The American Council for Judaism
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Home LandsÃ¢â‚¬Â a Portrait of Jews at Home in the World
Allan C. Brownfeld
For many years, the State of Israel and the adherents of Zionism in other countries have maintained the position that Israel is the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jewish homeland,Ã¢â‚¬Â that Jews outside of Israel are in Ã¢â‚¬Å“exile,Ã¢â‚¬Â and that a Ã¢â‚¬Å“full Jewish lifeÃ¢â‚¬Â can be lived only in the Jewish state. In our own country, even the leaders of Reform Judaism recently adopted a statement of principles holding that Israel is Ã¢â‚¬Å“centralÃ¢â‚¬Â to Jewish life and encouraging Ã¢â‚¬Å“aliyah,Ã¢â‚¬Â emigration to Israel.
On a visit to Germany in 1996, Israeli President Ezer Weizman declared that he “cannot understand how 40,000 Jews can live in Germany” and asserted that, “The place of Jews is in Israel. Only in Israel can Jews live full Jewish lives.”
In 1998, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called upon American Jews to make a Ã¢â‚¬Å“mass aliyahÃ¢â‚¬Â to Israel. The head of the Jewish Agency, Avram Burg, declared that the synagogue in Western countries is the Ã¢â‚¬Å“symbol of destruction,Ã¢â‚¬Â and that the new center of Jewish life should be the state of Israel.
Call for Aliyah
In 2000, Israeli President Moshe Katsev called upon Jews throughout the world to make aliyah and argued against Ã¢â‚¬Å“legitimizingÃ¢â‚¬Â Jewish life in other countries. In a book published in 2000, Conversations With Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister declares, “The very essence of our being obliges every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael…In my opinion, a man has no right to consider himself a part of the Jewish People without also being a Zionist, because Zionism states that in order for a Jew to live as a Jew he needs to have his own country, his own life, and his own future.”
IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has called repeatedly upon American Jews Ã¢â‚¬â€ and Jews in other countries Ã¢â‚¬â€ to emigrate to Israel.
There are some American Jews who echo this refrain. Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who was dean of the rabbinical school at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, moved with his family to Israel. Writing in The New York Times (Sept. 30, 2001), he tells us that, “America never felt like home, and Israel has. Aliyah was not so much a decision as a willingness to give in to some gravitation-like force.”
Eliminate Term Ã¢â‚¬Å“DiasporaÃ¢â‚¬Â
If there are some Jews who view their homes in the United States or England or France or Argentina as Ã¢â‚¬Å“diasporaÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“exile,Ã¢â‚¬Â they are a small but vocal minority. In his new book, Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora, Larry Tye shows that Israel is clearly not the only place in which Jews can fully live their faith, and is not viewed by the majority of Jews in the world as, somehow, their genuine Ã¢â‚¬Å“homeland.Ã¢â‚¬Â Beyond this, he argues that the very term Ã¢â‚¬Å“diasporaÃ¢â‚¬Â be eliminated.
The word Ã¢â‚¬Å“diaspora,Ã¢â‚¬Â writes Tye, who is a reporter for the Boston Globe, “suggests an existence as unsettled as it is unsatisfying. It describes a homogeneous people uprooted and dispersed from their native land by unstoppable armies or irreversible social forces. It bespeaks a yearning to go back. The Irish know all about having to abandon their homeland and the loss that creates. So do Armenians and Chinese, Kurds and Kosovars. But the oldest diaspora is that of the Jews. It dates back at least 1,900 years, to when Rome toppled the Second Temple in Jerusalem and Jews were scattered across Asia, Africa and Europe. Each time they settled somewhere new, a new persecutor Ã¢â‚¬â€ the inquisitors of Spain, the Russian czars, Hitler and the Holocaust he unleashed Ã¢â‚¬â€ reminded them that they were strangers, with the perils that implied. For…millennia, Jews have vowed to make their community whole again by returning to their homeland, the Holy Land. Each year at the Passover Seder, parents and children end by reciting a solemn vow, Ã¢â‚¬ËœNext year in Jerusalem!'”
Idea of Ã¢â‚¬Å“ExileÃ¢â‚¬Â Outdated
Larry Tye points out that while Ã¢â‚¬Å“the metaphor of a people longing to go home is compelling,Ã¢â‚¬Â in todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world Ã¢â‚¬Å“it is also outdated.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jerusalem, says Tye, is an idea, not an address, a metaphor for the day the world lives in spiritual and earthly peace Ã¢â‚¬â€ not a destination for todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jews who are, he finds, very much at home in the various nations of the world.
