Danny Gordis is a gifted writer, and he frequently hits the nail on the head. In his recent debate with Jay Michaelson (see here and here), I’m with Danny. But in his column today, I think Danny shows his hand to be simply another suit of the fatalism of which he accuses Jay.

Danny closes his column thus:

In today’s individualistic America, the drama of the rebirth of the Jewish people creates no goose bumps and evokes no sense of duty or obligation. Add the issue of Palestinian suffering, and Israel seems worse than irrelevant – it’s actually a source of shame.

We’re not terribly alarmed, but we should be. These young American Jews, after all, will soon control the coffers of the federations, and will sit on the boards of synagogues. Their generation will either strengthen or abandon AIPAC, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). They will be the ones allocating funding to schools, setting curricula and communal priorities.

“Who is wise?” asks the Talmud. “He who can see what is about to happen.” Deep down, we know what’s about to happen. A gaping chasm threatens the American-Israeli relationship, and we’re basically doing nothing. Try to list the serious Jewish educational enterprises addressing this challenge, asking how American Jewish education can counter America’s unfettered individualism, or what Israel could do to help.

Can you name one? Neither can I.

Now this is in keeping with the general theme of Danny’s writing for over ten years, which essentially boils down to the message: Diaspora Judaism is doomed to failure. All Jews should make aliyah.

Wake me up at three in the morning, and I would probably agree. As my wife would tell you, I can be given to pessimism, and I read the same writing on the wall as Danny Gordis. Thick forms of cultural expression have a hard time surviving in America, and Morris Allen’s observation about the relative popularity of lifecycle rituals over calendar rituals  fits with my own.

And yet, Danny gives no credit to those of us who actually are laboring here in galut to help the next generation of Jews write the story of their lives in dialogue with the enduring story of the Jewish people. He collapses into a heap of fatalistic loathing at the end of his column–I would even call it anger. And in this he violates the same principle for which he takes Jay Michaelson to task: he loses hope, he becomes bitter. “Better that you should lose a lot of money on Hillel’s account,” stated the founder of Rabbinic Judaism, “than that Hillel should lose his temper.”

Danny, I can tell you there is an army of Jewish professionals in the diaspora–too small, underfunded, undersupported, underappreciated, but dedicated, creative, passionate, and hardworking–who have dedicated their lives to not only asking, but answering “how American Jewish education can counter America’s unfettered individualism, or what Israel could do to help.” We do it in all variety of ways–in academic settings, on trips, in conversations. Most important, we do it through relationships–not by lobbing verbal bombs from Emek Refaim, but by opening our homes, sharing our lives, and giving them our hearts. And Danny, we send them to you in the form of students who study in Israel–not just Birthright, but before, during and after college. When we send them to you, we need you to inspire them to a love of Jewsh life–the way you used to do with your amazing rhetorical gifts. What we don’t need is for you to fill them with fear and bile, and turn them off to your message (as several of my students who have heard you recently have described).

Danny, your column today was over the line, and you would do well to apologize to all the people whose contributions you slighted. In the meantime, we’ll read Jonathan Sacks.

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