Monday, January 07, 2019

Are Israeli and American Jews Headed for a Divorce?

Nobel Prize Winner & Orthodox Jew, Robert Auman.  Israel needs more like him
I am so... not surprised. I am not surprised that the liberal Jewish New York Times deputy Washington editor, Jonathan Weisman, warns of a major schism between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry. One that is so wide that it may be reaching the breaking point. And he cites several indicators of that. Among those he mentions is the fact that President Trump is beloved by Israeli Jews while being reviled by American Jews. Here is how he puts it:
American Jews, in contrast, see President Trump as their existential threat, a leader who they believe has stoked nationalist bigotry, stirred anti-Semitism and, time and time again, failed to renounce the violent hatred swirling around his political movement. 
And then there is this: 
To be sure, a vocal minority of Jews in Israel remain queasy about the American president, just as a vocal minority of Jews in the United States strongly support him. But more than 75 percent of American Jews voted for the Democrats in the midterm elections; 69 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Mr. Trump, up from 49 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Israel is one of the few developed countries where opinion about the United States has improved since Mr. Trump took office. 
On the surface it might seem that Weisman is right. Indeed, I would have to agree that the  majority of American Jews and the majority of Israeli Jews view the realities in the Middle East in polar opposite ways. It is as if they are living in two different worlds. In fact I would remove the ‘as if’. 

The fact happens to be that Israelis not only see the political realities differently - they are actually religiously different. That applies even to non Orthodox Israelis.

What Weisman fails to recognize is that the vast majority of American Jews don’t really care about Israel that much - regardless of how they feel about the President or his policies. They don’t care about Israel because they don’t care much about their Judaism. (I wonder for example how many non Orthodox Jews in America are even aware that there is a controversy over control of the Kotel - or care about it if they somehow do know.)

Lest anyone doubt that American Jews do not care about their Judaism - the same Pew Research Center statistics upon which Weisman bases his analysis - provides us with another well known statistic: Among non Orthodox Jews in America - there is a 70% intermarriage rate! And it seems that a lot of non Orthodox parents don’t even care if their children marry someone of another faith. At least not the way they used to a few generations ago.

Which is why Reform rabbis now happily perform intermarriage ceremonies and Conservative rabbis are not that far off from doing so, too. (Some already are.)

If Jews don’t care about being Jewish, why would they care about a Jewish State? They might even see the very idea of a Jewish state as racist by definition!

Weisman quickly glosses over the fact that - as he notes - there is a vocal minority that supports the President and his policies. The very policies that disturb the Left. Nor does Weisman mention who that ‘vocal minority’ in America is. But it should be obvious to anyone paying attention that is the majority of American Orthodox Jewry.

For me this is not a simple matter. I am an Orthodox Jew who is appalled by the President's behavior despite the many things he has done which I do support. Hardly a day goes by where something he says or does doesn’t make me cringe. On the other hand one cannot ignore the things that make Israelis love him. Things that I support as well. Which as noted are the very things that the Left despises more than his bad character.

It is obvious where Weisman is coming from. He too is non Orthodox. Although he might be one of the minority of heterodox Jews in America that actually cares about his Judaism and the welfare of Israel, he understands that most Jews are increasingly disinterested in Israel (and in my view their Judaism as well). But not entirely for the reasons he states – although they do add to that disinterest.

In the short term Weisman is probably right to worry. The relationship is deteriorating.  Thankfully it is not broken yet. But if it continues in its current trajectory – it will be.

How does this impact Israel’s future? I can’t answer that. But Israel’s future should not be dependent  on American Jewish support anyway. At least not at the level it had in the not so distant past. Because if the current trend of Jews abandoning their Judaism continues - in a couple of generations, that majority will disappear. To be replaced by a fast growing new majority of American Jews that are Orthodox. That being the case they will be nevertheless be far fewer in number than today’s majority. Which means the financial help Israel receives from American Jews will probably be a lot less than it is now.

Israel needs to wean itself off of that kind of support it. It is going to be severely reduced if not disappear completely. This is the new reality. Orthodox Jews will not in the future be able to match the kind of donations Israel receives from today's Jewry.

The handwriting is on the wall. It has been for quite sometime. Only no one has noticed it until recently.

For its part Israel will become an increasingly observant community - as the birth rate among Orthodox Israelis is exponentially higher than it is among secular Israelis. And Charedi Jews have the highest birth rate of all. If Israel is going to survive without the current level of financial help it gets from the American Jewish establishment, Charedim in Israel will have to more quickly become integrated into all pats of Israeli society While a lot of Charedim are already doing that, we have a long way to go for there to be a proportional distribution of Charedim in all fields.

I have expressed many times what I believe the Charedi world needs to do to best accomplish that - which is beyond the scope of this post. Hopefully it will happen. Charedim need to participate fully in all sectors of Israeli life. They can ill afford to maintain the paradigm of encouraging all men to learn full time until they can't anymore. And only then seek a job.

Israeli productivity depends on more than about just getting a job. Israel's very survival will depend on the increasing percentage of Charedi Jews to do what the secular world (and some in the religious world) do now. To excel in all fields of human endeavor. From high tech; to medicine; to science; to economics; to ethics; to the arts... you name it. And achieve the kind of success in those fields they have achieved in Torah study. As important as Torah study is, it cannot be their sole focus anymore. That should be more obvious than ever now. In that way the world will increasingly see Israel as the light unto the nations its populace has the Godly mandate to be.