It is a rare thing to hear Israelis praise the Diaspora, and yet in the past few days, I’ve read several pieces in the Jerusalem Post that have done just that.
A week ago last Friday, the Post had an editorial thanking the Jewish communities throughout the world for their public demonstrations in support of Israel’s war in Gaza; last Friday a letter to the UpFront section of the paper suggested that one of Israel’s strengths may lie in having an outspoken Diaspora community to advocate for it in the rest of the world; and the same section printed a piece by Daniel Gordis in which he advocates for every synagogue in the U.S. to own an apartment in Israel (not just in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but smaller cities such as Kfar Saba, Kiryat Gat, and Pardes Channah) for its members to use on a timeshare basis, enabling Diaspora Jews to connect in a personal way with the country.
I have said in the past that while I think that Israel is the BEST place in the world for Jews to live (religious and secular), I disagree with the notion that it’s the ONLY place in the world for Jews to live. My opinion is based on reasons of family ties, professions, and the fact that while much of the rest of the world does not care particularly for Jews, there are still places where, if they wish, Jews can live in relative freedom and comfort alongside their non-Jewish compatriots.
But perhaps a distinction should be made between a Diaspora which continues to nourish its Jewish identity and support its fellow Jews worldwide (including in Israel), and a Diaspora of Jews who remain there because they imagine they are safe from the threats that Israel faces on a daily basis. The fact that the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah (yimach shemo), has made the statement, “If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide,” suggests that Jews anywhere and everywhere are considered a legitimate target of terrorism. (Witness Mumbai, where the center of the tiny Jewish community was pinpointed and struck hardest in the citywide massacre.)
I can see the advantages both to a kibbutz galuyot (ingathering of the exiles) and the status quo. While some may agree with Nasrallah that having all of the Jews in the world living in Israel would jeopardize the safety of world Jewry, the advantages would include a strengthened morale, improved Jewish unity, and greater leadership alternatives here. Advantages to having a Jewish Diaspora that actively supports the Jewish State include having a strong Jewish voice on ethical and social issues affecting Jews and non-Jews alike, financial support for institutions in Israel which benefit the Diaspora, and advocates (formal and informal) for the only democracy in the Middle East.
Without a kibbutz galuyot, Judaism will continue to fracture and fragment in the world, especially in the United States. Jews will continue to be seduced away from their faith and traditions by the non-Jewish world, in effect creating what Efraim Zuroff referred to in last Friday’s Post as “the largest graveyard in Jewish history, far larger than Auschwitz, with the only difference being that the Jews lost there went to their Jewish demise voluntarily.”
And yet, without a supportive Diaspora community, who will advocate for Israel in the rest of the world? Who will speak out with the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of Torah and scholarship? Who will pressure governments, media, and the UN to apply a single, reasonable standard to the conflicts here? Who will call for justice for those wronged by hatred and religious extremism with the compassion of a people at various times enslaved, expelled, and exterminated by the rest of the world? Who’s doing all this now?
One can discuss the pros and cons of worldwide aliyah until one is blue in the face, but the fact remains that the day when every Jew in the world will pull up stakes and make his or her way to the land of our fathers is simply not forthcoming. And given that state of affairs, what remains is to find ways to strengthen the worldwide Jewish community, both in its Judaism and in its ties to one another. To that end, Daniel Gordis’s suggestion is a small but sound one.