By Rabbi Yotav Eliach
Seth Rogen is not a bad person, nor is he a self-hating Jew. He is a typical North American “woke” progressive, a citizen of the world who was born Jewish. He is a non-religious Canadian/American Jew. He attended Vancouver Talmud Torah for preschool through seventh grade. Rogan’s father Mark was an assistant director of The Workers Circle chapter in Los Angeles. Both of Rogen’s parents aligned themselves with the Israeli Labor Zionist movement. They also performed in Yiddish theater productions in the Los Angeles area.
Rogen spent summers at the Labor Zionist-affiliated Habonim Dror. Habonim was birthed by the same movement that incubated David Ben Gurion’s Labor Party. I am not sure why so many Jewish pundits decided to respond to Rogen’s recent comments categorizing Israel and Jewish education. More baffling to me is an attempt by anyone to learn deep lessons from Rogen’s remarks.
If there is a lesson, it’s a simple and sad one. This is what happens when Jews abandon 4,000 years of traditional Judaism: God, Torah, Tanach, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, Jewish history, minhag, prayer, traditions, and longing for Zion. It leads to estrangement from the heart of Judaism.
Seth Rogen is precisely what I assume most graduates of Vancouver Talmud Torah and fellow Habonim Dror campers have grown up to be: Jews who are 21st century progressives. Those values include a rejection of God, organized religion, nationalism, borders and capitalism. Seth Rogen’s views are in line with what he has been taught and what he has experienced in his life. Included in that world view is a rejection of organized Judaism as a religion and Zionism, which is Jewish Nationalism.
It is high time for those who write about North American Jewry to understand this fact. Seth Rogen is not an anomaly. He represents a majority that is sadly, slowly dissipating away like a fog. Ironically, David Ben Gurion thought traditional Jews would fall away. It is time to face the facts and focus on the sectors of North American Jewry that are still connected to traditional Judaism or who are open to learning about it.
We need to strengthen the connection of all Jews to traditional, normative Judaism, and to the re-established Jewish State of Israel. The very one our forefathers ran for 1300 years (1273 BCE – 70 CE, minus the 586 – 515 BCE period.) The place that served as the backdrop to the Tanach. The land that we have been praying and yearning to return to since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Perhaps progressive Zionism helped tame Israel during the 19th and 20th centuries. But belief in God, in our traditions and in our nationalism has nurtured it and continues to keep it alive.