DL Israel #16: A Thought on the Diaspora Dilemma

Through a large part of the trip, we had a number of IDF soldiers join us on our trip. In our discussion group we had two different soldiers, with two different perspectives.

The first believes that in order for a Jew to continue to be Jewish both on a personal level and on a global level, he must commit his entire existence to the State of Israel. In simpler terms, if a Jew is wants to ensure the continuity of the Jews, he cannot live in a country other than Israel. This soldier made the point with examples of historical events in which Jews were endangered either physically or spiritually for being Jewish. His point: Jews will ultimately assimilate and never be at home anywhere, other than in Israel.

The second solider, however, believes that every Jew has his own unique role in the maintenance of the Jewish continuation. It is for this reason that certain Jews must remain in Israel, while others must spread their knowledge of Jewish identity and advocacy for Israel in their own countries to bring back those Jews who are at the verge of losing their Jewish continuation. Israel will always be every Jew’s home, but in addition to this, a certain transformation of the culture and attitude of other countries with respect to the Jewish people is in order. As I sat and listened to these two soldiers arguing, I realized that each was describing features of the ultimate maintenance of Jewish continuation, and in fact, the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people within a seemingly hostile world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader of the Chabad movement, never traveled to Israel. We are told that when he was asked why he wouldn’t travel to Israel, he replied that there is much to still do in the diaspora. Considering the tremendous effect the Rebbe had on the maintenance of Jewish continuation in the diaspora and Israel, it is perhaps safe to say that he was absolutely right. My father was born in France to a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother who never told him of his identity as a Jew. He discovered he was a Jew when he was eighteen years old. As an artist who loved Ancient Greek philosophy and the Ancient Greek language, he became interested in the linguistic similarities between the Ancient Greek language and the Hebrew language. He sought a rabbi, whom he asked of to be taught the Aleph Bet. Little did he know that this rabbi was a shaliach, one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissaries whose task was to teach and inspire Jews in France. My father, who is now a scribe, was immediately hooked. If not for the Rebbe’s mission – in which it is essentially valuable to search for and to find every Jew in order to provide an environment for him in which he can express his inner soul, his Jewish identity – I would not be born. If not for this rabbi, who chose to commit his life to Jewry in France instead of living in Israel, I would not be born. And you would not be reading these words. That’s a problem, because the world needs me. The Torah teaches us that everyone should relate to his world as though it was created just for him. You see this world, with its continuous apparent contradictions between what is pleasurable and what is painful? That world is yours. America is yours just as much as Israel is yours. The world belongs to you. And it’s up to you to figure out what you want to do with it. You may choose to fight for the continuation of your people by being an IDF soldier or you may choose to fight for the continuation of your people by being a rabbi in France. Our world needs every Jewish soul who is not yet born and every Jewish soul who is struggling and who is lost, just as much as it needs those Jewish souls that are firmly rooted in their Jewish lineage and continuation. So far, I have perhaps justified the perspective of the second soldier, but the job is not yet done. This is only part of the Jewish story. It is true that as Jews, we are intrinsically connected to our homeland, the Land of Israel, whether or not we are aware of it. It is true that although I should relate to my world as though it belongs to me, Israel somehow has a special place in my heart and in my life. And in addition to all the history and the palpable spirituality Israel exudes Israel has the potential to be the center of knowledge, of peace, and of unity. However, this potential can be actualized only if we have every Jewish soul involved. And in order to have everyJewish soul involved, we need to be in America just as much as we need to be in Israel.

About the Author
The Dateline Israel blog is written by participants in "Newsroom to Newsroom," a trip sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT and geared for practitioners and students of journalism. They'll be blogging it like they see it throughout their tour, which lasts until January 10.