As an Israeli Jew, a daughter of two Shoa survivors and a staunch Zionist, one who dreads the consequences of assimilation and intermarriage I am certain that many would expect me to say a definite yes. Had I been asked this very same question several years ago, I would have probably agreed with it. Now, I am not so certain about it
Those who know me and my relentless fight to support Israel and secure the future of the Jewish people may raise their eyebrows. However, several milestones in my life over the past few years made me rethink this belief ingrained in us here in Israel since early childhood . The most important one is my returning to live here after thirty two years of residing elsewhere.
Life in Israel, as I seemed to have nearly forgotten, is not easy. It never has been. It takes a very special character, not better, not worse, just different and special, to live here. It is not in vain that we, Israelis, are called “sabras,” the cactus fruit that is thorny on the outside. Israelis, on the average, are straightforward people verging, at times, on the rude. We are stubborn, defiant and very outspoken on a variety of issues, the very same traits that have helped create this country and keep it alive and thriving. Our mentality and frame of mind is more Israeli than Jewish. And there is a big difference between the two which is only natural.
My recent visit to the US convinced more and more of this. As I observed many American Jews, I found myself asking the inevitable question, “would these fit into the Israeli society with ease? Will they be happy living in the Israeli reality?” The answer on many occasions was clear. They would not. Having said that, though, I believe that these differences could be used to enrich both sides and perhaps add to our strengthas as a people and as a Jewish country. In my recent trip, as I was weighing these questions, I came to realize more than ever the great importance and what an asset Jewish presence in the Diaspora, where many Jews support Israel, fight for Israel’s survival and in some cases at the risk to their own lives, can be. I saw Jews mobilize, speak and advocate for Israel in a manner that touched me deeply.
Furthermore, many of the non Jews that I met seemed to have a favourable impression of our culture and society precisely because they have had very positive encounters with Jewish friends,acquaintances, or co-workers who left plausive imprints of Judaism and Israel on them . It is, therefore, that I am more and more of the conviction that we, Jews, need to invest more money and resources into Jewish education in the Disapora, education about Israel and its importance not only for us, Jews, but for the world.
One such program that comes to mind is Taglit, or in its English name, Birth Right. My encounter with it is another milestone in my life in recent years. Lately, I have had the honour to speak to some of these groups and have had experience with this undertaking , albeit limited. Many of the young boys and girls who partake in it come into the program with very little knowledge, or understanding, if any, of their Jewish heritage. They do, however, so it seems, come out of it enriched and with very positive and powerful impressions of Israel as they reconnect to the Land and to their Jewish roots. The results are superb. The project, in a way, prepares and coaches them into becoming great advocates and ambassadors for Israel which then discharges them back into their respective societies where some may end up being leaders and others may occupy other influential positions and where they can help fight anti-Israeli and anti-semitic sentiments in their environment. Some, still, may even return to Israel and settle here which, of course, we welcome with open arms.
It is for these reasons that I do not prescribe to slogans that call upon all Jews to live in Israel. Perhaps it is not yet the time.
Jewish existence and survival is, in my view, some kind of an experiment in the timeline of history. In the words of my wise uncle Jack, “When we, Jews, all lived in Eretz Yisrael for a few millenia, it failed. When most of us lived in the Diaspora for two millenia, it also failed. Perhaps it is time to give it a try and see how successful we may be when half of us live in Eretz Yisrael and another half out of it.”