Speaker addresses Israel’s identity

Elizabeth Reinecke

“Territory, sovereignty and power — those are three issues that have never before been issues for the Jewish people,” said Dr. Daniel Levine, the director of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Melitz, Israel.
Levine spoke Tuesday at Hillel Jewish Student Center. Although his talk was called, “Perspectives on Peace in the Middle East,” it covered a wide range of topics — especially what it means to be Jewish in Israel as opposed to America, and the issues that Jews face as a majority in a sovereign country.
The small audience of 10 students and faculty members and the informal setting allowed many questions to be entertained throughout the discussion, like how being part of a majority affects Jewish identity.
Being in the minority, as Jews are in America, heightens awareness of the religion and culture, Levine said.
“You in Israel may have a lot of Jewish content (population), but little Jewish awareness,” he said. “But in America there is very much Jewish awareness but little Jewish content.”
Israel native Noa Saadi said that in America, Jews feel a greater obligation to make people aware of their religion. “It is not a pressure, but a need,” Saadi said. “We don’t have to be reminded that we are Jewish in Israel, because we are surrounded by Jews.”
Levine stressed that the Jewish people in Israel are now facing issues they have never before encountered.
“For 2,000 years, they were a people without sovereignty,” Levine explained. “The Jews, once a minority, are now the majority in Israel.”
Another issue most Israelis face is the obligation to serve in the army, Levine said. Military service is part of many people’s lives and can be an important part of their identities, he added.
Levine said he believed the army grew out of the will of the people. “We live in a democracy … it is the rule of the people.
“Of course, there are conscientious objectors to the Israeli army,” he continued. “But there are many things to do in the army without bearing arms,” he added, explaining that one could be a medic, for example.
But student Tzaporah Nyten pointed out that there are drawbacks to opposing military service. “There is discrimination (in) finding a job if they refuse a position,” she said.
Levine, who was born in Denver and grew up in New York City, moved to Israel as a student and stayed after marrying an Israeli woman.
After the discussion, he stayed to talk informally with several students. Levine will be in Minneapolis today and will travel to give lectures in Pittsburgh and Phoenix before returning to Israel.