so new zealand, australia and places like india and thailand. there are organisations who run things like shabbat dinners and a hostel for israeli backpackers and once when i was in sydney i felt like it could have been israel! i heard ivrit everywhere!

    (and nice blog header :)

  8. my cousin who finished the army just left on a long trip - he was planning on NZ and Australia, like you said, but he and his buddies decided to change to North America - hiking through US and Canada ending in Alaska..

  9. the chazon ish says that someone who owns land in israel automatically has a peice of the world to come regardless of how religious or irreligious he is.

  10. anonymous - that is a strong and powerful statement. Do you know the source for it? I would like to see it and see the context in which he said it..


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