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The Myth of the "New Jew" By: Myles Kantor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Pride based on ignorance and shame is a hollow thing.

Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox's Walk on Water is currently in theaters. The plot deals with a Mossad agent assigned to kill a mass-murdering Nazi and the relationship he develops with the Nazi's grandchildren.

 

Fox describes the movie as an attempt to “understand the psyche of Israeli men”:

 

As far as I see it, the whole development of the Israeli psyche, or Israeli masculinity, has a lot to do with the Holocaust. Because you know our grandparents came from the Holocaust with this terrible, terrible tragedy and trauma and wanted to start a new kind of world, a new kind of Jew, who would be this tough warrior. And these men, these warriors, did amazing things for Israel, for the Jewish people. [1]

 

This idea of Israelis as new Jews is prevalent among Israelis and non-Israelis alike. Rabbi Naftoli Melamed writes about growing up in America after the Holocaust, “I heard claims that the State of Israel was peopled by the ‘New Jew,’ one who would hold his head high, and could never be pushed around by evil people.” [2]

 

Likewise, Israeli sociologist Oz Almog's study The Sabra (a Sabra is a native Israeli) is subtitled, “The Creation of the New Jew.”[3] Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua observes:

 

The concept of a “New Jew” has been a part of the Zionist enterprise since its inception and became one of the fundamentals of Zionist rhetoric. The idea was that the Land and State of Israel would engender a “New Jew,” one different from the Diaspora Jew, who for the purpose of this discussion will be called the “Old Jew”...The “New Jew” would bear arms and defend himself and would never have to be dependent on the mercy of non-Jewish authorities. He would be proud and direct and clear about his identity. [4]

 

In fact, Israel's contemporary warriors are old Jews, extending an ancient heritage that includes Shimon Bar-Kokhba, the Maccabees, Samson, and Shimon and Levi. Hebrew poet Chaim Bialik was mindful of this heritage when he expressed his outrage after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom:

...the heirs
 Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
 Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees!
 The seed of saints, the scions of the lions! [5]

 

Kishinev was a desecration of the atzilut (nobility) intertwined with Yahadut (Judaism).

 

Israeli novelist Sami Michael attributes the new Jew idea to a leftist attitude:

 

I think it's the worst thing to say, “We've created a new Jew.” I think that this attitude stems directly from Communism, from Marxism, from the ideology of Arab nationalism — all of which tried to create a new person. First of all, it's a lie. As soon as one is speaking about a new Jew, they're referring to the proud Jewish fighter, the hero—Samson. It's so old, so ancient.... [6]

 

The beautiful abundance of strength in Israel is not a transformation of Jewish identity but its techiya (renewal).

 

Appreciation of Israelis’ quintessential Jewishness isn't an interpretive trifle. Non-Israeli Jews who view Israelis as new Jews create a psychological separation that makes empathy impossible. They can admire Israelis but not identify with them. [7]

 

Implicit in this misperception is a view of Judaism as a deficient tradition that required reinvention. A new Jew means an inferior old one.

That's a poor way to view one's lineage.

 

 

ENDNOTES:

 

1. BBC World, “Film Focus: Walk on Water,” March 8, 2005, http://www.bbcworld.com/content/talkingmovies_archive_10_2005.asp?pageid=665&co_pageid=6.

2. Rabbi Naftoli Melamed, “The Holocaust, the State of Israel, and The Expulsion,” Israel National News, May 10, 2005, http://www.israelnn.com/article.php3?id=5100.

3. Oz Almog, The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew (Berkeley: 2000).

4. A.B. Yehoshua, “Beyond the New Jew,” The Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2005, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1115705336674.

5. Chaim Bialik, “In the City of Slaughter,” http://www.wzo.org.il/en/resources/view.asp?id=1523.

6. F.M. Black, “Sami Michael: ‘Jews Are the Barometer of Civilization’,” The Forward, November 29, 2002, http://www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.11.29/arts2.html. David Ben-Gurion, for instance, called Lenin “a great man” and “giant of thought” and praised his “iron will, which would not spare a human life, [which would shed] the blood of babes and innocents in the name of the revolution.” Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground, 1886-1948 (New York: 1987), pp. 234-235.

7. Put Hebraically, they create a kir (wall) instead of a kesher (connection).

Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and editor-at-large for Pureplay Press, which publishes books about Cuban history and culture. His e-mail address is myles.kantor@gmail.com.


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