Thursday, May 03, 2018

Secular Jews, Orthodox Jews, and Israel

Screenshot from ‘Yom Ha’atzmaut in Song
Every once in awhile, I am reminded why I am such a strong supporter of Israel. And why I abhor those Jews that wish to undermine it, or even destroy it if they could. Which is why I get enraged when I see demonstrations by certain groups calling Israel’s leaders Nazis. Or attacking the soldiers - even (and perhaps especially) Charedi ones. Or using terms about Rav Kook reserved for people that wanted to commit genocide against us. Yes, I get enraged!

 It boggles my mind that there can be such antipathy for a country that was deeded to us by God Himself. A country responsible for more Torah study than any other. A country that opened its doors to survivors of the Holocaust – languishing in European detentions camps.  A country where Judaism lives – even among the secular. A country where Jews had risen from the ashes to help ‘make the desert bloom’. A country whose medical discoveries and scientific achievements have given so much to the world. ...and so much more.

If one wants to understand why I feel this way, watch the video (although available when this post was written, it is no longer available - HM) I was directed to called ‘Yom Ha’atzmaut in Song’. 

I actually got pretty emotional while watching  it. What it said to me was “Am Yisroel Chai!’ – the people of Israel live! Nowhere in the world is this more evident that in the State of Israel. Not even in the great and wonderful country I live in, the US.  

Even with all of the political fighting among factions that goes on in Israel there is somehow a unity among the majority of Jews there (except with extremist factions whose agendas mean more to them than unity) that is absent here. While watching all of those Israeli Jews singing that prayerful and powerful song, I saw looks of both pride and hope in their faces – asking God to protect what they have, what they’ve built, and what they will build. 

The 12,000 people that participated in this are proud to be Jewish and proud to be living in Israel. Most of them are probably not observant. At least not by Orthodox standards. And yet, there was a sense of brotherhood among all of those Jews even though they did not know each other. All singing together in a land in which they live and call home. The joy in their voices and on their faces was plain to see. It was a moment of unity that - for a change - was not due to a tragedy. But to a recognition that we are all one people united and grateful to God from Whom we pray to continue protecting the Jewish people in the land we love.

I also thought about secular Jews in America… and how different their sense of Judaism is. It is a Judaism that is fast disappearing. The percentage of Jews that marry non Jews is at an all time high (60% - up from 17% in 1970!). Assimilation has caused the majority of American Jews to abandon Judaism who in their ignorance see little value to it.  That has also generated apathy and in some cases antipathy toward Israel - seeing little to no value in a Jewish state because they see no value to Judaism.

Now it’s true that a lot of secular Jews in this country do value being Jewish. But I doubt that most of them even know what that even means beyond cultural symbols that have nothing to do with the essence of Judaism.  (…like eating out in a Chinese Restaurant on Christmas eve. A very Jewish thing to do these days.) But even for those that are cultural Jews, I wonder whether their children will care even about that. How many secular Jews in America today can honestly say about their own children that they care at all about being Jewish or what that even means to them?

My guess is that as each generation passes, the assimilation rate will continue to increase until eventually only observant Jews will be left. Which is why heterodoxy is trying to get a foothold in Israel. They are beginning to  realize that the American Jewry over which they have presided has no future.  But they also realize that this is not the case in Israel, where virtually everyone does care – and proudly identifies as a Jew. And where Jewish culture is at least based on actual Judaism instead of what we do when our gentile neighbors are celebrating Christmas.

This is not to say that Judaism will disappear in America in a few generations. The fact is that one segment – Orthodoxy – that  is bucking the assimilationist trend out of Judaism. They are doing the opposite - increasing their numbers exponentially with each generation.

But the real action is in Israel. That is where a Jew indentifes fully as a Jew and is proud of it. Although it does exist minimally there is hardly any assimilation out of Judaism in Israel.

Even though I am not likely to make Aliyah (for reasons beyond the scope of this post) I nevertheless feel that I too belong in that brotherhood of Jews in Israel. Both secular and religious. I get what they feel. I feel it too, even sitting here comfortably in my home 7000 miles away. Am Yisroel Chai! That’s a feeling that will never leave me.