In this book, Tye explores Jewish communities in seven cities on four continents. He found that Jews are more likely to base their identity on their own spiritual experience, not on the religious institutions of the past or the Zionist concept of a separate Jewish nationalism.
Focusing on Buenos Aires, Dusseldorf, Paris, Dublin, Boston, Atlanta and the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, Tye notes that, “The more communities I got to see close-up, the clearer it became that the Jewish world was being revitalized and reshaped in ways that…were not reflected in all the books I was reading about the disappearing diaspora and the vanishing Jews of America.”
Beyond this, writes Tye, he wanted to “know whether it was okay for me to feel at home as a Jew in Boston, or anywhere else in diaspora.”
Jewish Institutions and Alienation
He reports that while the American environment was welcoming, the Jewish religious institutions he encountered sought to alienate him from his own country:
I grew up with a sense of being deeply rooted in my surroundings, of being a Bostonian and an American, and feeling comfortable with those identities. But at the same time the pride of belonging to an ancient people left me with an unsettled sense that, no matter how firmly grounded I felt in America, I belonged somewhere else. These feelings of uprootedness were reinforced every sabbath when we recalled the messianic vision of a return to Zion…
The idea that
diaspora Jews are residing in some unnatural exile, declares Tye,
is a distortion of history. The First and Second Temples, and the golden ages they represented, were relatively brief notations on a Jewish time line that is, instead, dominated by diaspora. Abraham, father of the Jews, discovered his God outside Israel. The Torah was given to the Jewish people outside Israel. The most important Talmud, or compilation of Jewish tradition, is the one from Babylon, not the one from Jerusalem. Even during the era of the Second Temple, more Jews lived in the diaspora than in Israel. Ã¢â‚¬ËœDisplacement,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ then, has been the normal state of affairs for Jews for nearly 2,600 years.
The place of Israel in Jewish life is far different from the myths which have been created about it, in TyeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s view:
The founding of Israel half a century ago seemed to answer what Jews of the diaspora were longing for. Now, at last, they had a place of their own to go, a way to end their physical isolation and realize the promise of celebrating a Seder in Jerusalem. That is a potent image, and for more than fifty years its promise and seduction have held the collective Jewish subconscious in a powerful grip. But like many metaphors this one does not fit the real-life aspirations and situations of most diaspora Jews today. It is wonderful to know that there is, finally, a homeland that would welcome us. Yet most of us have finally built secure lives…and have no interest in adjusting to the strange climate and society of Israel. Indeed, the busiest traffic today between Israel and the biggest diaspora country, America, could be called aliyah in reverse, with four times as many Israelis living in America as U.S. Jews living in Israel.
Encounter of Equals
What is emerging, Tye believes, is
a new encounter of equals, to replace the old one where Israel was seen as the center of the Jewish solar system with diaspora communities orbiting as distant planets. It is a sense that, as Israel becomes more secure and self sufficient, and the diaspora does too, both will realize they are on parallel quests to promote pluralism and continuity.
The evidence he cites is persuasive.
Consider Dusseldorf, Germany, which in 1999 became the first major city in Germany to exceed its pre-Holocaust population of Jews, with 5,900 compared to the pre-war high of 5,150 in 1925. Tye reports that,
…recent developments in Germany raise a profound hope Ã¢â‚¬â€ that if Judaism can make a comeback there, in the land of the murderers, it can happen anywhere…new synagogues went up from Recklinghausen in the west to Offenbach in the south, with the one in Kassel being expanded. New rabbis, cantors, and teachers were recruited from around the globe. Enrollment in Jewish elementary and high schools was way up. So was attendance in Jewish history and culture programs at universities and at more informal continuing-education programs. Most impressive of all, Germany now has 78 cities and towns with a critical mass of Jews.
Feeling Like a German
Paul Spiegel, the leader of the Jewish community in Dusseldorf and president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Tye that,
I trust most of the German people, the generation after the war. Now I am feeling like a German with the Jewish religion…I am not feeling that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m here on a part-time basis. Until ten to fifteen years ago, the Jews in Germany who had lived there since 1945 said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWe are here with packed suitcases.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ These suitcases have been unpacked in the meantime. Compare that with what happened in Spain during the Inquisition, when they sent all the Jews out. For five hundred years no Jew came back to Spain … Here in Germany we had the biggest murdering of a people in history…and already one or two months after the Holocaust they started again to rebuild this Jewish community. Now we have the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world. This is one of the miracles of the century.
