An Israeli student of mine who is living in the US approached me with some questions regarding the future of Jews in the US, and specifically that of Israelis living in the Land of Unlimited Opportunities. The student said that Israeli Jews are feeling uncertain and described the disconnection between Israelis living in the US and Jews who were born there. The student also described a sudden burst of support for the State of Israel among Israelis living abroad following Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Indeed, the situation of American Jewry is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. The same goes for Israelis living there, if not more so. Because Israelis still feel connected to Israel, either through family ties or because it is where they grew up, they cannot cut it off from their system altogether. However, by and large, Israelis living in America want the least connection they can have with Israel and with Judaism. This may be a conscious or unconscious state of mind, but this is where the majority of Israeli Jews living in the US stand.
There is a very interesting process happening here. A new reality is forming, and as always, the Jews are at the heart of it. The world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. The Covid-19 pandemic is just one example of it. Another example is the recent global spike in prices of transportation, staple foods, and utilities. Evidently, we have entered a phase in the evolution of humanity where what affects one part of humanity affects all parts of it.
If we want to resolve today’s crises, we have to think in terms of what’s good for humanity rather than what’s good for me, my city, or my country. Whether we like it or not, mutual responsibility is the call of the hour, and Jews, as the ones who first conceived this notion, are expected to lead it even if no one is verbally expressing this request. Jews are not requested to take over the world, but rather lead by example: We need to show that we are responsible for one another, and the rest of the world will learn from our example, just as it did in the days of the second Temple when non-Jews would come to Jerusalem to witness the unity of the Jews during the festivals of pilgrimage.
According to the book Sifrey Devarim (Item 354), “Nations and kings would say, ‘Since we have troubled ourselves and came, let us see the merchandise of the Jews.’ They would go to Jerusalem and see the Jews eating together and praying together, and since among the nations, the God of one is not the God of another, and one’s food is not another’s food, they would say, ‘It is befitting to cling only to this nation.’”
In his essay “About the Laws and Their Details,” philosopher Philo of Alexandria offered a beautiful depiction of the unity of the Jews that was so appealing to the nations: “Thousands of people from thousands of cities—some by land and some by sea, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south—would come each festival to the Temple as if to a common shelter, a safe haven protected from the storms of life. …With hearts filled with good hopes … they made friendships with people they had not met before, and in the merging of the hearts … they would find the ultimate proof of unity.”
These days, Israeli Jews are standing up to defend Israel, but I don’t feel that it is done for the right reasons. Unity should not be a step Jews take in response to antisemitism; it should be the step Jews take in order to prevent antisemitism altogether, at first, and ultimately because by this they are serving as a role model, just as our ancestors did in antiquity, before we gave in to unfounded hatred among us.
I am not optimistic that Israeli Jews in America will accept what I am writing here, but perhaps in a few years, when the pressure on them mounts, they will find them pertinent. In the past, we did not unite in the face of antisemitism, or if we did, we did too late. I hope that this time, we will be more attentive to the message and will wake up to the call for unity before another heartbreak lands on our nation.
We cannot defeat our enemies with arms, but only with our spirit. When we raise our connection to the level of mutual responsibility and solidarity, we will deter all the negative forces, and even our enemies will become our friends.
For more on this topic, refer to the books Like a Bundle of Reeds: Why unity and mutual guarantee are today’s call of the hour, and The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism, Historical facts on anti-Semitism as a reflection of Jewish social discord.
Rally In Support Of Israel and Against Antisemitism in New York, US – 23 May 2021