Diaspora Identity Crisis


A lot is being said about the issue of ‘Dual Loyalty’ among Diaspora Jews, whether regarding loyalty to their country of residency or loyalty to the Jewish State and/or the Jewish people.  This loyalty subject is one which needs to be analyzed from a historical and psychological point of view.  The issue of loyalty has haunted Jewish communities in the Diaspora for centuries.  Actuality, this has been the case ever since the Jewish people were forced out of their Homeland in the Land of Israel into Europe and other parts of the world.  We have been living outside our Homeland for so long that many Jews, themselves, are ignorant of the fact that Judaism is not just a religion, but a nationality whose people were displaced for the past 2000 years and thus, our psychological identity crisis.

What are we Jews?  We are a people with a language and a nation State, a political history including Kings and Judges, a people with a currency, borders (which have changed just as rapidly as have countries throughout Europe over the centuries) and yes, with a religion.  For the past 2000 years we have been dispersed and have taken on the customs, languages, nationalities, citizenship of our host countries, and to various degrees, we have adopted a patriotic feelings towards the countries in which we have lived.  Many Jews have served in the armed forces of those countries and were willing to die for the values those countries aspired to, despite rashes of anti-Semitism, pogroms, Inquisitions and Holocausts throughout the many centuries of our living in the Diaspora.

It should be said that for a Jew to live in galut (Diaspora), is an unnatural phenomenon and as such, causes inner conflict as a Jew is never 100% home in his host country, but only in his ancestral Homeland; Israel.  This explains why so many Jews who have never had previous Zionist education or religious affiliation, find themselves with a strange feeling of home, upon visiting Israel for the first time, despite unfamiliarity with the language (Hebrew).  So what is it that causes such great inner conflict for the Diaspora Jew in which he feels torn between loyalty to the country which has hosted him for so long and to his own people as well as the State of Israel?  Since the modern State of Israel itself is only 70 odd years old, to a certain extent, the psychological dilemma regarding the State of Israel is a relatively new problem for the Jew in the Diaspora.  It didn’t exist over the past centuries until the rebirth of the Nation State of Israel because we simply had no choice but to be as loyal as we could be to our host countries.  It is true that our hosts often questioned our loyalty because they innately sensed that we are not home, in their countries, just as we innately knew all along, that we did not belong there, but rather in our Homeland.  Now we are presented with Israel in the flesh, a Jewish State in which the people who shared a language and a common history 2000 yrs. ago, have returned to the land of their forefathers, Israel, where they belong.

Here in Israel, we are an experiment in the renewal of a national culture, one which sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully, meshes the cultures and traditions of our host countries of the past. It is a fascinating experiment and through it all, over the past 71 years, Israel has exceeded all expectations with success in assimilating the many Jews from various backgrounds and has exceeded as well, in all fields; economic, military, industrial, scientific, most likely, because of the many talents we have collected throughout our Diaspora adventures. Israel has made its imprint on the world community.

If we were to liken the reborn State of Israel to the life of a human being going through the various stages of growth, we would be able to see a timeline of maturity; infancy being the height of dependence, dependent on other world powers such as the United States, for legitimacy, for economic stability, and for military prowess. Then on to the teens, in which the State of Israel was able to stand to a degree, on its own in such fields as military capability (wars of 1967, 1973), political assimilation into the community of nations, represented by strong UN ambassadors defending Israel’s existence and legitimacy.  One could say that Israel is just coming out of those teenage years and is heading towards adulthood.  The question is, how much Diaspora mentality must we part from, in order to fully meet our responsibilities as an adult country in the world community?  Psychologically, are we ready to completely part from the inferiority complexes we have suffered from throughout our lives in Diaspora?  It seems that most Israelis are ready, but our brethren, still in the Diaspora, are not.  Despite much of Diaspora Jews’ repeat visits to the State of Israel, as tourists, many sending their youth to year round programs within Israel, it seems that Diaspora Jews are still very much stuck in the psychological muck of guilt, fear, identity crisis and a general confusion due to lack of familiarity with their own history as Jewish education has waned.  This is what US Jews, in my humble opinion, are suffering from; Identity crisis.

As a believing Jew, who sees the return of Jews to the Nation State in our own Homeland as a fate, pre-described and manipulated by the Almighty, I cannot help but see what is happening today in public discourse as also something from the hand of G-d, in that He must cause the Jews in Diaspora to question their identity, in order to claim it or disclaim it, in light of the newest, significant  historical Jewish phenomenon of Modern Israel.

It will not be the first time in our history in which masses of Jews have had to face dilemmas and make choices. It is the first time though, since the rebirth of Israel, and thus it is a daunting task and will possibly have significant effects as did the choices of Jews in Egypt during the Exodus, during which only 20% chose to follow Moses through the desert, the rest remaining in Egypt and disappearing through assimilation.

Some of the questions Diaspora Jews are facing are these.  Am I a Jew first?  Am I American or a French or British first?  How dedicated am I to my own people and how far am I willing to go towards that dedication?  Am I willing now, to become a complete Jew and swear an allegiance to my people and my nation; Israel?  Or am I not willing to give up my life as I have lived it until now, in the Diaspora and play the delicate game of balancing my loyalty, my Judaism and my allegiance.  These questions are being asked now, by Jews outside of the State of Israel because the existence of the State of Israel has created the possibility for these questions to be asked.  The psychological gap between Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora will grow greater as the State of Israel becomes a stable, permanent fixture in community of nations in which the majority of the Jewish people will soon reside.  Though Israel often still seems to be fighting for its existence and legitimacy in the world, in  actuality, Israel is becoming much more dominant, on the world scene.  The reaction of the world community of nations regarding this fact is a topic for another article, but there is no denying that whether happy with this fact or not, Israel is now a phenomenon which the world community of nations is realizing it must deal with.  Thus we are seeing a great leap in international relations between Israel and countries from all corners of the world in fields such as industry, economics, political policy, etc.

It seems to me, that G-d works in wondrous ways and often uses unexpected characters to carry out His will. Donald Trump is just another of those characters on His stage as were Pharaoh, Haman, Korach, Titus, Ferdinand and Isabella, Stalin , Hitler and many others. Some of these characters are more vivid in our memories and some are a faint memory of the past, which many of us find difficulty connecting to. We know not the end of this story, but we are clearly all a part of the theme in a complicated and extremely interesting plot.

Meira Oved

About the Author
I am the daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who made it to the shores of the U.S. after losing a large, extended family. They succeeded in building a life for themselves and their child surviving son of 4 yrs. I was born 6 years after their arrival. I grew up in a loving, middle class family. My mother was very expressive and didn't hold back her stories regarding her experiences in the Holocaust. It was from my mother that I believe I inherited my knack for writing. She too, wrote regularly, in English (her 2nd language) in a diary which only became known to me after her death. I began showing an interest in my Jewish roots, in HS and decided to join a 1 yr. program in Israel on a kibbutz after graduation. I fell in love with Israel and upon return to West Coast, met my husband, an Israeli foreign student. At some point, we both became religious, made Aliyah with our 4 children and have lived in Israel for 27 yrs. Our very large extended family reside throughout Israel and our grandchildren are growing up as Israelis, something I am very proud of. I taught English to Native English speakers for over 20 yrs. here in Israel and am now retired.