Letters to an American Jewish Friend: a Zionist's Polemic by Hillel Halkin

By Hillel Halkin

This passionate polemic addresses itself to the final word questions of Jewish future and announces the primacy of Israel because the locus of the Jewish destiny. Hillel Halkin is an American-born Jew who has forged his own and old lot with Israel. Corresponding with an imaginary American Jewish good friend who upholds the potential of a plausible Jewish lifestyles open air Israel, Halkin forcefully argues his case: Jewish background and Israeli heritage are strains within the strategy of converging; and any Jew who chooses, within the absence of extenuating situations, to not dwell in Israel is removal himself to the peripheries of the fight for Jewish survival and clear of the guts of Jewish future.

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There were readers who simply wanted me to know that I had made them think about something they had never thought about before. Some were quite eloquent. Many felt spoken to by me personally. Sometimes it was uncanny. Following the book’s publication, I went on two American lecture tours. My talks were mostly well attended. One took place at a university in the Midwest. During the question period, a student in the back rose to take issue with me. How, he asked, could I expect sophisticated American Jews like him to live in a backwater like Israel?

And yet the more I think of it, the more it seems to me that there was something dishonest about my silence that day. Because there is, or at least should be, an unavoidable tension in the relationship between an Israeli and a Diaspora Jew, a relationship which is ideally an adversary one since the Israeli is living in a community of faith which holds that it alone is the natural place for a Jew to live, and this tension can only be resolved by dealing with it directly. A Diaspora Jew and an Israeli can talk to each other as ordinary human beings about anything they wish—about the Palestinian question, or the high price of air travel, or the last works of Heidegger, or even the poetry of Yehuda Halevi—but if they are to talk to each other meaningfully as Jews, there is, alas,only one relevant question with which such a conversation can begin, which is the one that no one asked you this summer.

I feel very strongly about this. A Jew who questions Israel’s right to prosper in peace is simply a traitor to his people and deserves to be treated as such. No, what confused me was not Israel as a place for Jews in general, but as a place for me. ) that it took me years to try to sort them all out. And so I was hoping that this time, being older and hopefully wiser than the young graduate student I was then, moonily abroad for the first time in my life, I would see things in clearer focus. And here something curious happened.

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