Saturday, November 18, 2017

A diaspora Jew

There's something that needs to be said about Jews in the diaspora, of which I'm one. In America, there are many Jews, mainly from the conservative or reform movements, who seem to be demanding that Israel must do certain things to keep them happy, such as recognising certain laws that are not part of Jewish halachic law, or opening up the Kotel to mixed prayer areas - even though they already exist!! Some of them even embrace anti-semities because they misguidedly say that social justice somehow means they need to criticise Israel. They say Israel is insulting them, but I think it's the opposite - it is THEY who are insulting Israel. For Israel is a Jewish country, not a religious one, but one whose principles are undoubtedly Jewish. In Israel, you can live any kind of life you like and how observant or non observant you are is totally up to you, yet it is has to be within the Jewish nature of the country. However, for those who demand that Israel must be exactly like every other country such as America or Australia or Britain are missing the point entirely. I think the vast majority of Jews in the world do not want Israel to be carbon copies of other countries. They want Shabbat to mean something special, even if they don't celebrate it. They want to hear the sirens on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoa as everyone stops to observe those special moments. They want to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut with street parties. They want the country to go quiet during Yom Kippur even if they don't fast themselves. And these are things that are unique in Israel - no other country in the world can celebrate Jewish joy so fully or reflect on Jewish sadness with such depth as they do in Israel. Israel is the centralising figure of the Jewish world - it's where we turn in prayer, where we look to for inspiration, where we beam with pride and honour. For Jews, Israel is our home, spiritual at this point, maybe physical at a later point, but it is the centre of the Jewish world. And outside Israel, our job is to support that country and that spirit and to respect how lucky we are in the world - not just the Jews in Israel, but outside Israel too, for our lives would not be our lives without Israel there to protect us. Without the shield of Israel existing for us, I shudder at what our fates could be. All we need to do is look around the world with its growing anti-semitism to realise that. But it's more than that - for Israel will always be the place where we can truly flourish as a people. And even if there are problems there, it's no different to any other country, except that it remains the place we Jews can truly call home. Our job in the diaspora is to support that vision and if we are so upset at what the Israeli government is doing, and if we can't sleep at night because we don't like the way they are going, then the only place to change that is from within, not spitting from the sidelines like some spoilt kid. The reality of today is that the Jewish population in America will diminish over the next few decades as they forget what being Jewish means, their intermarriage rates increase and they gradually forget the importance of Israel to their Jewish world. Israel remains our hope that the Jewish future will be bright and strong. It is the land of our past but more importantly, the land of our future.

1 comment:

  1. Justin: it's incredibly rare that you and I disagree on anything related to Israel, so maybe we can start a dialogue on this issue.

    You and I will fully agree that those of us living outside of Israel have very legitimate standing to criticize Israel on security and defense issues-- our homes aren't in range of Hamas and Hezbollah, our kids aren't serving in the IDF, and terrorists don't invade our homes and synagogues.
    BUT-- when it comes to issues of being the nation-state of the Jewish people, while we don't get an equal vote, we are part of the family and our voices should be part of the conversation. When dealing with the status of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, or the arrangements at the Kotel and other holy sites, it should not be the most restrictive minority that makes the rules.
    Think of how someone from my own synagogue--Conservative, egalitarian, with both rabbis being women-- to go to Israel and have no egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, and to be told that our rabbis are illegitimate. Is that going to enhance or damage their attachment to the State of Israel?
    The ultra-Orthodox rabbis also place unnecessary barriers in the way of those who immigrated under the Law of Return but require a formal conversion for marriage. They have even invalidated conversations done by other Orthodox rabbis!
    You and I do agree that it's entirely appropriate to have Judaism be a part of public life in Israel. But it has reached the point that the only people in Israel without freedom of religion are the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. That's not good for the Jewish people and it's not good for Israel either.

    Mike Harris