Now after the cease fire, I would like to return to the very sad phenomenon: the disconnect between us Israelis and the American Jewish diaspora, the largest and most consequential Jewish diaspora. The docu-comedy series in the Israeli TV channel “Kan” 11, “The New Jew”, that was screened before the last round of violence, attempted to deal with this phenomenon.
The “New Jew” is a very important enterprise initiated by a number of Jewish foundations and organizations that rightly and creatively try to make the Jewish American community accessible to Israelis in an attractive way that does not provoke the usual yawn when American Jewish matters are discussed in Israel.
The main character the comedian Guri Alfi is virtuoso as usual. The director, the editor and the producers (Daniel Adar, Dudi Cohen, Naoi Pro) did a great job, but unfortunately, very few Israelis will watch the series. The disconnection between Israelis and the American diaspora will continue to hinder our ability to constitute what the founders of Zionism intended: a national home for the Jewish people that is simultaneously a democracy in which non-Jewish citizens also live with full equality.
Despite the name of the series, the American Jews presented in the series are not new. In many ways, it is the introverted and fundamentalist Judaism that we see in Israel that is the new phenomenon. For most history Judaism has been open to the world and integrated into global trends.
The State of Israel fails to establish a real and lasting connection with the vast majority of North American Jewry. Our religious establishment discriminates against non-Orthodox groups who are a home for most Jews across the ocean. Most of the religious Israelis despise and reject the way non-Orthodox Jews practice their Judaism, and the secular Israelis are indifferent to this distress. Yet we continue to expect them to be a financial source for donations and project funding, and for lobbying activities to advance our government’s policies, which sometimes contradict broadly held American Jewish community values.
Many Israelis say American Jewry have no right to comment or criticize what happens here because they do not live and deal with the day-to-day reality. However, we do not hesitate to leverage their love of Israel by activating their position of influence as our “propaganda” arm in America. This is while for many American Jews, the continuation of the occupation and the deterioration in the state of democracy in Israel are central issues in terms of our ability to maintain the romanticized Zionist dream Israel embodies for world Jewry.
For the vast majority of American Jews who are liberal and/or progressive the central ethos is “Tikun Olam” dedicated and energized by the causes of social justice, religious pluralism, and minority rights. Most of the Jews in the Israel, it often appears, have forgotten what it means to be a minority and do not understand the consequences of the lack of separation between religion and state on the secular and liberal currents in Judaism.
In order to bridge these gaps, we must stop addressing American Jews as an instrument but rather adopt the concept of “Jewish peoplehood,” which is fundamentally an extended family or community. We must be aware and empathetic to their needs, values and aspirations. We shouldn’t expect them to take care of our needs in a one-sided way.
Israel and Israelis have a lot to contribute to diaspora Jewry, as recently demonstrated by a group of Israelis, who set up a platform, adopted by the Jewish Agency, called J Ready ( https://www.jready.org/en/who-we-are ) that helps Jewish communities affected by Coronavirus, by using the relative advantage and unique capabilities developed by Israel.
We need to start considering the opinions of American Jews and not just mining them for their cash. We need to move to human relationships and not bank transfers. We need to establish a national “Reverse Birthright” project in which every high school student in Israel will stay for a few weeks in a Jewish community in North America to connect and understand their perspective, and to experience the beauty of Jewish community life and religious pluralism that exists in North America. Many high school students in Israel participate in the very important educational project of the visits to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland, but it is important to understand the story of living Jews not less than the story of dead Jews.
We need many young Guri Alfis who will devote time to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the ocean, who may be less funny and witty then Alfi, but will be able to demonstrate that Israel treasures its connection with the Jewish people in the Diaspora and their commitment to the realization to the original Zionist vision.