Demographics: the main divide between US and Israeli Jews

A Reform Service at the Western Wall, conversion of the Jews of Uganda, and approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are just some examples of the growing rift between American and Israeli Jews. American Jews have an increasing feeling of alienation when it comes to Israel, while Israeli Jews are frustrated that American Jews can’t just understand their situation. This gap is often portrayed as an ideological or philosophical one, when in fact is has more to do with demographics than anything else.

Nothing illustrates this better than the case of Israel’s own minister of education and Hollywood actress Natalie Portman. Bennet’s father, Joe, lived in San Francisco was active in the civil rights movement, and affiliated with Reform Judaism. Portman, on the other hand, was born to Israeli parents, went to a Solomon Schachter school, was Alan Dershowitz’s research assistant at Harvard when Dershowitz was writing the book The Case of Israel. Given this information, Bennet would be the one more likely to embrace the BDS movement, be critical of Israel’s policy, and to support more progressive agendas. Portman, on the other hand, should have been more likely to support Israel’s current policies’, be a fierce opposer of the BDS movement, and a strong public voice supporting the state of Israel and It’s right to defend itself.

That is not what happened for either one of them. Naftali Bennet chairs the Jewish Home party, a right-wing Israeli party and opposes a Palestinian state, while Natalie Portman chose to boycott Israel and not attend a ceremony ironically granting her the Genesis award for being a good friend of Israel.

Why did things end up this way? Possibly, because Naftali Bennet’s father moved to Israel where now Naftali and his wife Gilat, raise their four children in Israel while Portman lives in Hollywood and had said about her children: ”A priority for me is definitely that I’d like to raise my kids Jewish, but the ultimate thing is to have someone who is a good person and who is a partner.”

A long story short: the Bennet family living in Ra’anana plans on being part of the Jewish story for many more years while the Portmans in Hollywood may be one or to steps away from the exit door. No Judgement here.

Considering that only 21% of non-Orthodox Jews 25-54 have Jewish spouses or partners, it is no mystery why support for Israel has plummeted among this same population.

Again, with no judgment, things boil down to demographics. Many Jews living in American just don’t have the same train ticket to the Jewish journey through history that Jews in Israel have, and we should respect that. If Jews in Israel are making decisions that are based on a long-term survival plan, no one who does not share that plan should dictate to those same people, how to travel. Of course, this does not mean American Jews must lend blind support to the state of Israel; it does mean they need to consider these differing perspectives. It does mean that American Jews refrain from engaging in what most Israelis would consider as harmful to Israel’s future. If there are American Jews that think that BDS is good for Israel, it would be morally reprehensible for them to act on that belief since most Israelis believe that BDS is detrimental to Israel’s well-being.

One cannot make decisions for a flying airplane from the ground. One can offer help and support, but not change their course. “And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob, says the Lord. “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My spirit, which is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth, shall not move from your mouth or from the mouth of your children and from the mouth of your children’s children,” said the Lord, “from now and to eternity.” (Isaiah, 59)

Until then, we stand firmly with Israel.

About the Author
The writer is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He is the president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network and lives with his wife in New York City.
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