Paul Spiegel spent World War II in the German countryside with a Catholic family. When his father, Hugo Spiegel, was released from Dachau, he headed for the only place he knew, his hometown of Warendorf, walking there in his prison clothes. On the way, he met a non-Jew he knew from the town who invited him home. Paul recalls that,
That man said to my father, Ã¢â‚¬ËœBefore we start to eat, we will go to the cellar.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ There was a small curtain. The man opened another door on the floor and went down. He came back with mahzorim, with prayer books, that he had saved from the burned synagogue in their small town. He said to my father, Ã¢â‚¬ËœNow itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up to you,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ He was a neighbor of the old synagogue. He had ten books and the Torah. With these books and the Torah my father founded the Jewish community in Warendorf. If my father had thought before whether it was right or not to go back to Germany, that was the last time.
Israel Opposed Immigration
GermanyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision to welcome Russian Jewish immigrants was vigorously opposed by Israel, just as Israel wanted those Russian Jews who emigrated to the United States to be compelled, instead, to go to Israel.
In the early 1990s, Tye writes,
senior Israeli officials told then-Chancellor Kohl to stop taking in Russian Jews who belong in Israel Ã¢â‚¬â€ and most decidedly do no belong in a state with GermanyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s record of anti-Semitism. Ã¢â‚¬ËœI met several times, during visits to Jerusalem, with high-ranking political groups who said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhy do you let Jews from Russia immigrate to Germany? We need them in Israel.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ recalls Burkhard Hirsch, the former vice president of the Bundestag. Our answer was, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat is our right to tell them where they have to live?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
Germany now has more Jewish studies programs than any nation outside Israel or America, and 80 percent of the students are not Jewish. Paul Spiegel says that it is time
to think of Germany as a home rather than a haven and believes that it will not be long before the name Central Council of Jews in Germany becomes the Central Council of German Jews.
Jewish Life in Ukraine
In the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, Cossacks, Communists, Nazis and collaborators once slaughtered Jews and banned survivors from practicing rituals or educating the next generation. Today Jewish life is reviving. The Jews of the city, Tye reports,
simply would not accept the accepted wisdom that Jews could not survive in the former Soviet Union, and in the process they set a bolder expectation. Exhibiting a determination that would have made Job look like a gold-brick and the Maccabees like mere mortals, the Jews of Dnepropetrovsk reconstructed their synagogues and built Jewish schools. They reminded old and young of age-old customs that had slowly eroded during 70 long years of socialist secularism.
Here again, rather than encouraging the Jewish revival in Ukraine, Tye found that Israel was primarily engaged in urging Ukrainian Jews to emigrate. Rabbi David Wilford of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, states that,
The majority of Israelis who are here have had an attitude. They walk around as though Ukraine and the former Soviet Union are their colonies, and they have come to repatriate their poor brothers. Most Jews here think Israelis are very disrespectful and condescending. The Soviet Union was one of the most powerful nations in the world, and its people are now nationally depressed. The great former Soviet Union was broken into 15 post-Soviet states and little Israel is suddenly dictating to them. There is a lot of resentment.
All across the former Soviet Union Jewish life is reviving. One hundred and fifty libraries of Judaica have sprung up. Ukraine now boasts 243 communities with at least some Jews, and a dozen with major Jewish populations. Jonathan Sarna, a historian and diaspora scholar at Brandeis University, expresses the view that,
Dnepropetrovsk may prefigure a sense that in the 21st century, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the diaspora that really needs to be the focus of Jewish attention. AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s role may become far more significant in sustaining diaspora Jewish communities. The older agenda of building up a young Jewish state is ridiculous in the current situation. Israel will still be a focus of attention, but it has developed into a high-tech country and a majority of world Jews soon will be living in Israel.
In Buenos Aires, Tye found a reawakening of spirit, with
children speaking Hebrew better than their parents and grandparents, having a clearer grasp of their Jewish heritage and bringing older relatives back with them to the synagogue and the classroom.
One individual who played a major role in reformulating Judaism in Argentina was a Conservative rabbi from Connecticut, Marshall Meyer, who came to Argentina in 1959 looking for adventure and remained 25 years.
Meyer offered Argentine Jews a new, indigenous denomination,writes Tye.
Before they had a simple choice: Orthodoxy or nothing. Now they could connect to a religion that offered transliterations and translations of a Hebrew language they could neither read nor understand, let men and women pray together, welcomed the young with music, food, and warmth…He gave them his mentor, Abraham Joshua Heschel, along with philosophers Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, all of whom saw spirituality and human relationships at least as important as ritualistic observance. Most of all, Meyer preached that Judaism required its adherents to promote social justice.
