Will Israel Turn its Back on the Grandchildren of Jews?

If your last name is Goldberg or Horowitz, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a Jew as defined by Halacha (Jewish law).  In fact, it could mean that you got the name from your father whose only Jewish parent was his father.

However, up until now, the secular Law of Return supported your eligibility for Israeli citizenship if you so desired to apply for it.  Now, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana has proposed changing all that. He has introduced a plan whereby he is willing to introduce the idea of civil marriage in Israel, something which has not been recognized officially, but which he would support being permitted if performed at a foreign consulate location in Israel.

While this news would be welcomed by a good many Israelis, who reject the idea that only marriages performed by orthodox rabbis in Israel should be officially recognized by the State, such a monumental move would come at a great price.  Kahana goes on to lay something else on the altar of sacrifice – the right for the grandchildren of Jews to obtain Israeli citizenship.  In his mind, Kahana justifies such an act as being beneficial in helping to maintain the Jewish character of the State.

So what happens to all the Goldberg and Horowitz grandchildren who, by virtue of their last names and Jewish bloodlines are no longer able to be guaranteed a safe haven in the only Jewish homeland in the world?  Will they be hung out to dry for the sake of the coveted “civil marriage” carrot dangling in the face of the secular Israeli population?

Can we honestly be so desperate for freedom, which should be ours anyway, enough to sell out these grandchildren who would be disenfranchised from a law which has been in effect for nearly half a decade?

During these perilous and uncertain days, where freedoms are as much at risk as the ever-looming threat of antisemitism, we should be in search of how to better protect our rights and freedoms than trying to make deals for the sake of retaining or gaining a new freedom at the cost of losing others.

It’s fair to say that, up until now, all observant Jews, Kahana being among them, have been loath to make any concessions for unobservant Jews and their preference to be married either civilly or by a non-orthodox rabbi.  The monopoly has continued to flourish despite the outcry for change and the need to recognize other branches of Judaism which are relegated to barely being tolerated when it comes to decisions of Jewish law and life.

Here’s an important question.  What caring Jew thinks that this particular period of history is a good time to alienate grandchildren of Jews by shutting down their option of immigration at a time when attacks upon the Jewish people are being ramped up at a greater pace than ever before in recent years?

Statistics show that 2021 was the worst year in a decade for anti-Semitism around the world with a “Joint summary by World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency saying that there was a daily average of 10 incidents, with attacks in Europe accounting for 50% of the global total.” (Times of Israel, January 24, 2022)

Following the events of the Hamas rocket attack in May, 2021, which lasted for weeks, the world caught a shocking glimpse of anti-Semitic attacks against members of the Jewish community who were neither Israeli nor had anything to do with Israeli policy.  They just happened to either be Jewish, look Jewish or dress like observant Jews.  That was the criteria for the beatings, hot pursuit and vicious attacks mounted in places like New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and elsewhere.

So, again, who thinks this is a good time to rewrite the Law of Return and turn their backs on the grandchildren of Jews? Only someone who feels that there is something to gain would be so heartless and cruel as to attempt to disassociate the Jewish roots of grandchildren from their right, both by law and by birth, of making Israel their home.  And what is that something to gain?  It’s a proliferation of the “exclusive club” which has been set up by the orthodox in order to promote only one expression of Judaism – theirs.  It sounds very familiar of what is going on these days politically.  If you’re not with us, then you must be silenced, stopped, marginalized and ousted.

It’s a terribly cynical and abusive way to govern a nation, a religion or a people, but it’s happening more and more just about everywhere we look.  The bottom line is that if you’re not in power, you are in a vulnerable group – those whose rights and privileges are at the mercy of the ones who wield power.  No longer is the average person afforded consideration if they do not serve the purposes of those with authority.  Consequently, more and more citizens are finding themselves marginalized and in danger of extinction should they end up on the opposite side of their leaders – be they political or religious.

Kahana is trying to appear reasonable by allowing unaffiliated citizens – those who are already here and whose status is not in jeopardy, to marry in their own country, on their own terms.  What isn’t reasonable, and actually makes us realize that he is pushing an agenda (albeit not very subtly), is that in order to enjoy that new “privilege,” you must be willing to sell out those from whose veins also flow Jewish blood, but at a lesser percentage.

It is my fervent hope, as much as it would be great to see the orthodox monopoly broken, allowing the possibility for more plurality of marital options, that fair-minded and large-hearted Israelis would see right through this and overwhelmingly reject this sorry attempt to close our doors to grandchildren of Jews – a truly unconscionable and self-serving act which has no place in the great story of the Jewish people who survived 2,000 years of exile from their rightful home.

Let’s not repeat the shameful history of what happens to those with a percentage of Jewish blood when failed to be protected.  They, too, went to their death.  Should we not welcome them with open arms and let them know that they are, indeed, part of our tribe?

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.