I’ve been digesting the Pew Research survey, listening to what others have said and written. Each article speaks well, but somehow doesn’t alleviate the need to express my own feelings. For me, the results offered a painful reminder of what I gratefully left behind 20 years ago when I boarded a plane to Israel. I felt then that a door was closing behind me and I needed to get out, get my children out.
I haven’ t been to the States in more than 15 years. I’m not qualified to report on the status of American Jewry. I can only explain what I feel as a single individual, a lone Jewish woman. I know only from a family perspective and it is, to be honest, quite dismal.
While my parents were blessed to have all three of their children marry Jews (and have 2 out of 3 choose to live in Israel); the rest of their siblings are running a solid 50-75% intermarriage rate…without exception (except for the one uncle who never had any children).
One believes herself to be Christian and far superior to my family. She speaks of us with disdain; one could even suspect she had successfully transformed herself into an anti-Semite so great is her loathing of her heritage.
Another believes that despite her intermarriage, she is not only a good Jew, but from her home in America, she is in a better position to tell the world what is good for Israel than I am. When I dared to criticize her reasons for voting for Obama, the door was slammed (slam number 3 in our lives and for me the opportunity to add a lock so it won’t open again). I’ve had no contact whatsoever with a bunch of my cousins – which is probably for the best on all sides.
To be fair, one who married a wonderful non-Jewish man is raising her children as Jews…but too many of the others haven’t made this choice.
From the distance of time, miles, and culture, I catch glimpses of my cousins on Facebook and they were the first thing I thought of when I read the Pew results. I can’t help but wonder how they would react if they knew anything of the life I live.
My life revolves around the Jewish calendar; my week around the Jewish Sabbath. And if that weren’t foreign enough to them, I have a bomb shelter in my home; gas masks on the lower shelf of the table in the living room. Two of my sons have guns; my youngest son is preparing to serve in the army.
I mourn each year for the victims of the Holocaust to a depth they cannot imagine because it is part of a national day of mourning. And, come next year, I won’t plant anything in my garden for a whole year.
My cousins, at most, know the basics – of Hanukah and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and Passover. Sukkot is likely lost to them; Shavuot never was. Tu B’Shevat – at most – is when they get hit up to put money in a little blue box (or do a PayPal transfer), but they don’t know the almond trees are just beginning to blossom in Israel.
Purim is only the Israeli Halloween – they know nothing of the miracle, the victory, and the evil that made the holiday what it is.
Tisha B’Av…gone to them, though in a real way, it should be symbolic of all they have lost. Shmitta…no, nothing is left of the concept or the knowledge. The memory banks have been erased, washed, gone.
Iran is a political question and not a clear and present reality to their lives. They believe what they read on CNN and BBC and know little of the realities of life we face here; of what Israel is or what Israel does.
What has remained, amazingly enough, on their side is an anger that we in Israel dare to embarrass them. What right do we have to bring up that stupid Jonathan Pollard, who, I have been told, endangers all American Jews. How we dare to remember where we came from; what our grandfather taught us and more, what we learned from his life. His mother and sisters were gassed to death in Poland.
I doubt my cousins have ever stood in a gas chamber as I have, ever walked the streets of Poland; the Jewish quarter where my great grandmother lived. I stood near the gas chamber where she died – perhaps that was the one I stood in as well. I cried beside the crematoria where they burned her body and I left her a picture of my son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel…the son who carries her son’s name into the next generation.
What the Pew Research survey tells me is that the ocean between me and my cousins continues to increase. They drift further and further from the values that our mutual grandparents held dear. I move deeper and deeper into this land and all it represents. Two of my children have married Israeli-born; two grandchildren – one is third generation Israeli; the other first generation.
Like a lone survivor on the raft, someone waits. But who is on the raft, drifting alone, and what are they waiting for? Is it my cousins, in the isolated world of Christian America…or is it me, in the spiritual oasis of Israel?
If it is me, I know that on this raft there is such hope for the future. Every day we build, we discover, we innovate. Hi-tech Israel breaks all records and shines in a world that too often goes dark. And spiritual Israel, where strangers wish each other “Shabbat Shalom” on the street and unite to pray for a wounded soldier’s eyes, reminds us that there is a collective Jewish soul.
Even on a raft that is the nation of Israel amid a sea of enemies, we will survive and prosper. And so what am I waiting for? I wait for the end, when I’ll know my cousins are fully gone…and I can begin the real mourning. For now, my tears are my own, internal and quiet because I know they are going. Soon, I believe, the tears will be stronger. Already there are more Jews in tiny Israel than in all of the United States.
And if, as I believe, it is my cousins on that raft, isolated in choppy waters of assimilation, intermarriage, and the ongoing loss of identity, how will they cling to a past they deny? What are they waiting for? Do they even know they are on a raft leading no where, on a path to strangers who have no common past?
Pew made me immeasurably sad because it brought to the front the simple reality that there are not many tomorrows for many American Jews and as I’ve watched them drift away, I know some of my cousins will be among those left behind.
Perhaps the saddest part of all is that they won’t even know what they have abandoned, what they have denied to their children. They’ve never been to Israel and know nothing of what it is to live here. The beliefs of our grandfathers have slipped away from them. They have lost their connection to Israel…land and people. They know nothing…but are about to lose everything.