For the first time in its history, Diaspora Jewry is feeling increasingly let down by its relationship with Israel. Some would even say slighted – and rightfully so – while others might call them a freier (sucker). But the problem isn’t Israel, nor the Diaspora, nor the Palestinians, nor Trump, nor anyone else who is so easy to blame.
It’s the Jews who are fighting – in Israel and in the Diaspora – the right vs. the left.
It’s happening all over the world.
There is no external fight between our Jewish nations. It’s internal Jewish political arenas: right-wing Israelis vs. left-wing Israelis, right-wing Diaspora vs. left-wing Diaspora. When it comes to matters of Israel they all team up together – but not as Israel vs. the Diaspora – it’s the Jewish political right vs. the Jewish political left.
The current conflict within World Jewry frustrates the mind to no end, as it’s being fought in the wrong arena by those who want to make peace. It’s not a conflict of culture. It’s a conflict of ideas where everyone can see the fighting in real-time on their screen.
Technology is what’s confusing people who still see the world in maps.
The battles being fought have no borders to defend, so we can’t assess the combatants or the battlefield by geography. Like any conflict that hasn’t been solved yet, there’s a lot of truth to be found on all sides, but not enough understanding of how to end the fight.
For anyone who’s used to navigating between international bases of Jewry, being Jewish has always felt like a small but global family. That’s why the current rift almost feels like the cranky in-laws are at it again. Only this time it’s more serious because everyone is taking sides. All over the world. The last time this happened didn’t work out so well, because it hardly ever does, especially for Jews.
The current rifts in World Jewry are not unique to Jews. Whether in America, Europe or Israel, or anywhere else in the world, people are firmly taking political sides like never before in our lifetime. Or at least not since the end of the last world war. Ever since the last time Jews were so poignantly reminded there’s only side you can ever safely pick, there’s been a worldwide consensus, an intuitive understanding, that Israel was insurance if this ever happens again.
With a world this divided – and Jews either leading or advising or buying the leadership on both sides – this isn’t going to end well if we don’t get our own house in order. It doesn’t need to be true for people to believe it. People see what they want to see, only now they can send it to all their friends in an instant, encouraging them to take action.
What seems unbelievable or unimaginable to our eyes is exactly the thing we should expect not to see.
Study after study, poll after poll, says there’s a rift which is widening between Jews all over the world. Research centers and think tanks are devoting tremendous thought and resources to study the problem academically, while the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation dedicated its entire 2018 conference in Israel, a once-in-5-years event, to the issue of the steadily growing rift in Israel-Diaspora relations.
As they should. It’s critical to understand each other if we’re going to cooperate as one. The problem with all these studies, polls, think tanks and conferences? They’re not even asking the right questions to begin with. They’re correct in prioritizing this as problem number one for the Jews. But to assume what needs to be studied is how Israel relates to the Diaspora, is to imply that every Israeli relates in the same way.
Or that everyone in the Diaspora relates the same way to Israel.
ISRAELI DIASPORA JEWS
Growing up in the Jewish Diaspora when your home is Israeli deepens your understanding of the connection between them. You’re living in the Diaspora so you identify as Jewish, but your parents are Israeli so you feel like you are, too.
You’re at home in either home though you’re not an Israeli Jew (yet). When you’re strongly connected to both sides of the same coin, you can objectively disconnect from either identity. If your goal isn’t to show why either side is right – but why the other is, too – it sharpens your focus when zooming in on the issue since your only intention is to bring everyone together.
The children of Israelis in the Diaspora understand this relationship intuitively. We know what it is to love both your home and your homeland, not equally, but uniquely, wishing they could all be together in one spot. We know it’s possible to bleed loyally for more than one country, just as our hearts beat loyally for more than one parent, or child, or anything else you can love more than once.
We also know Israelis the way Israelis know Israelis. The way you can only know Israelis if you grew up around Israelis, or can speak to Israelis in their own mother tongue. We see the good not even the Israelis see, the bad we wish we never had to see, but the best part of all?
We get all the jokes on both sides.
