Imagine that you are standing on the quayside as a ship departs and sails away, gradually becoming a dot on the horizon and finally disappearing. Once it was there right by your side, but time has served to distance you from one another.
Perhaps the greatest moment of symbiosis between Israel and the Diaspora was in 1967. We were the children, who had been born after the Holocaust into a world in which there was a Jewish State whose very existence was under threat. And then there was the miracle of the 6 Day War in which Israel came out as the victor following a potential invasion that could so easily have led to her destruction.
Those were heady days, but we are no longer there. Fifty years have passed and the bonds between Israel and much of the Diaspora are untangling. We have become an army of occupation, and while there are many reasons to justify Israel’s refusal to return to what Abba Eban termed the “Auschwitz borders” of 1967, many find it difficult to live with a status quo in which the Palestinians are denied statehood.
However, my purpose at this time is not to address that issue or to express an opinion, but rather to acknowledge the fact that the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians has served to alienate many liberal Jews from the State of Israel.
The invitation granted to Michael Chabon by the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and the Reform rabbi who recited Kaddish outside the Houses of Parliament for those recently killed in the Gaza Strip should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a reflection of the growing chasm between many Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel.
The manner in which Prime Minister Netanyahu backtracked on his commitment to reach an understanding with liberal Jews on the issue of worship at the Kotel has only served to alienate many from a country in which all Jews were meant to feel they had a stake.
Many will argue that the very survival of much of American Jewry is threatened by intermarriage and assimilation, but Israel could have served as a channel to strengthen their Jewish identity rather than alienating them. America’s liberal Jews should not be ignored or scorned even by those who do not share their religious affiliation.
Seventy years after the Holocaust we cannot afford to dispense with 40% of world Jewry. Therefore, Michael Oren’s proposal to encourage American Reform and Conservative Jews to immigrate to Israel is a worthy initiative to try to reach out to those who could so easily slip away.