Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Coming to America

I love hearing the reactions of Israelis who visit Jewish communities in the Diaspora. I am always interested to hear whether they can see anything of value in them, or not (personally I think Israel has much to learn from Diaspora communities, but too often Israelis are blinded to this by the ideas that Diaspora Jews are weak/the past/not as knowledgable etc.).
One recent example appears in NRG. Moshe Tur-Paz, active in Bnei Akiva and a Ph.d candidate at the Hebrew U, visits NY for the first time and is amazed to find a city where Kosher restaurants are easier to find than in Tel Aviv, where Orthodox Jews are an important part of the city's tapestry, and where the synagogues (or at least the one he came across...) have a certain grandeur -- even if they are, gevalt, non-Orthodox. Most of all, he is surprised to find that Americans are not atheists: "It's hard to believe, but they believe. In G-d. It's even on their dollar bill."
All of this leads him to a sudden crisis of faith, so to speak: is there perhaps something to the idea of separation of church and state after all?
But I'd like to return to Tur-Paz's amazement at the idea that Americans believe. That America is atheist, and has no interest at all in religion, is an extremely common misconception in Israel. It's one of the important reasons, I think, why secular Israelis are so anti-religion, and so, well, secular. They think they're being 'American,' cool, modern, and simply don't understand how religious so much of America really is.

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