Growing up Israeli in the Diaspora means you understand both psyches. When you’re American-Israeli, you understand Israelis better than Israelis, Americans better than Americans, because you not only think like each one – you also think like the other.
Multicultural children become very perceptive adults. They see through two sets of eyes, so they always have something to compare with. An American-Israeli at home in both cultures knows how Israelis look to Americans, how Americans look to Israelis, and why everyone looks so funny in the other one’s eyes.
PRE-STATE ISRAEL AND AMERICA
America and Israel are the only two states in modern times which were founded specifically based on an immigrant-minded ethos believing immigrant-born labor is the way to build up your state. Most natives understand the sacrifice an immigrant makes when trading in the easy life for a harder one on the other side of the world. They appreciate immigrant labor, desiring it more than a native-born son. They know the homeland will only get stronger with more immigrants, then everyone can cash out in the next generation with multiple native-born sons (and daughters of course, too).
During the pre-state settlement of both the United States and Israel, immigrants and refugees arrived from all over the world with their hodge-podge of cultures ready to move in. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but as long they were living in the homeland, they’d all get mixed in together as one. Some in the melting pot out West, others in the cholent back East, which now includes zaatar, hummus and vodka, served with a side of spicy Moroccan fish. (I keep that one separate – the spice is the best part.)
Everyone comes out a mish-mash of somebody new and improved, but still not so new that you’re somebody else entirely. If that ends up happening then you may have gone too far, or did something wrong, because you’re not supposed to be so new you’re no longer yourself. If you read the instructions and did everything right, you’ll come out of the stew a better version of you.
When it came to building Israel, as more immigrants moved up to the homeland more immigrant labor was needed to help build the state. There was too much to do in too short a time, so a call was put out to the rest of the world’s Jews: Please join our cause, anyway you can.
Some did, many didn’t, but the ones who did joined for life. Some joined in person, some joined in their hearts, but they all continued to work the cause of Israel until the cause became a state. Then they worked some more. They’re still working today, and have already promised to work tomorrow. Like any concerned group of shareholders, they’re entitled to quarterly updates and meetings with the executives managing their money.
Only this isn’t about their money. This is about their homeland, which might end up being their state one day. But even if it isn’t – the state affects the homeland greatly – and the shareholders have a right to check up on their investment to make sure it doesn’t blow up in their face.
ISRAEL IS A JEWISH STATE
What’s tricky about turning a Jewish homeland into a Jewish state, is that it becomes every Jew’s state, because it’s the homeland of every Jew. Even the Jews who don’t live there or have never even been.
Israel is every Jew’s state wherever they are in the world. Not in every way, but in the ways that make them a Jew. Israelis know very well the only reason Israel is a special place, or succeeding as a state, is because it’s a state full of Jews from all over the world. But it helps to be reminded that not all Jews are Israeli, so Diaspora Jewry has a duty to remind it when Israel forgets where it came from.
It’s easy to forget to behave Jewish when you’re a nation full of Jews living in the world’s only Jewish state. When you think, talk, dream and order McDonald’s in Hebrew, you don’t need to go to Hebrew school to feel that you’re Jewish. Even the Jewish holidays feel like any other holiday, because they are. If the Hebrew calendar is the state calendar, the non-Jews are off, too. That means nobody has to ask for Passover vacation time. Everyone is getting it whether they want it or not.
What’s great about living in Israel when you’re a Jew who grew up in the Diaspora – is you’re just not that special anymore in a nation full of Jews.
When you regularly drive on Menachem Begin Street to get to the highway that leads to Ben-Gurion Airport, it’s easy to forget the history of the men these streets were named for. Living in Israel, ironically enough, you hardly ever ponder the history of the Jews you’re currently contributing to, unless you’re an educator or a tour guide or a student in grade school. The rest of the country is too busy living out the present, honking at the bikers while they write the next chapter.
To feel Jewish in Israel requires nothing more than waking up there, which is why too many Israelis don’t realize the value of what they have. Like a child spoiled by parents who love their kid too much to set boundaries, Israel knows no matter what it does somebody will always keep loving it.
