“I don’t believe that all of world Jewry needs to make Aliyah which would just create another vulnerable ghetto.“
The Interviewee – William Bietsch (Born 1968), Born in Springfield, IL. I currently work on the Publicis Groupe Strategy and Growth Team and have worked in various capacities for over a decade in media and creative agencies.
My educational and career background also include language teaching and graphic design. My most recent MA was in Jewish Professional Studies which combined practical non-profit leadership studies in a Jewish framework as well as general topics on Jewish history, culture and religion. Also included in the course work was the role of Israel past, present and future through religious and secular philosophical viewpoints.
In your opinion, what importance, if any, does the existence of a Jewish state have to you personally and to Jewish people in general?
“I think it is necessary in order for the Jewish people to ‘have a seat’ at the table of nations. It is definitely an interesting and nuanced discussion, given that for long stretches of time, the Jews did not have a state and it was this lack of state that helped keep the communities together and reinforced the religion and cultural boundaries against incredible odds. I always think of the quote from Ahad Ha’am ‘More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.’
“Two additional points. I don’t believe that all of world Jewry needs to make Aliyah which would just create another vulnerable ghetto. I do think that Israel has an obligation to strive to be a ‘light unto the nations.’ Otherwise the argument for why it is so special I greatly diminished.”
Do you feel committed in some way to defend the future existence of Israel?
“Yes – both from outsiders wishing to destroy it, but also from Israel destroying itself.”
Do you affiliate yourself with a specific denomination in Judaism? What is your view regarding the dominance of the Orthodox denomination in Israel religious establishment?
“I am not really affiliated in the US, but when I was in Israel I would describe myself as ‘Masorti’ While I am not orthodox, religiously and spiritually I am drawn more to Sephardic shuls that tend to be Orthodox. Or even a Chabad type environment, with many caveats.
Regarding the Orthodox domination within Israel, it doesn’t make sense in a modern Jewish state to not have a better balance and more open society. The fact that Israelis go to Cyprus to get married is a perfect example of alienating Jews from their ‘birthright’ – and driving further wedges and resentment within Israeli society.
“I think that Orthodoxy definitely has an important role – it just needs to be balanced. Also, when I refer to Orthodox, I am not talking about some daily perversions or halakic acrobats to accommodate oppressive behavior, I refer to the writings and body of work we have to draw from for living and governing. The tradition of argument, counter argument and peripheral/minority opinions that have created a rich body of work and stood the test of time, culture and politics.“
Do you feel morally responsible for Israel’s actions (such as its management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)?
“Yes. Having worked for an NGO in the Gaza Strip in ‘99, ‘00 before the second intifada, I was able to see up close the problem being created for generations to come. There is a moral/humanitarian reason but also a very practical and political reason to somehow come to a working solution for the conflict. I was also able to spend time in the West Bank in the lead up to 2nd Intifada and the mindset was a very dangerous and determined one – by a population that feels very strangled by the military (often times their own people as well).
“What I did learn and see up close was the vast majority of people have the same concerns as any parent or child in the world: wanting the base of Maslow’s pyramid with a real opportunity for more. If someone has nothing to lose, they are the most dangerous type of person to deal with.”
In your opinion, what is the main thing Israelis fail to understand about the reality of being Jewish outside of Israel?
“Not really much of a revelation, but it is always interesting to see Israeli reactions to the various streams of Judaism in the US and how they look, feel and taste. It is usually very illuminating. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise and sometimes it just doesn’t compute for them.”
How would you describe Israel’s policy (formally and in practice) regarding its relationship with the Diaspora?
“I think Israel is in many ways still coming to terms with a new narrative and reality as a wealthy developed nation, shedding its previous chapter of nation-building and struggling. In this adjustment there is a bit of a schizophrenia and the new national narrative is yet to be arrived at. I think this explains so many of the contradictions large and small.
“Political leadership exploit this period of formation, but the average citizen I think is honestly grappling with what it means to live in and raise future generations in a modern Israel with the good and bad that comes with that.
“The often cited fact of being a ‘young country’ is well noted, at the same time, they are not evolving in a vacuum. There are plenty of countries and histories to learn from. A very long way of saying, I think this explains (and I felt this as well) – there is a one message of ‘Welcome home, we appreciate your help building up the country’ and at the same time, treatment that can range from indifference to outright rejection.”
In your opinion, does Israel have an obligation to defend and help Jewish communities in need?
“Yes, completely. Which is tied to my first answer.”
Have you ever been to Israel? if you have, can you summarize your impressions from Israel?
“I lived, worked and taught in Tel Aviv from 1999-2003 and consider my time there to have been overwhelmingly positive and I thank all my Israeli friends for helping me to see the country as it really is with all of its beauties, complexities and issues.
“I have travelled to Israel every year since 1996 except for 1998 when I chose to do a service project in Tanzania. My time in Israel also included teaching and working in the Gaza strip and touring extensively in the West Bank in 99-00.
“I also been a counselor for 2 Birthright trips and have been there as a participant in a special commemorating Herzl trip sponsored by AZM and a few other organizations. I have also studied twice in Jerusalem at the Pardes program – both the three week regular summer session and the one week executive session.”
Can you tell us a bit about the Jewish community in your hometown?
“Chicago/Surrounding Suburbs has a large and varied Jewish population. Every stream is represented and local innovations and variations are found there as well. Religiously and culturally there is a lot to take advantage of. I would describe it as open and welcoming in the aggregate. Obviously there are pockets everywhere that don’t fit this description. It could also be a function of the personality of Chicago as a large Midwestern city. There are quite a few academic/educational opportunities as well. It tends to be fairly territorial, maybe that is what I am trying to get at.”