“No Zion, No cry”
by Moshe Dann
Exiled Jews used to ask “How can we sing a song of the Lord on alien soil?” But Larry Tye says Diaspora Jews have plenty to rejoice about.
Larry Tye, a medical correspondent at the Boston Globe, has written a fascinating account of seven cities that he believes represent the revival of Judaism in the Diaspora: Dusseldorf, Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine), Boston, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Paris, and Atlanta.
Each city’s history is presented in the context of the culture in which it has developed, spiced with delightful anecdotal interviews that give the narrative an easy yet exciting flavor. Tye demonstrates that the Diaspora centers he visited are vibrant and creative, and have “more in common with one another than with the Jewish state as they search for spiritual and religious meaning in a largely non-Jewish world.”
Tye’s inquiry was motivated by his own quest for identity as a Diaspora Jew. Coming from an assimilated family with little knowledge or experience of Judaism, his journalistic curiosity prompted questions about the future of such communities. Do Jews share a common bond throughout the world? Where does he fit in? And how does the existence of the State of Israel affect the Jewish world today?
His conclusion is no surprise, given his perspective. Tye finds these Jewish communities not only enduring, but also blossoming and playing an integral part in their adopted cultures.
The major issues â€” assimilation, intermarriage and anti-Semitism â€” are, for Tye, only part of a larger picture. These communities, he discovers, share an energy and vitality, and “each had some seminal event that sparked a reawakening,” such as the influx of new immigrants, or an attack on the community itself.
Tye weaves his stories into an exciting tapestry with enthusiasm. “At the very moment when Jews have more freedom than ever to assimilate in secular society, more of them than ever are reconnecting to their Jewish culture and faith.”
In describing this phenomenon, Tye offers a real message of hope.
His sense of optimism, however, is problematic, for even as Jews struggle to maintain their identity in host cultures, one cannot dismiss the rate at which Jews are abandoning their faith. In North America the intermarriage rate is estimated to be more than 50%, and in some cities, like Denver, it is at least 75%.
Moreover, Tye’s neglect of outreach campaigns, such as the creative efforts by the orthodox Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, is disturbing. He does not seem to appreciate the magnitude that the intermarriage crisis presents to the Jewish world because of the break with Judaism that usually follows.
Tye’s lack of appreciation for the centrality of Zionism, although discussed in his introduction and in a short epilogue, is most glaring. In an effort to boost the status of Diaspora Jews, he has denied a fundamental relationship that has sustained both communities and is grounded in both Jewish history and prayer.
Tye’s ambivalence about Israel is apparent, and perhaps natural. There is certainly enough to complain about. Many visitors are put off by what Tye notes as Israeli “arrogance” and “insolence,” “a source of pride but not necessarily a place to send their dollars or their children.”
But what Tye and so many others fail to acknowledge is Israel’s role in history.
Put simply, Israel’s existence is critical to Jews everywhere; the loss of a Jewish community â€” no matter how cherished â€” almost anywhere else in the world is not.
Tye’s failure to find meaning in the re-birth of Israel and the historic process of Ingathering, as well as his negation of the centrality of Israel, casts a long shadow over this work.
There can be a “partnership of equals,” as Tye suggests. In today’s world, no matter where we live, we all need and can learn from each other. Strong links between Jews living in Israel and those living in the Diaspora are essential to both parties. But in terms of Jewish continuity, it is Israel that truly matters, not Boston, Paris or Dusseldorf.
Jews may live in many lands, but there is and always has been only one homeland. If we don’t appreciate it, if we don’t prioritize scarce Jewish resources for its preservation â€” we’ll lose it.