Which is true. It’s a good feeling to have so you know you’re not alone, but even unconditional love has limits if not returned. No self-respecting parent is going to let their child embarrass them in public. The emotional ones overreact by also embarrassing their kids in public, which only makes everyone else embarrassed at their behavior. The smart ones end an embarrassing scene by taking the kids aside to give them a scolding in private.
THE DIASPORA IS MULTICULTURAL
My sister has been American from the age of 5, myself the age of 2. We didn’t officially become citizens until 14 years later, but back then it wasn’t a big deal as long as you were contributing in a productive way. Even though we weren’t born there we’d always felt American first.
Although America was our first home for as long as I can remember, it was never our only home. As native-born subjects of Her Majesty’s Crown, during summers we visited our birth home to live with our grandparents in England. It was the only time they usually saw us in a year, which in the pre-Skype age wasn’t easy for Jewish grandparents. But since it was the only time they usually saw us in a year, they made sure we’d love it so much we’d want to keep coming back. Which we did every summer for the rest of our childhood.
Two American children roaming the streets of London town with a Czechoslovakian grandmother in one hand, and an Egyptian saba in the other. It’s not so unusual in the multicultural Jewish Diaspora. I haven’t even told you about the family we have in Israel. Germany, Morocco, Tunisia and Hungary are some of the other countries they were Jewish in, but once they got to Israel it was easier just to be Jews.
Growing up Jewish in the Diaspora with a home in America, England and Israel, it’s easy to see the differences between all kinds of Jews, though it’s actually even easier to see all the similarities. Between American Jews and Israeli Jews, Israeli Jews and Euro Jews – and also Euro Jews and American Jews – but do they even talk?
(They really should.)
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
There’s a significant difference between saying “there’s a problem,” and declaring “this is the problem.” If we start from the premise that the rift between Jews is between Israel and the Diaspora, we’re going to waste a mountain of time, energy and resources – because that isn’t the problem.
There’s no doubt we’re seeing a very divisive discourse taking place in World Jewry these days. But it’s a division between World Jewry, not a division between Israel and the Diaspora. The latter would imply a division between Jews that is cultural or based on geography. There is no cultural rift between Israel and the Diaspora.
Despite all the problems currently dividing the Jewish nation, the one thing we don’t have is a lack of love for one another. The worst that can be said is Israel doesn’t take enough notice when the Diaspora is talking. But that’s not anything personal. In Israel nobody takes notice when anyone else is talking.
In a nation full of Jews who are always right all of the time, it’s not easy to get noticed when everyone else is talking. That’s why you always see so many Israelis yelling.
Despite the loud volume Diaspora Jewry still loves to visit Israel as much it loves to visit Israelis, while Israelis love when the Diaspora visits, so they can show off the country and try to convince them to stay. It’s not always the most actionable solution, but it’s always coming from a heart with good intentions.
Israelis want the Diaspora in Israel as much as the Diaspora wants to be there. Whatever one thinks about making Aliyah (immigration to Israel), the passion with which Israel pushes the Diaspora to move in, surely means Israelis are as much pro-Diaspora as the Diaspora is pro-Israel.
So, we’re off to a good start. For anyone who still feels otherwise due to religious animosity in Israel (which, unfortunately for Israel, means political animosity, too) don’t waste your energy, learn more instead. Learn about the new Israel while continuing to learn the old one. The history of Israel’s past is the most incredible history in the world – but it will never be more important than the present moment we are in.
Knowing how modern Israel works day-to-day will help to better understand the problems we have, most of which have always been there. But now more than ever, it’s important for Jews to know what is happening in Israel at all times, whether it’s good or bad. Whether or not you can affect what is happening, the hyper-connected world we live in has yet to experience what hyper-connected actually means.
Jews all over the world need to understand what is happening right now – because the Diaspora is already feeling the effects of whatever is happening in Israel.
- American Jewry
- British Jewry
- Conservative Judaism
- European Jewry
- GA 2018
- Israel-Diaspora Ties
- Israel-US Relations
- Israeli Politics
- Jewish Assimilation
- My Judaism
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Reform Judaism
- religious-secular divide
- Ultra-Orthodox Jews
- World Zionist Congress