American Jews Are Deeply Connected to Judaism

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Tzipi Hotovely meets with Chabad on Campus rabbis and rebbetzins on January 21, 2020. (Laura Ben-David/Times of Israel)
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Tzipi Hotovely meets with Chabad on Campus rabbis and rebbetzins on January 21, 2020. (Laura Ben-David/Times of Israel)

Last Wednesday, Laura Ben-David published a wonderful blog post about her work as a writer and photographer in Israel. She wrote about being “hired, last-minute, to photograph a special meeting in Jerusalem between new Minister of Diaspora Affairs Tzipi Hotovely, and a group of 30 Chabad on Campus rabbis and rebbetzins, in her first official meeting since assuming her new role the day before.” It sounds brilliant, right?

Sadly, something Minister Hotovely said was anything but. Ms. Ben-David wrote, “As the Minister pointed out, 80% of Jews in North America are completely disconnected.” I was fortunate enough to discuss the meeting with her online and I asked: “Disconnected from what? Judaism? Israel? I can offer plenty of evidence to the contrary in both cases.” Ms. Ben-David was “pretty sure” she meant disconnected from Judaism. It’s unfortunate Minister Hotovely is so misinformed about something so closely related to her new position.

The religious often think Conservative (Masorti), Reconstructionist, or even Reform Jews are disconnected because we are not Orthodox. It’s a fallacy. They generally don’t visit our shuls and disapprove of how we worship, but that doesn’t make us less Jewish or connected to Judaism.

Recent polling shows that 80-90% of American Jews support Israel and 67-70% feel a strong bond to the Jewish state. Why would we if we weren’t rooted in our Judaism? The Times of Israel published a story on one of those polls within the last few days. The Jewish Democratic Council of America quoted a poll with the higher numbers last year.

This fallacy is often connected to a belief the we non-Orthodox Jews have drifted away or aren’t somehow Jewish enough or are too assimilated. Maybe on some level they have a point. I’ve been hearing these claims for decades and it never is true and our population has never declined. My peers from the various non-Orthodox streams of Judaism celebrate the important milestones in their lives in shul and within our community. Many send their kids on birthright trips to Israel or travel to the Jewish state on vacation as a family.

In fairness to Minister Hotovely she is brand new in her position and I hope that her understanding of the relationship between American and Canadian Jews and Israel will grow and deepen and that her views will evolve accordingly. The fact that current Israeli government has a Ministry of Diaspora Affairs reflects an understanding that the relationship between the Jewish State and Jews outside Israel is an important one. Keeping that relationship as strong as possible requires that we understand and respect each other regardless of some differences between us.

About the Author
Caitlyn Martin is an American Jewish IT professional currently working as a security engineer for a very large and well known technology company. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Caitlyn's father was Israeli and fought in the 1948-49 War of Independence. She maintains strong family ties to Israel and hopes to make aliya in the not too distant future or, at the latest, when she retires.
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