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Jews Are Not in “Exile,” But “Very Much at Home in America,” States Leonard Fein

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2008

Leonard Fein, a long time leader in Reform Judaism and the first editor of Moment magazine, challenges the classic Zionist proposition that Israel is the Jewish “homeland,” and that all Jews living outside of Israel are in “exile.”  
Writing in The Forward (Aug. 22, 2008), he declares that “Israel ... represents a radical change in the historic Jewish condition, that change is so profound that we tend to pay less attention to the radical changes the American Jewish experience involves. Those changes include both a much keener appreciation of pluralism than was available to Jews of an earlier time, as well as a quiet revolution in our sense of “home.”  
Fein writes that, “Most of us are very much at home in America. That is how it is, and I dare say, how it should be. It would be strange, indeed, if we sat in Los Angeles or Chicago or Teaneck and pined for Jerusalem, much less for Zichron Ya’akov (and still less for Ariel). It is America’s mountains and America’s rivers and America’s cities that frame our sense of place, and America’s politics, for all the turmoil they involve, that command our attention.”  
The notion of “exile” for those who advocate a prophetic and universal Judaism is, Fein points out, quite different from the traditional Zionist perspective: “To be a Jew is to know, fundamentally, that this world is not working the way it was meant to, or the way it is supposed to. It is badly broken. In that sense, we are all — all of us — in exile, whether we live in Jerusalem or in New York. Exile is not a place; it is an existential condition. And the meta-understanding that Jews bring to that condition is that we are implicated in the world’s repair. The most obvious challenge to such a formulation is, simply, ‘What’s so Jewish about that?’ After all, you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye or to be passionate about tikkun olam (repairing the world). Given our paltry numbers, that’s good news for both the Levy’s people and for our compoundly fractured world. The good news is that the challenge can be met.”

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