The end of the American Jewish Diaspora

Many people are writing about the terrifying rise of anti-Semitic violence in America happening in our generation in front of our eyes.

And there will continue to be many eloquent essays penned and speeches given about this frightening reality in which many community leaders will contemplate what the best path forward is for Jews in the United States at this point. Guns or no guns? Keep a low profile or protest out loud? Commit to staying in America or make aliyah to Israel?

In contrast, I’m going to keep the message of this blog short, simple and uncomfortably blunt.

With all of the love and respect that I can possibly gather, I want to say this to my Jewish brothers and sisters across the ocean:

The time has come to realize that the greatest Diaspora community in all of Jewish history is coming to a close.

America was an incredible run for the Jews for a long while. It was a great place for a good length of time, especially as a respite and a refuge for a people exhausted from 2000 years of turmoil and terror. But that chapter, like other chapters in Jewish history, is nearing its end. The rapid rise of assimilation coupled with increasing anti-Semitism are all the telltale signs we need to understand that, in the end, even the great American Jewish dream wasn’t meant for us forever. That America was not destined to be the final destination for Am Yisrael.

I know it’s hard to accept. Radical change never is. We all thought that, at least in America, we were going to be exempt from the golden rule of Jewish history: that in every generation there are those who rise up against us. We thought that America was different. Sadly, it has proven to be just the same.

But just like there’s never been a better Jewish Diaspora than America, there’s also never been a better time in Jewish history than now for a Diaspora community to come to a close, when the Jewish state has already been created and all it takes to take advantage of the physical and spiritual refuge it provides is to fill out a few forms and pack up your belongings.

And let’s be honest, living in Israel wouldn’t be such a bad alternative for American Jews. With every kind of religious and secular Jewish community under the sun to choose from, with evidence of the antiquity of Jewish history sticking out of the land wherever you go, with virtually free Jewish education, with the best kosher food on the planet, with Ikea located all over the country and with Amazon now delivering for free, there’s little to nothing that America has on Israel for the Jews.

In 1882, Moshe Lilienblum, a Russian Jewish scholar and author, shocked by the wave of pogroms in Russia happening at the time, wrote that the Jews of Russia have three choices laid out before them. One, assimilate so completely that within a few generations there is no remnant left of the Jewish people or Jewish culture there. Two, stay in Russia, do nothing, change nothing, continue to be oppressed and watch as the pogroms and the violence worsen. Or, three, change your destiny, save yourselves and move to the Land of Israel.

Lilienblum’s insight and understanding of the reality around him back then proved to be true. So true that it helped to inspire the first wave of aliyah of thousands of Russian Jews in the early years of the Zionist movement.

And, as intense as it is to say and as intense as it is to hear, I think Lilienblum would say the same thing about American Jewry today.

Obviously I am biased in this discussion and conversation. I made aliyah 15 years ago, but not out of fear of American anti-Semitism but rather out of love for the Land of Israel and the kind of life I could live in the State of Israel. And this makes me, and others like me, an anomaly. Almost all aliyah to Israel over the past 140 years has been fueled by persecution and oppression. From the early Zionists fleeing to Russia to Jews of Europe before the WWII, from Holocaust survivors after the war to Jews from Arab lands after 1948, from Russian Jews in the 1990s to French Jews today. The question is will American Jews be added to that list?

By sharing these ideas, I know I run the risk of sounding haughty and arrogant and judgmental. But so be it. This is too important not to be spoken. I and others who share this opinion are not saying that Jews living in Israel are better than Jews living in the Diaspora. We are not saying these things because we want to tell others what to do. We are saying these things because, as our brothers and sisters, we love our fellow Jews in the Diaspora and we want to help. We want them to be safe. And, most of all, we want them to join us in the only land that has ever truly been a home and a refuge for the Jewish people.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh is the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (www.becomingisraeli.com), a compilation of blogs and essays that speak of the inspiring and the sometimes wacky and crazy experience of making aliyah. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. He teaches Jewish history at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon. He is also a musician and in 2010 formed Holy Land Spirit, an uplifting and spiritual musical experience for Christian groups visiting Israel.
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