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Are We Missing Israel’s Big Moment This Year?
Wed, 03/27/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Gil Troy
Gil Troy

For all the handwringing about Israel’s standing in the American Jewish community, the community is missing a major opportunity to celebrate Israel and reframe the conversation.

This is a year of big anniversaries — the 65th anniversary of Israel’s founding, the 100th anniversary of Menachem Begin’s birth and the 40th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s death. These are opportunities to learn about Israel in a non-partisan, non-political way. These are big moments to toast what remains one of the great miracles of the 20th century, the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Perhaps there’s a master plan to release a wave of community-wide celebrations that I missed. But with Israel’s birthday less than two months away, I fear there will be the usual dutiful parades and speeches, when this Big Moment requires much more.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Owen, Donna Reed’s daughter. Donna Reed was the Academy Award-winning, iconic, apple-cheeked, super-duper 1950s mom who starred in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that early television classic “The Donna Reed Show. In 1954, Reed starred in a 25-minute United Jewish Appeal fundraising movie with Robert Young, the iconic TV dad who starred in “Father Knows Best.”

The movie (, available on YouTube through the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, is schmaltzy, overdone, over-the-top — and utterly charming. It tells three vignettes that illustrate the times. One shows a wild North African teenager saved from a life of crime by a kindly jeweler who brings him to “the Joint,” the legendary Joint Distribution Committee. A second tells of a refugee doctor who settled into a small American town and joins the army as soon as he becomes a citizen. And my favorite stars Donna Reed as Deborah, a beautiful European refugee (with a perfect American accent), fleeing to Tel Aviv from her life (and great love) on a border kibbutz.

She hitches a ride with Uri, played by Forrest Tucker, who a decade later will be “Sarge” on “F-Troop.” She tells Uri that, having been fenced in during the Holocaust, she cannot bear being fenced in as a settler — they used the word in a positive context then. “Well, this fence keeps freedom in,” says Uri, the proletarian truck driver/philosopher. “It doesn’t want any trouble, just do whatever you like on your side, brother, but over here — keep off the grass!” And Uri worries about those so fearful of life’s challenges, that “All they have is fear, no good to live with fear. It’s like being dead, worse than dead.” With those words, Deborah says, melodramatically, “Worse than dead ... Stop the truck” — and returns to the kibbutz.

Robert Young then chimes in: “At 8.10 on a Tuesday morning on a settlement on the Israel frontier was Deborah’s big moment.” He explains: “Israel is filled with big moments because it’s a new land, where a million and a half citizens are working to build a new life. When you support the United Jewish Appeal you make it possible for the United Israel Appeal to help the people of Israel to build their democracy in a strategic world area. To help rush completion of new settlements, new housing for the homeless, the irrigation of wasteland acres, to help win out against neglected resources, shortages of food, the problems of immigrating a double population. Israel’s people who stand for freedom must not stand alone.”

We need programs that convey the miracle of Israel’s founding and the historic grandeur of Israel’s accomplishments. We should tap into the Jewish values, Jewish rituals, and Jewish dreams that come to life in Altneuland, the old-new Jewish state. And, perhaps, most important, we should take this opportunity to take Zionism personally, by describing what Israel means to us, what we, each of us, gets out of having a Jewish state, and how we hope to both improve Israel and use Israel to help resolve our own identity issues while fulfilling our dreams.

We should celebrate this historic accomplishment individually and collectively, sharing links like the Donna Reed movie to bring different aspects of Israeli history alive, at home and in large group celebrations. And we should figure out how to trigger more ideological conversations, with book clubs, with essay contests articulating our Zionist visions, with a full-scale Jewish community press triggering a broad, creative, intense, personal, ideological, conversation.

In 1952, Donna Reed, Robert Young, and other generous Hollywood spirits rejoiced in the Jewish people’s “Big Moment.” Six miraculous decades later, with an opportunity to honor the State of Israel and two of its founding leaders, one from the left, one from the right, the Jewish people need a little help appreciating just what a Big Moment it is. Are our communal organizations today up for the task? Are we?

Gil Troy is professor of history, McGill University, and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism,” recently was published by Oxford University Press.


Mary Owen, Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive

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Dear Mr. Troy,

I'm sorry you have not been informed of the Global Walk for Israel@65 called Walk the Land: Celebrate LIFE! ( in which 108 communities around the world have joined so far.
They are organizing community-wide (non-political, non-religious) Walks to celebrate the gifts that Israel has given to the world, based on the value that Israel places upon LIFE.

All participating communities have received large vinyl murals displaying many of Israel's contributions, and all walkers will receive pamphlets from the Israel Ministry of Diaspora Affairs highlighting Israel's accomplishments, as well as packets of seeds from Israel that will be planted across the globe- symbolic of LIFE.

Unfortunately Montreal did not reply to the request to join, but 7 other cities in Canada have joined the global celebration- as have cities as far as St. Petersburg, Zagreb, Paramaribo, Rome, Copenhagen, LaPaz, Bogota, Johannesburg, etc.
. A video contest for the best short video about How Israel Celebrates LIFE will award a trip to Israel as will a Sweepstakes for all registrants. More than 60 Jewish Federations In North America are participating.

Enjoy knowing the Israel@65 WILL BE actively celebrated as a global event this year!!

I like to be able to celebrate with you all those (to you) wonderful occasions, but I do have a request form you, and that is to remember in the same time ,what did that do to the Palestinian people. It has been, as you said 65 years, to you,you call it; The miracle. The Palestinians call it ;The Catastrophe ! Are you going to continue on those bases, or its time for this course to change, and we have a different dialogue about the reality of Israel, and the status Que. ? Or is it going to be, F.. the palestinians ,we achieved Miracles, we are the chosen, till the next time?

Why is everyone forgetting that when the UN established the very narrow borders for the land of Israel( a return to their ancient heritage land), the rest of the territory was to be for the Palestinian state. The Israelis celebrated and danced and sang in the streets. The Arab countries went to war!