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A Michigan Yankee in Israel’s Court

It turns out that she has a strong allegiance to another country — Israel. Since our interfaith relationship started back in 1986, I have slowly learned that Bonnie’s Judaism has given her a complex set of patriotic values that are devoted to the United States and the Jewish state in the Middle East.

Like many Jews, she feels a sense of pride in her two homelands. Although she has never lived in Israel, and has only visited there once while in high school (spending most of her time eating at McDavid’s and shopping), she still feels that Israel is her country, too. It seems that there has always been conflict in Israel. But, with the most recent violence, I have been learning more and more about my wife and how she feels about that particular strip of land that is the size of New Jersey.

Early on in our marriage, I discovered that, while Bonnie is proud to be an American, she feels a sense of loyalty to Israel, too — if nothing else, a desire to help support it and see it thrive. She told me the story about how, when she was in Hebrew school, she used to give money every year to help plant trees in Israel for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat.

“Why would you do that?” I ignorantly asked. For some reason, I found it slightly humorous.

“When you’re Jewish, Israel is a big part of your life,” she explained. It was also common for her to get Israeli bonds for her birthday. She continued, “After all that has happened to the Jewish people over the course of history, it is crucial to finally have a state of our own.” I had never looked at it that way. I’m Protestant, but I had never donated money to any other nations with large Protestant populations.

It just floored me to find out that she cared so much about a country other than her own. I’m of Scottish descent, but I had never given a single penny to Scotland so they could throw the “bloody English” out and right the wrongs done to the clans and Prince Charlie in 1745. When I watch the movie Braveheart, I feel a sense of Scottish pride, but I have yet to attend a unity rally in the memory of William Wallace. Then again, I guess, my situation is different. OK, I admit it — completely different. Scotland is not a refuge for millions of Scots and Protestants persecuted around the world, like Israel is for Jews. As Bonnie explained it to me, all Jews have the right to move to and claim citizenship in Israel so they can live freely without the dark cloud of anti-Semitism.

In addition, Scotland’s existence isn’t threatened daily like Israel’s. Today, England and Scotland get along rather congenially as part of the same nation of Great Britain. In fact, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was born in Scotland.

Over the past sixteen years with Bonnie, I have learned more about Israel than I would have if I had married someone else who isn’t Jewish. Throughout this time, I have become a moral supporter of the Jewish state. However, I have never thought about how I could help Israel. It just never occurred to me that there was anything more to do but pray for peace.

During the course of the past few weeks, I had felt that my wife and I were on the same page. Then she hit me with the news — she had just given a check to the Jewish Federation that would go directly to social services in Israel. IN ISRAEL? Why on earth would she do something like that? Can’t Israel pay for its own services? Doesn’t the US government, through our taxes, give enough to Israel already? I had been perfectly happy donating to Jewish causes here in my hometown. Why did money out of our checking account have to go to a foreign country?

We debated this issue for an hour. Finally, Bonnie said to me, “If we don’t support Israel, who will?” She got me there. We discussed how the Israeli government has diverted $1.4 billion from social services to defense. Whether or not one thinks Israel’s current military action is appropriate, money is still being taken away from schools, medical facilities, crisis intervention for victims of terror, and programs for children, immigrants, the elderly, and the disabled. Where will the money come from to fill in this gap? I then saw that it had to come from us.

I definitely see the world through different eyes since I met Bonnie. She and I are very saddened by all the casualties on both sides. What is the solution? I have no idea. We just wish for peace soon, so everyone in the region can live without fear and hatred.

Israel is in a struggle for its very survival. If its people are in need, they can expect support from this Michigan Yankee.

Jim Keen

Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.


Author: Jim Keen