Yet the American Jewish community was evolving and in ways that often distanced it from Israel. In the seventies, American Jews answered Elie Wiesel's challenge to confront the Holocaust. Countless millions of dollars were donated to fund research on the Final Solution and to construct the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, astride the National Mall. Israel--its victories, its spirit--emboldened American Jews to embark on this introspective process, but for some of them, the Holocaust began replacing Israel as the centerpiece of Jewish identity.
A generation passed and new genocidal narratives--Cambodian, Serbian, Rwandan--emerged. No longer comfortable with defining themselves solely in tragic terms, younger Americans searched for a fresh source of self-affirmation. This was Tikkun Olam. Meaning, literally, "Repair the World," the concept derived from the medieval Kabbalistic idea of reconnecting with the divine light of Creation. But, in its twenty-first century American Jewish interpretation, Tikkun Olam became a call to rescue humanity. For liberal American Jews, especially, Tikkun Olam served as Judaism's most compelling commandment, almost a religion in itself. Addressing synagogues, non-Jewish politicians dependably mentioned the term and mangled it into Tekan Oleem and Tik Konolum. And like the Holocaust before it, Tikkun Olam tended to sideline Israel as the focal point of American Jewish purpose. How can we donate to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, liberal Jews increasingly asked, when children went hungry in Honduras?Speaking personally, I know that hunger in Honduras has always been top of mind with me.
Well, maybe not with me, but in Canada the Tikkun Olam/hunger in Honduras trope certainly resonates with, say, this organization.
The fact is that, for certain Jews, saving the world in general makes one feel a whole lot better than embracing Israel in particular (because Israel has tanks, an army and an air force, and, generally speaking, people on the left don't much care for the military and its deployment, powerlessness and victimhood being emblematic of virtuousness for this crowd).