Miami Herald

Jewish diaspora gets stronger, author says
by Elinor J. Brecher

Bostonian Larry Tye wrote Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora as a message to ”the two Shumels:” Tikotsky and Halpern.

They were his great-grandfathers, and they harbored the common fear that each succeeding generation of his family would become less Jewish.

”I have three words for them,” Tye recently told members of Hollywood’s Temple Sinai during a series of South Florida appearances: “Not to worry.”

That’s because each succeeding generation has become ”a little more Jewish,” said Tye, 47, whose first book was Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations. “We are defying the pattern of history.”

And so are families and communities throughout the Jewish world that are sending their children to Jewish day schools, rebuilding synagogues and reembracing the traditions, contends Tye, a former Boston Globe reporter whose critics call him naive for being so optimistic.

The “Good News”

He uses his family as a vehicle to deliver what may seem a counter-intuitive observation — the ”good news” about Jewish renewal — given the conventional wisdom that mainstream religious institutions are waning, that Israel is in peril and that anti-Semitism continues to threaten Jews everywhere.

True, he concedes, intermarriage and assimilation are shrinking the ranks. Yet he predicts ”fewer Jews but better Jews” through the renewal phenomenon.

To prove it, he surveyed seven Jewish communities outside of Israel for signs of reinvigoration: Paris, Boston, Atlanta, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Dnepropetrovsk (in Ukraine) and Düsseldorf, where, like in many German cities, Russian Jews are arriving in great numbers. In fact, Germany has the fastest-growing Jewish population in the world.

Only in Dublin did he find reality conforming to the conventional wisdom. Where there was once 5,400 Jews in one of the world’s most Catholic countries, now barely 1,000 remain.

Community Rallies

In contrast, the 170,000 Jews of Buenos Aires rallied after a horrific terrorist bombing in 1994 killed 85 and decimated the Argentine Israelite Mutual Aid Association.

Before the bombing, Jewish institutions were fading away. As the economy worsened, contributions to community institutions declined, as did synagogue dues.

Young people fled to Israel and the United States. Zionist politics grew irrelevant.

But the bombing changed everything. Just as it hastened more departures, it ushered in a new era of commitment among those who remained.

As one young Argentine woman told Tye: ‘The people who put the bomb, what they want is for me to leave the shul [synagogue], to say, ‘Yes, Judaism here is finished.’ I will not give them what they want.”

In the Boston chapter, he explains why Tikotsky became Tye, how anti-Semitism almost kept his father out of Tufts University medical school, how in this higher-academic world, American Judaism exercises its intellect and explores its faith, transforming rituals in ways that would have mystified the two Shumels.

“Boston is not alone today among American Jewish communities in redefining itself and recommitting to the principles of Torah, spirituality and social justice. But Boston has gone further than just about anywhere in the diaspora in pushing the limits of those concepts.”

Inevitably, Tye’s research became a personal journey.

“I wanted to know whether it was OK for me to feel at home as a Jew in Boston, or anywhere else in the diaspora. Like most diaspora Jews, I grew up with a sense of being deeply rooted in my surroundings [but] at the same time the pride of belonging to an ancient people left me with the unsettled sense that…I belong somewhere else.”

The diaspora was, after all, supposed to be a holding pattern until all Jews everywhere returned to the land of their ancestors.

“Insurance Policy”

But diaspora Jews have ardently supported Israel as much as an ”insurance policy, in case just in case anything imperiled our seemingly secure existence as Jewish Americans,” Tye writes.

Tye has concluded that the Jews of the diaspora and of Israel have reached an equilibrium that ensures their mutual survival.

Israel has become a “settled society made up mainly of native Israelis. It is inwardly focused, multifaceted and increasingly prosperous…Most Israelis see their nation as complete even if it is not home to all the world’s Jews, just as most diaspora Jews are coming to see themselves as complete even if they do not sign up and move to Israel.”