Thank God that the State of Israel exists as a refuge for Jews around the world and that this latest influx of Jews from France will bring more of Am Yisrael here to build lives for themselves in the Jewish state. Prime Minister Netanyahu, many other Israeli officials and scores of denizens from the Israeli blogosphere have intensified their pleas to European Jews to make Aliyah in the wake of the terror acts in France, and I stand behind them. May all Jews everywhere know in their hearts that Israel is home.
Still, it’s disheartening that this wave of Aliyah has come about only because the Jews of France are growing increasingly afraid for their lives… certainly not because of yearning for their ancient homeland. The coming of the Messianic era is a process that was catalyzed by the founding of modern Israel according to my religious perspective; but we cannot know the specifics of God’s timeline or plan. It is for us to continue developing the Jewish State and encourage Jews to repatriate; but they must never be devalued should they remain in the Diaspora… every one of them has their reasons.
I recently reflected on this after reading a Hebrew article on the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar haShabbat about the rabbis of France who are not moving to Israel alongside their community members for professional reasons. Apparently, the Israeli Rabbinate won’t recognize them as rabbis, thereby forcing them to begin their careers from scratch in Israel. Some of Am Yisrael don’t move to Israel for professional or financial reasons (Israel hasn’t done much to promote a professional French Aliyah); some because their conversions to Judaism are not recognized by the Israeli religious establishment; some because they cannot leave behind their aging parents and families; some because of their deep roots in the lands of their births, and so forth. Thankfully, Aliyah rates are not the only indication of World Jewry’s attachment to Israel.
In fact, the 2013 Pew Research Center’s study on the American Jewish community indicated that “attachment to Israel has proven more resilient than denominational affiliation and core communal and religious practices”, as highlighted in an article by Prof. Theodore Sasson. The full Pew report states that “emotional attachment to Israel has not waned discernibly among American Jews in the last decade… Overall, about seven-in-ten American Jews surveyed say they feel either very attached (30 percent) or somewhat attached (39 percent) to Israel, essentially unchanged since 2000-2001.” Further, according to a report published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), European Jews have even stronger connections to Israel than American Jews, and a large majority claim that Israel plays a “central” or “important” role in their Jewish identities.
Last year, the JPPI published the results of its project ‘Jewish and Democratic: Perspectives from World Jewry’, drawing a distinction between two realms of policy issues that Israel contends with – one of Jewish identity and character, the other of foreign policy and security. Most Israelis and Diaspora Jews agree that Israeli policies, which determine the Jewish character of Israel have consequences for Diaspora Jews; and it is their right to try to nudge Israel to better respect their types of Jewishness. For example, a poll conducted by Teleseker for the Ruderman Foundation found that 70% of Israelis agreed that the Knesset should “consider the Diaspora when deliberating on legislation like ‘who is a Jew.'” The American Jewish Congress (AJC) expresses this sentiment beautifully on their website:
American Jews cannot presume to be equal partners on questions of Israeli security, which affect those residents in Israel far more than in America. Yet as members of a single Jewish people, we have the obligation to participate in major issues of intrinsic Jewish importance, such as “Who is a Jew,” and the Jewish nature of the Jewish state. The cultural and spiritual ties of peoplehood between American Jews and Israelis will affect our respective destinies as well as our collective future.
The principle of Jewish nationhood was reaffirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court in its 2013 rejection of a plea to recognize “Israeli” as a nationality. One reason given by the Court was that if the nationality of Jewish Israelis were to be defined as Israeli rather than Jewish, then the national bond that binds together Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora would be severed. This unique bond is nurtured by the Jewish State in many official ways, and Israel’s policies do consequently impact Jews the world over. As noted in the JPPI World Jewry report:
Israel, as the most visible manifestation of Jewish national expression today, impacts the way Judaism is perceived by Jews and non-Jews alike. Hence, its character and self-definition as “Jewish and democratic” can influence Jewish identity in several ways – from enhancing the role of nationality as the main expression of Judaism…
The JPPI report also underscores the bidirectional nature of the Diaspora-Israel relationship; and notes that the vast majority of Israelis share the belief that Diaspora Jewry is essential for Israel’s interests. According to a 2013 Ruderman Foundation survey, nearly 80% of respondents said Israel was dependent on world Jewry to “a very great” or “a great” extent.
In the 1990s, the struggle over Israel’s Jewish character was considered the most contentious issue within the Jewish American Diaspora, until the Intifada exploded in 2000. According to the JPPI report on World Jewry, “it is clear that many Diaspora Jews [today still] recognize the difficulties and constraints that Israel faces given the regional hostility and security threats,” but Israel’s more secure situation today leads them “to no longer support Israeli broadly and generally, but rather to support Israel-related causes compatible with their own political beliefs.” This trend holds true for Diaspora Jews across the political and religious spectra.
The battles over Jewish identity in Israel continue, and major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Congress, Jewish Federations of North America and National Council of Jewish Women are now officially advocating for freedom of marriage in Israel, which is an issue that affects all of us. For Jews of the Diaspora, living outside of Israel should not be considered a “heter” (exemption of responsibility) from loving, engaged involvement with the Jewish homeland.
May all Jews everywhere know in their hearts that Israel is home, and take responsibility for it.