When I was an honorary Jew after my book Shabbes Goy:A Catholic Boyhood came out in 2002 I was often invited to synagogues to speak.I was always at home there because I never felt the urge to condescend to the audience.
Sadly many Catholics treat Jews as “rarae aves”, rare birds entirely different deserving of a special status because of the Holocaust. Luckily because of a historical accident,that of growing up with many Jews I never felt the need to descend to such depths.This always made my encounters rich, honest and often funny.
My remarks usually dealt with the world of the 40s and 50s which I cohabited with Jewish people. at that time the injustice to Palestinians never arose as it was not germane to my memoir.
However in question periods the audience often asked me about contemporary events.remember this was right after 9/11.My stock answer was this—and remember I was speaking in a synagogue where I deeply respected Torah Judaism: You are no longer a powerless minority. Many of you have achieved success and respect here in Canada.You should never allow any group (e.g. Muslims) to be treated like you were in the bad,old days. This will require some sensitivity because of the Middle East but this is a Toarh command to look after the sojourners among you.
I was never afraid to gently needle them with lines like, “You know this is the promised land,not Israel.All of you have decided not to make aliyah to the “Jewish State.”
Basically they really were not Zionists.They were the true descendants of the Haskala, the Jewish enlightenment of the 19th century.You chose assimilation in Western secular culture—and it worked! You have achieved great success and added immeasurably to the Canadian culture while remaining Jewish.
Now,of course, I knew all about the “guilt merchants” of Israel who came regularly to North America and tried, often quite successfully, to shame Jews here into ponying up money for Israel.This was largely an ugly Likud dirty trick and it made many Jews reluctant Zionists, supporting everything Israel did. Now of course that consensus has been broken.Young people nourished on liberal, democratic values based on human rights, have fled the synagogue and for good reasons are quite critical of modern day Israel.
That brilliant Jewish American writer Philip Roth has made a career of ridiculing the bourgeois Judaism of North America. In his hilarious novel, Operation Shylock, (1988) Roth writes about Jews of the haskala who decided to remain here and not go to Israel. Try not to laugh when reading this:
What does owning Jerusalem, of all places, have to do with being Jews in 1988? Jerusalem is by now the worst thing that could possibly have happened to us. Last year in Jerusalem! Next year in Warsaw! Next year in Bucharest! Next year in Vilna and Cracow! Look, I know people call Diasporism a revolutionary idea, but it’s not a revolution that I’m proposing, it’s a retroversion, a turning back, the very thing Zionism itself once was. You go back to the crossing point and cross back the other way. Zionism went back too far, that’s what went wrong with Zionism. Zionism went back to the crossing point of the dispersion—Diasporism goes back to the crossing point of Zionism.”