Dr. Daniel Colodenco, a pulmonologist who teaches Jewish history in the rabbinic seminary Meyer established, recalls that,
For us as Jews the synagogue was the course of our grandfathers, not of us. It was a room for making bar mitsvah, not to be every Friday. Marshall attracted a lot of young people to the synagogue service by making it more socially relevant. He confronted people with a line of thinking not seen before…We in Argentina had had just two kinds of Jewish education: classical Orthodox and Zionist. He brought insights of the American academic establishment, of Biblical criticism and modern Jewish philosophy. For me it was a revolution, it opened a new way of thinking. He was the first rabbi, the first Jewish leader, who mixed a political opinion about human rights and politics with a Jewish position about this. Until now the Jewish positions were only toward Jewish interests, and those interests were primarily anti-Semitism and anti-Israel.
In Dublin, where Jewish numbers are declining, in part because of emigration, there remains a loyalty to history and tradition, and a strong feeling of being Irish.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Irish and of the Jewish faith, says Mervyn Taylor, who in 1993 became IrelandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first Minister of Equality and Law Reform.
All my constituents want to know is how well I am performing on their behalf. Whether IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a Protestant, Catholic or Jew is neither here nor there as far as they are concerned. There used to be two Jews who lived in my district but they moved. Now there are none at all.
Larry Tye interviewed many prominent Irish Jews. Gerald Goldberg was born in Cork in 1912. In 1977, Cork elected Goldberg lord mayor. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My wife and I both were welcomed among the Irish people like nobody on earth,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They never interfered with the practice of our religion or sought for us to be otherwise.Ã¢â‚¬Â Fred Rosehill agrees, saying his election as president of the Cork Rotary Club was almost as telling a rite of passage as GoldbergÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as mayor: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was absolutely marvelous growing up Jewish here. Judaism is my religion but Ireland is the country where I was born and that gave me everything IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ever known. I look to Jerusalem in my prayers but I look to Ireland as the country I live in and the country I literally would die for. One is spiritual, one is national. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a Corkman, an Irishman and a Jew in that order. In fact, we made a video of Gerald that is called Ã¢â‚¬ËœA Corkman, an Irishman and a Jew.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Irish Future
What of the future of Jewish life in Ireland? Ã¢â‚¬Å“The consolidation of the Adelaide Road and the Terenure congregations Ã¢â‚¬â€ and plans to construct a new Jewish community center complete with a synagogue, meeting rooms, and a restaurant Ã¢â‚¬â€ offer an unusual chance to match physical structures to whatever vision the community charts for itself. IrelandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s red-hot economy should make it easier to keep young members of the community or even to bring back those who left. Membership in the European Community, with its ease of movement for residents of member states, could present a way around the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s infamously restrictive immigration laws and let in more Jews from other European states. And IrelandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s projected need for as many as 200,000 skilled workers from abroad has inspired the Dublin Jewish community to begin a drive to fill some of those spots with Jews from South Africa, who share the English language and culture, are leaving their land in droves and had the way paved by other South African Jews, including the cantor at Terenure.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Dynamism of Parisian Jews
In Paris, Tye found signs of Jewish life everywhere,
Start in the overflowing synagogues, which have a peculiarly French flavor, with ushers wearing the sleek, curvaceous caps favored by…Napoleon Bonaparte, and congregants reciting the Shema prayer by puckering their lips to form the proper Ã¢â‚¬ËœuneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœdieuÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Back on the street there are 500 kosher restaurants, groceries, bakeries to choose from, more than anyplace on earth with the possible exceptions of New York and Tel Aviv…All told, a Parisian Jewish community that just sixty years ago was ravaged by the Holocaust today stands as the clearest testament that Hitler failed in his bid to stamp out European Jewry.
Assessing the achievements of French Jews, historian Diana Pinto notes that the fact that they are Ã¢â‚¬Å“voluntary Jews,Ã¢â‚¬Â vigorously affirming their identity as Jews in societies that are highly individualistic and increasingly indifferent to religion, offers a model for Jewish continuity in an era when the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are fading as reasons to stay Jewish.
Boston and Atlanta
In the case of the United States, Tye describes vibrant and growing Jewish communities in Boston and Atlanta.
