Jews in Perspective

“I don’t live in Israel but Israel lives in me” quipped Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel when he received his Presidential Medal in Israel last year. With the strong support Diaspora Jews express towards Israel, this was a revealing remark. The Jewish State resembles a refuge for Jews world-wide; a holy homey sanctuary, if not in reality then at least in the heart – an insurance policy and a place to go if persecution makes Jewish life in the Diaspora intolerable.

Aliyah numbers illustrate this. While life in America is prosperous and comfortable for Jews, and a place where Jews exert extensive power in government, Hollywood and business, there was an 11% drop in Aliyah in 2013. Jewish power and religious freedoms, although commendable, make the difficult move to Israel seem unnecessary. Conversely, Europe and France in particular are places which try to isolate, discriminate and intimidate Jews. A recent poll by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency recorded that 40% of French Jews fear publicly identifying as Jews, and that 75% of European Jews feel that anti-Semitism is on the rise. The link is clear. Western European nations saw a 35% increase in Aliyah in 2013 and France saw a whopping 63% increase in the last year. Jewish Agency figures show immigration from France has risen sharply since the start of 2014 with 854 new immigrants arriving in Israel during the first two months of year, compared to 274 in same period in 2013.The chilling video that showed French anti-Semites on International Holocaust remembrance day call for Jews to “Get out” was heard loud and clear.

The old observation that Jewish identity and survival hangs on a pendulum, perennially swaying between persecution and assimilation seems just as true now as it ever did. European anti-Semitism and American assimilation grant us the rare opportunity to witness juxtaposed ends of the proverbial pendulum simultaneously. Studying these two extremes is worthy, but there exists a timeless moment between the clocks’ swaying seconds: ISRAEL

Israel is the time and place where all Jews are welcome. It is a place free of hateful anti-Semitism on the one hand and apathetic assimilation on the other. Israel is where Jews can practice, live and feel their Judaism without fear, no matter the denomination. Negative connotations that accompany being Jewish are replaced with pride. Israel is diverse, open. Israel is the safe-haven, the ideology, the home and the solution. Israel protects, defends and permits our freedoms.

President Shimon Peres once said that “the Jewish peoples greatest contribution to the world is dissatisfaction”, so any worthy opinion piece can’t truly be complete without a complaint, assessing the status quo and questioning priorities.

I socialize amongst fellow Olim (new immigrants to Israel) and recently noticed an interesting phenomenon. Almost all conversation between us covers, at some point, how abroad, salaries are higher, housing prices more affordable and how you get far better value for your money at the shops. Abroad, a friend just told me, you can get a BMW for the price of a Scoda! Anglos living in Israel lament over the high taxes and over inflated property prices. They dream of the shopping, food, clothing and electronics abroad, never-mind the family and friends.

Western materialist culture has seeped in to our consciousness, re-defining our concept of happiness. To be satisfied in today’s Western world, wealth expansion and material accumulation must top the agenda. This perversion of values has warped our priorities, trapping us in the financial rat-race of brand names and inflated bank accounts.

This material obsession resembles an inverted Elie Weisel quote, how even though we live here in Israel, a certain part of “abroad” lives in us. Perhaps as long as we live in standards that we are not accustomed to, this feeling will persist. After all, Israel has never been focused on material comforts as much as on ideological plowing.

Although I completely understand the importance of a livelihood and that property is harder to obtain in Israel, we ought to strive to find value in something else. As is clear from psychology, true meaning and happiness come not from getting but from giving.

President Peres continued his dissatisfaction anecdote by saying “I am an optimist. A dissatisfied optimist”. Seemingly the ultimate Jewish inclination is just that: never being too happy with the present, a healthy dose of complaining about it, while tirelessly working to improve the situation, optimistically. As 21st Century Jews, we must realize what is unfolding. Assimilation and anti-Semitism strike on either side while we thrive in our ancestral homeland. Although extra equity could always help, the greater picture puts everything into perspective.

About the Author
Avi Charney lives in Israel and is currently working in law.