Friday, December 18, 2009

Loyalties Divided?

I wrote this post, originally, on my smart phone. Once I got into the tiny-typing vibe, it went very smoothly and beyond all expectations it wound up being a rather lengthy post. One of my better ones, I feel, drawing in talmudic analysis, US law, and excellent use of Jefferson Starship lyrics.

Turns out the "save" feature does not work automatically on my phone, so I must now take the following steps, in order:

1. Rewrite the post.
2. Locate my hammer.
3. Purchase a new cell phone.

The reconstructed post will be much shorter, since most of the original passionate inspiration has faded and I am working from memory rather than notes.

The question is this: at many "official" American Jewish events, especially school and camp events, we open with the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Hatikvah; should we continue to do this?

One of the classic tropes of antisemitism is that Jews can never be real Americans, Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Russians, Greeks, Romans, Brits, etc. is that they hold a "secret loyalty" to another nation, the "Jewish nation", and therefore can never be fully trusted in our own. In opening all major Jewish events with Hatikvah, we provide some small measure of truth for this calumny to work with.

I understand, or think I understand, the underlying motivation. Israel is a strong part of American Jewish identity, especially after the wars of the 60's and 70's. Singing Hatikvah is a show of solidarity with and love for Israel. But singing a nation's anthem is more than that. Singing the anthem, to a flag no less, is a declaration of loyalty. Look at Olympic athletes; the medalists sing their own anthem but not the others. Many times this is probably because they only know their own anthem, but what about the international NBA players; surely they know the US anthem in addition to their own? What about Jewish athletes from anywhere around the world? It would be regarded as highly inappropriate for these athletes, as representatives of their nation, to sing the anthem of another country.

Imagine how this would play out in a presidential campaign. If it got out that a Jewish presidential candidate (suspend disbelief for the duration of this argument and pretend there could be such a thing) regularly sang the Israeli anthem, it would end the campaign! Don't believe me? Imagine if it were a Muslim candidate singing the anthem of Saudi Arabia or Iran.

I do not mean to suggest public opinion should be the guide for our actions, and creating traditions out of fear of possible antisemitism has already damaged our religion enough. But we are now at a point where we can, and should, consider this particular tradition and reevaluate its place in our culture. I love singing Hatikvah; it always fills me with a sense of pride. But isn't that part of the problem?

And now, if you will excuse me, in the spirit of holidays recently passed, I will emulate Judah Maccabee to my cell phone's Antiochus.

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