In Boston, Brandeis historian Jonathan Sarna says, Jews seek to weave together what is best in both Boston and in Judaism Ã¢â‚¬â€ of Athens and Jerusalem,
The problem in the American Jewish community, he explains,
is that the great causes of the 20th century are now behind us, whether it is fighting anti-Semitism, defending immigrants, bringing Jews out of the…Soviet Union and Ethiopia…and most important sustaining the state of Israel. Boston is way ahead of the curve in trying to find alternative sources of meaning. There is an explosion of learning here at all levels, a real sense that meaning is to be found internally, that the future belongs at home. Synagogues allow for the full range of expressions of Judaism, from spirituality and havurah and new age all the way to the traditional. You get a good sense of all the options in Judaism today by looking here in Boston.
Larry Tye shows how BostonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s synagogues
have been transformed from sterile sanctuaries devoted to restrained worship, to spiritual centers. A critical element of the Jewish experience, he paints out, is
tzedakah, or acts of loving-kindness which
implies reaching within the Jewish community to help those in need. It also means reaching beyond, building partnerships with non-Jews to promote wider goals of justice and righteousness. Both forms of outreach have been going on in Boston for nearly 150 years, and in Judaism for 3,500 years, but in the 1990s they were defined more clearly than ever as a central mission of the organized community and of thousands of individual Jews.
Volunteers in Service
This mission can be seen, for example, in the 650 Jewish volunteers who each week tutor children in 14 inner-city schools in Boston and Cambridge, Brockton and Framingham. Some tutors are as young as 12, others as old as 85.
I felt this was something I could give. It wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be sitting in an organizational board meeting and nodding my head Ã¢â‚¬Ëœyes,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ but something I could actually do, Susan Ansin says of her three years volunteering with the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy at the Lucy Stone School in Dorchester. Her students, who are black, Haitian or mixed race kids from the heart of the city are eight years old. Ansin, a white Jewish grandmother from prosperous Weston, says:
I may be kidding myself but I think that the black and white thing, the Weston-Dorchester divide, disappears when I am working with that child…I feel like I am engaging in something that is very Jewish by working with these kids. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something spiritual to me about taking what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve always thought of as a Jewish value of helping out, and going out there and doing it.
In Boston, Tye writes,
leaders talk about the vitality of the Jewish community, the need to enhance learning and other forward-looking themes,Ã¢â‚¬Â not the Ã¢â‚¬Å“old hot-button issues like Israel and the Holocaust which are still used elsewhere.
Raymond Tye, the authorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s uncle, expressed a widespread view when he said that IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s
Law of Return didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t apply to me. I felt my country was America and I would live or die as a free person in America.
In Atlanta, the Jewish community is growing dramatically. In 1947, Greater Atlanta had just 10,000 Jews. Today, the number is approximately 100,000. Carolyn Goldsmith, whose father was both a prominent member of the Jewish community and a civil rights activist, said,
My father said his father believed the diaspora was the greatest opportunity ever given to Jews. My father worshiped Atlanta. Every time they paved a new street we had to get in the car and look at it. My fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attitude was, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhen you die, and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re good, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll go to Atlanta.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Atlanta always had a certain softness and gentleness that you could see on the street, overlaid with the go-go attitude brought in by immigrants. I consider myself a southern Jew, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m an Atlanta Jew. I do worry that we are losing that sense. I worry about it when someone blows their horn at me. I put down the window and yell, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWe donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do that here.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
What Larry Tye found in his journeys in the so-called Ã¢â‚¬Å“diaspora,Ã¢â‚¬Â was vibrant Jewish life alongside a feeling of rootedness in the countries he visited. Jews in Ukraine, France, Ireland, Argentina and Germany Ã¢â‚¬â€ not to mention the United States Ã¢â‚¬â€ clearly rejected the notion that they were, somehow, in Ã¢â‚¬Å“exileÃ¢â‚¬Â and that Israel was, in any sense, their genuine Ã¢â‚¬Å“homeland.Ã¢â‚¬Â
When it came to Israel, he found both ignorance and ambivalence about the lives of Jews in other countries.
I found that Israelis, especially young ones, are too busy thinking about themselves to think or care much about the diaspora. While I wanted to talk about their ties to Boston and Buenos Aires, they wanted to tell me about IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vitality and self-confidence.
