Sara Stein

Diaspora Jewry: Winds of change or complacency?

Ruth Lau: Crossing the Red Sea (2010), oil on board, 18x24 cm
Ruth Lau: Crossing the Red Sea (2010), oil on board, 18x24 cm

“The German Jewish community has been a vital part of Germany’s cultural landscape for over 200 years, making significant contributions across business, the arts, medicine, and public service.”

Actually, substitute “Australian/Australia” for “German/Germany” and you have the opening sentence of Australian Jewry’s Say No to Antisemitism website that was published in November 2023.

The website message, objecting to anti-semitism, was published as a double-page ad in the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time, the war in Gaza had just started, and anti-semitism had started to rear its ugly head. Since then, anti-semitism has gone viral. The ad campaign did not achieve its aims. If anything, anti-semitism just got worse.

This anti-semitic tsunami is manifest around the world, even in places like Japan where there are almost no Jews. We’ve seen university demonstrations for Gaza, marches, vandalism, violence, bullying, cancelling Jewish writers and artists, and Judenfrei campuses when rabbis called on Jewish students to stay home. It’s not limited to universities: in France a woman was raped for being Jewish, and in New York, Jewish children were physically attacked while playing.

The Jewish community has reacted instinctively with a sense of fear, hiding visible signs of their Jewish identity, and selling fake security cameras to cover up their mezuzot.

Many realise that the golden age is over, as described in Franklin Foer’s piece in the Atlantic: The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending. But some are also complacent. They’re assured that things will eventually pass, or believe they must stay and fight for liberal democracy: civil liberties and equity for all. In short, they want to return to what was before October 7th. 

Anti-semitism: then and now

The German Jews in the 1930s were very comfortable, financially and culturally. They refused to believe they were no longer welcome in Germany. They believed that local anti-semitism would just fade into oblivion. Between 1933-1939, German Jews had a window of opportunity to leave. By 1939, approximately 282,000 Jews had left Germany, but 202,000 remained, most of whom were murdered in Nazi camps and ghettos during the Holocaust.

When World War II started, people naïvely believed the Allies would conquer Hitler in a few months. Few people took Hitler seriously, he didn’t even have a university degree. Fast-forward to 2024: how many actually consider the college riff-raff a threat, especially when they’re clueless about history and geography, and can’t even argue in coherent sentences?

In a few years time, those kids will enter the workforce, and assume positions in the media, government, and law enforcement sectors. Most of them have already been “educated” in pro-Palestinian propaganda by faculty, who are at the helm of today’s universities. What’s worse: hearing the lies they propagate, such as “genocide in Gaza,” or the complicit agreement shown by those interviewing them? Just watch some of these pro-Palestinian students pledge their commitment to the Palestinian struggle in Gaza, their denial of Israel’s right to exist, and their admission that October 7th was justified. Journalist Avi Yemini captures the baselessness of it all in his media report.

It’s impossible to tell where their stupidity ends, and the wickedness begins. The line between ignorance and evil is very blurry indeed.

Anti-semitism is irrational and has been around since the beginning of the Jewish people, with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai coining the principle: “Esau hates Jacob.” The major difference between then and now is that today we have a sovereign Jewish country called Israel. In the 1930s there was no Jewish state to welcome German Jews. 

Is anyone listening?

Feeling a sense of responsibility towards my Jewish brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, I wrote a letter in December 2023 with the title: “The winds are changing: Time to come home.” I asked family and friends not to wait until the waves of anti-semitism become a tsunami. Interestingly, the only ones who replied were two cousins who are both 2nd generation Holocaust survivors. My letter did not cause anyone to pack up and take the next flight to Israel.

Rethinking Jewish identity

In recent years, there’s been a worldwide crisis in Jewish identity. It’s no longer enough to say being Jewish is about practising a religion. Today, being Jewish means belonging to the nation of Israel. Observing the commandments (mitzvot) like keeping shabbat, eating matza on Pesach, and giving charity (tzedakah) to fellow Jews is very important, but it’s not the whole story. 

The state of Israel now plays a central role in Jewish identity. Every Jew has a connection to the land of Israel, whether one is aware of it or not. Ultimately, the most fulfilling Jewish life can only be experienced in the land of Israel, where one is connected 24/7 to the nation of Israel and the God of Israel.

Practising the Jewish religion was good enough for us in the Diaspora, and it helped to preserve our Jewish identity over 2000 years. However, today, our goal is to build a model country in the state of Israel, and be a light to the nations. Many of us have forgotten that we were exiled from our native land, Israel, when the Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. We were forced to leave as refugees and scattered to the four corners of the world. 

In 1948 the state of Israel was born. For the first time in the long Roman-Western exile, the Jewish people regained sovereignty in their homeland. For the last 76 years, Jews have been returning to Israel to build the Jewish state: from its economic and national infrastructure, medical, legal and educational institutions, to agriculture, science, hi-tech and the arts, and an array of thriving, diverse communities.

The land of Israel is the only place in the world where a Jew can live as a Jew, but also contribute to modern Israeli society, in shaping the fabric of our everyday lives and improving the lives of others, both in Israel and abroad. Israel is no longer a developing country. It’s a country of blessing: we have food aplenty, an unlimited water supply thanks to desalination plants, natural gas resources, first-class healthcare for everyone, jobs, and a high birth rate. Israel is a land where we witness miracles and wonders every day.

The only significant Jewish population with its own army, police force, and secret service is in Israel. Outside of Israel, there’s no army or police to protect you.

When we connect ourselves to the people of Israel, to a story that’s greater than our own individual story, we join something greater than ourselves. It’s a first-class privilege to play an active role in rebuilding the modern Jewish homeland in the land of Israel. 

It’s true that Israel is far from perfect. But if it was, we wouldn’t have work to do. 

It’s already started

According to Rabbi Nachman Kahane, when the final redemption will approach, the gates of Israel will open and close, open and close. In the last few years we’ve seen airports close at a moment’s notice: for an extended period during corona, or recently during the Swords of Iron War. 

Jewish people abroad say they will only come to Israel from their own free will, because the time is right, because it suits them, and when everything is ready. Not because they’re being forced to. In the meantime, Diaspora communities in places like Melbourne continue to hold rallies for Israel under heavy police protection, and show their support for Israel.

So in spite of all the anti-semitism abroad, and many Jews feeling attacked, they’re not planning on going anywhere soon.

The world can be burning around them, yet many will stubbornly cling to their right to live in the Diaspora, leverage the legal system to fight against racism, and beg the local authorities to protect them. For how much longer?

When will the comfort zone of the Diaspora become so uncomfortable that it’s not viable to live there? When will Jewish communities wake up and realise that Jewish destiny is not in the Diaspora? That the Jewish people belong to a collective, the nation of Israel, whose home is in Israel.

Religious Jews, including those in America, actually pray three times a day for G-d to gather his people to Israel: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You Hashem, who gathers in the dispersed of His people Israel.”  The Bible refers a number of times to God gathering his people: “I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and will bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and multiply” (Jeremiah 23:3)

Whatever you believe in, this historical process has already started. The next wave of Jewish migration to Israel is on its way, and we better be ready.

About the Author
Originally from Australia, Sara Stein is Senior Technical Writer at DoControl, an Israeli hi-tech startup. She has written numerous articles and published a book on writing called Write to Succeed: Expressive and Practical Writing for High School and Beyond.
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