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Expressing optimism despite the bumps
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Expressing optimism despite the bumps

Yehuda Kurtzer to discuss power, land, identity, decades after Six-Day War

Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer of the Shalom Hartman Institute said the Jewish community is being “pushed and pulled” in different directions as a result of the Six-Day War.
Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer of the Shalom Hartman Institute said the Jewish community is being “pushed and pulled” in different directions as a result of the Six-Day War.

As the 50th anniversary of Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War approaches in June, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America said its aftermath has profoundly affected the direction of the Jewish people with regard to “power, land, and God.”

For Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, the anniversary is more than simply marking the five decades since the conflict; it is about “the direction we are being pushed and pulled as a people as a result of the consequences of that war,” he said in a phone interview with NJJN. 

The Shalom Hartman Institute, with campuses in New York and Jerusalem, is a research and education center that is, according to its website, “deepening and elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world” and “redefining the conversation about Judaism in modernity, religious pluralism, Israeli democracy, Israel and world Jewry, and the relationship with other faith communities.”

Kurtzer will present “The 50th Anniversary of the Six-Day War: Exploring the Legacy of the Past and the Future of Modern Israel” at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater Thursday, April 20. The talk is part of the institute’s Jewish LIFE [Learning Is for Everyone] program — a project of the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon & Warren Counties; its affiliated synagogues; and the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater.

“I want to look at the choices ahead of us in 2017 in dealing with the consequences bigger than dealing with the land” — the significant result of the victory was Israel’s acquisition of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip — but rather those that revolve around “who the Jewish people want to be as a result of the Six-Day War,” Kurtzer said. 

There are tensions within the Jewish community over whether the current situation — Israel’s presence in areas captured in the Six-Day War and where there is a significant Palestinian population — should continue and become permanent or whether there should be put into place “a different axiom,” according to Kurtzer. 

“There are different kinds of axioms, and you have to know what those axioms look like.”

And while negotiations over the annexation of territory might sound like a political issue, Kurtzer said he believes that they are actually “more about how we view ourselves as a Jewish people and how we should be interacting with the rest of the world.”

He said in his talk he will address the question: “How do Jews see themselves in Israel and North America and elsewhere?” and “the changing dynamics of Jewish power that have nothing to do with the land.” 

There is also the question of what Israel owes the international community and what that community owes Israel.

“Part of the story of the creation of the State of Israel is that now Israel is part of the family of nations” and as such needs to balance its actions as it struggles to ensure its own safety while maintaining its status as a member of that family.

Kurtzer will also discuss how American Jews perceive Israel and can help at a time when “our relationship is not as intuitive as it once was.” After the Holocaust, Kurtzer said, there was a belief we were “one family” with an obligation to support one another. But now, he said, “we are not the same people, and our obligations to one another are not the same as when we were one family.” 

Yet Kurtzer thinks a rebuilding of the relationship between Diaspora Jews and those living in Israel is possible if we “remind people to use a different methodology, because we can’t take each other for granted…we’re not the same as we were 30 or 49 years ago.”

All in all, Kurtzer said, he is optimistic about Israel’s future because “the whole premise of Zionism is that the Jewish people can take their own destiny into their hands.” 

A“Pessimism is anti-Zionism.”

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