Yesterday, for the nineteenth year running, in a concert in Central Park, American Orthodox Jewry and the Israeli right unapologetically laid claim to the Whole Land of Israel.
This year, the concert (which originated in anti-Oslo activism of the 1990’s) was sponsored by Young Israel Chovevei Zion and gave special thanks to the National Council of Young Israel. Yes, you read that right: Young Israel, the umbrella for over 150 mainstream Orthodox congregations in America, is up to its neck in Kahanists.
Every person I spoke to at the concert was in favor of a single state for Jews and believed that the Arabs belonged… elsewhere. Sometimes the attitude was practical (“the status quo is not going to work”), sometimes entitled (“it’s our country and we can do what we want with it”). But it was unchallenged. Students arriving from the parade wore school T-shirts with maps depicting a whole, unified Israel. Sure, schools like Ramaz and Heschel had avoided the issue by not drawing a map at all, but at the concert, Jewish one-staters, Transferists and pure Kahanists predominated. Some people even had big yellow stickers saying, “Kahane was Right.”
Mixed with this crypto-fascism were all the most innocent (if I hadn’t grown up in NCSY, I’d say kitschy) trappings of Modern Orthodox culture in America. To borrow a phrase from the acute observer of American Orthodoxy, Alan Brill, I was basically at a Modern Orthodox pride event. There were healthy helpings of ballpark fare—hamburgers, hotdogs and ices—all from the glatt kosher Mendy’s. Little boys belted out Bible verses in gloriously high-toned, prepubescent voices. (For the record, I like the Miami Boys Choir.) The usual sloganeers, modulating their message to fit current events, were all there—playing to an audience of enthusiasts: Danny Danon entreated the US government to free Jonathan Pollard and all Jews to support Israel unconditionally. Rabbi Haim Druckman called those who seek to destroy houses in the illegal Givat Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El “evildoers.” And Nahum Segal, among others, encouraged the purchase of all Israeli products—in Green Line Israel and beyond.
But those on stage seemed mild compared to some of the audience members. A young man who worked in finance wearing a Kach T-shirt called Kahane’s solution for Middle East peace “practical.” A couple of ideological college students said, “it would be great if we had another Kahane.” And a lanky young man who refused to give his name (but announced that he had studied for two years at the Telstone Yeshiva in Israel) proclaimed that he’d “rather give something to a Jew than to a raghead.”
The terribly sad thing was that there was no counterweight to this celebration of intolerance; no attempt was made to reclaim Zionism from that Telstone Yeshiva kid. The financier with the T-shirt said he hadn’t gotten a single “bad” reaction to the Jewish Defense League symbol so proudly displayed on his chest. As a man distributing outdated Kahanist literature at the Park’s entrance pointed out, for the right, dogmatic Kahanism is just as relevant today it was 25 years ago. I wish I could disagree.