Ronald Lauder saw it fit to publish an opinion piece in the NY Times about what he believes is wrong with Israel today and how he believes Diaspora Jewry is being affected by internal Israeli policy decisions. Lauder’s position however is stale, irrelevant, and not reflective of today’s reality. Despite his position as head of the World Jewish Congress, his opinion reflects – at best – that of the old-American-Jewish guard. Jews of the diaspora, under the age of 40, for the most part do not agree with his half-cooked positions. Instead, Diaspora Jewry is either entirely disconnected, apathetic, or anti-Israel/Judaism on the one hand, or highly-connected, motivated, energized and full of love and respect for Judaism and the modern-day Zionist movement, on the other. The future of Diaspora Jewry lies with the latter category.
Jews of the diaspora do not need a further watered down Judaism and Israel to be more connected to our nation-State and our religion. This was the theory of Reform Judaism: make it easier to follow Jewish laws by changing all the “hard” ones, and Jewish life will flourish. The proof is in the pudding. The Reform movement is dying, and continues to be diluted everyday. Modern-orthodox, Chabad, and conservative synagogues and communities are thriving while the Reform Judaism that was once seen as “the future” is almost nowhere to be found.
Lauder goes through a laundry list of excuses as to why he sees Diaspora Jewry growing disconnected to Israel. This is, however, simply a list of excuses – not reasons.
For instance, Lauder’s claims that the failed enhancement of the “egalitarian section” of the Western Wall is damaging US Jews’ connection with Israel. Nonsense! An open and mixed section of the Western Wall already exists. It sits almost entirely EMPTY day in and day out. The Jews of the diaspora largely don’t give a hoot if that section is expanded or not. It bothers no one to pray separately at the Wall. Should we keep that extra section? I think so – it may even need some updating. But, is the status of that section really keeping any Jews from supporting Israel. Surely not.
Next, Israel’s Nation-State Bill. I’m starting to believe that no one who comments about it ever took the time to read it. I urge you to. The Nation-State bill basically reiterates Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It does nothing to diminish anyone’s rights. It is a political response to those who want to change the nature of the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Israel already has laws on the books about equal rights. This is not Israel’s Constitution: Israel doesn’t have one. This is just one piece of the puzzle. Israel’s Declaration of Independence, already states that Israel shall “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” Should the Nation-State Bill included this as well? In retrospect, probably. But, does the passage of this Bill – which takes away no ones rights but reaffirms Israel as the nation-State of the Jewish people do anything to negatively impact Diaspora Jewry’s connection with Israel? The only intellectually honest response is, no.
Jews who proclaim to now suddenly question their connection to the State of Israel, or their religion, as a result of either of these supposed issues, or any of those that Lauder lists, are simply looking for excuses to disconnect. They form part of the 60% or so of American Jews who don’t care about Israel or their own religion (according to Pew Research). They do not form part of the ever-growing movement of proud, Zionist, Jews who love Israel with their bones, and whose support for Israel will never waiver as a result of a decision of any particular government or Rabbinate. That may have been the Zionist movement Lauder knew decades ago, but it is not what makes up the Zionist movement of today.
The idea that Israel and the Jewish people need to dilute who we are, and what we are, to conform to the winds of change is misguided and simply wrong. Our people have outlasted all empires, cultures and eras. Our North Star remains the same, and must continue to do so.
Lauder’s position essentially is that the recent decisions by the Israeli government and Rabbinate are an existential threat to Diaspora Jewry. Respectfully, Lauder has it backwards. It is his generation’s decision to dilute our religion, our culture, and our connection to our homeland, that has led to a generation full of apathetic and disconnected Jews.
Fortunately, Lauder’s opinion does not reflect that of today’s World Jewry, despite his position. The number of Jews who love and support Israel, the Jewish people, the Jewish religion and Jewish traditions, continues to grow every day. Jewish leadership needs to focus on giving World Jewry something positive, strong and everlasting to stand behind. Israel and our Torah, together, give us all the tools we need to provide this to World Jewry. Rather than writing op-Eds criticizing Israel, let’s focus our energies on showing the disconnected and apathetic Jews ALL the reasons why they should stand tall, proud and unified with our homeland, Israel, as part of our amazing and everlasting Jewish people.