Recruiting Diaspora Jews
In one of his first statements as prime minister in March 2001, Ariel Sharon called for Israel to continue aggressively recruiting diaspora Jews and said Israel is
the only place in the world where Jews can continue to live as Jews and withstand the danger of assimilation,
Most Israelis, Tye found, Ã¢â‚¬Å“think otherwise.Ã¢â‚¬Â Indeed, he reports,
…they acknowledged that Jews can live rewarding Jewish lives in places like New York, Paris and even Dusseldorf. They understand why Russians would flee economic hardship but express wonder at American or French Jews voluntarily swapping their comfortable lives for Israel and its stresses. They also are coming to appreciate the strains, financial and environmental, that come with too many diaspora Jews accepting their offer of return. As for the old paternalism Ã¢â‚¬â€ self-righteousness about their decision to make aliyah, resentment about American Jews putting their cash on a par with the blood Israelis have sacrificed to build the Jewish state Ã¢â‚¬â€ they seem stale as well as old. These days the biggest threat to the Israel-diaspora relationship is not arrogance but irrelevance.
In many ways, Tye believes, Israelis have much to learn about Judaism and the way it is practiced in the U.S. and other Western countries. In Israel, religion is a monopoly in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox and the majority of young people, facing a choice between ultra-Orthodoxy and secularism, often abandon religion entirely.
Learning from America
Naomi Friedman, a young Israeli who spent seven years in the U.S. growing up, says that,
A lot of young Israelis are not really connected to their Judaism beyond the tradition. For Israeli kids, Judaism is usually the ultra-Orthodox. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why they are very much afraid of Judaism, they think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dark and medieval,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Naomi. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the United States I saw a totally different kind of Judaism, one that has nothing to do with the ultra-Orthodox. Meeting Jews from America and other places, and learning different ways to relate to Judaism thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not in the Dark Ages, can help a lot.
In the past, Tye points out, it was very difficult to discuss Israel frankly within the American Jewish community,
You never publicly criticized Israel even if you heatedly debated the wisdom of its actions with other Jews. I learned just how inviolate the last law was when I breached it in 1992 by writing a travel story in the Boston Globe that was 90 percent positive about Israel. A joke I told at the end about Israelis not understanding the expression Ã¢â‚¬Ëœexcuse meÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ begot a column in BostonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jewish Advocate that branded me a self-hating Jew.
Uncomfortable Supporting Israel
Things have now changed.
By the mid-1980s cracks began to form in that solid wall of diaspora support for Israel, and the old rules began to break down. Jews in America and elsewhere increasingly were uncomfortable supporting Israel when they believed Israel was wrong. The New Israel Fund, Peace Now, and other Israel-based groups add to the unease by planting two heretical notions that it actually was the responsibility of diaspora Jews to speak out for Israeli policies they backed and against those they opposed, and that world Jewry should earmark its Israel donations to pro-peace initiatives or other projects they endorsed rather than steer them to umbrella organizations like the United Jewish Appeal. Diaspora Jews also were losing patience with what they saw as a bid by the Orthodox to use the debate over religious conversion to repudiate the contributions of the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.
Jews in Israel as well as throughout the world
understand how outmoded Prime Minister SharonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s call for all diaspora Jews to come to Israel is, declares Tye. A new partnership may be emerging which
is also spawning a new language. In Israel, there now is a ministry of Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community, with a rabbi from Denmark fittingly serving as the first minister. The new agency is part of a trend that has many in Israel and elsewhere urging that the word Ã¢â‚¬ËœdiasporaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ be replaced by an expression that is less Israel-oriented and that acknowledges that Jews living in places like Dublin and Atlanta are as much at home as those in Tel Aviv and Haifa. Ã¢â‚¬ËœJews overseasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœJews elsewhere are two proposed substitutes. Even the venerable Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv now often refers to itself as the Museum of the Jewish People.
Jewish Life Alive and Well
This book stands in marked contrast to all of those pessimistic assessments of the Jewish future which are regularly issued by so many Jewish organizations. Jewish life is alive and well in diverse societies across the world, societies in which Jews feel themselves very much at home. This reality is the strongest refutation of the worldview of Jewish nationalism which would transform the universalism of Judaism into an ethnic identification with a single country.
Larry Tye concludes,
Whatever it is called, what matters is that confidence is growing in the diaspora that it has an existence worthy of celebration and preservation. Israelis are coming to understand that the diaspora matters to Israel at least as much today as it did in the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s early days. The more secure Jews become in Israel Ã¢â‚¬â€ and in communities from Paris to Boston Ã¢â‚¬â€ the more tempted they will be to look at the Jewish world the way I started out, as us and them. But that security can also encourage them to reach out to their cousins across the divide without fear of being overwhelmed or undervalued. History and reason argue that the more options Jews have the more likely they are to survive and thrive.