AMERICAN JEWS AND ISRAEL

Country relations. Flags on textured backgroundOne clear result of the recent Israeli elections is that there are major differences between an important segment of the US Jewish community and Israel. The win of right-wing and religious parties reinforces the fact that Israelis are different from the many American Jews who identify with liberal causes in the US.

In fact, one could imagine the great majority of non-Orthodox US Jews voting for the Israeli Labor party that built the state and ruled for decades. In the recent elections, however, it eked out just six Knesset seats.

One could argue that the differences between American Liberal Jews and Israelis are political: Americans still hold a hope for dividing the historic homeland of the Jewish people into two states. They would like Israel to be a liberal political democracy, like the US, with the separation of religion and government.

Israelis, who have spent two decades trying to implement the Oslo Accords that recognized the PLO, have come to terms with the harsh reality that no matter what they offer the Palestinians, they will once again be refused. They believe Iranian leaders when they say they want to destroy Israel. And Iran is certainly trying—sending troops to Syria and giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah, supporting their threats against Israel.

While these differences of opinion are major and relevant, there is still more to the divide, namely that Israelis and many American Jews have different values. Israel was once a bastion of secular, socialist Zionism. Non-Orthodox American Jews saw the culture from afar and identified with it.
According to a recent report, the vast majority of Israelis today are far more observant than they once were. Judaism and the deep spiritual connection to the Jewish homeland are central pillars in their lives. One-third of Israelis are Shabbat observant and another third consider themselves traditional; over 60% keep kosher. Less than 20% still identify as secular.

So, while Jewish learning and observance has weakened in large segments of American Jewish society, they have been boosted in Israel. The vast majority of Israelis look to their tradition as a central animator of their values, while Americans, whose knowledge of Judaism is more cultural than intellectual, see Western liberal values as the foundation of their identity.

So yes, there are political differences. But the real divide finds itself much deeper; it’s in the value system. Other Jewish communities, such as in the United Kingdom and Australia, have vastly higher rates of Jewish education-in Australia 80%, and mostly attend Orthodox synagogues are much more connected to their religious identity. In these countries, as in the US Orthodox community, there is little anxiety over Israeli policies today.

If liberal US Jews are troubled about the direction Israel is taking, they should pause for a moment of self-reflection. Maybe the time has come for them to delve more deeply into the classical sources of Jewish learning and find ideas that can enrich their lives. Increasing their Jewish literacy will help them better understand their Israeli brethren, whose values are becoming more rooted in the traditional teachings of Judaism.

 

RABBI DAVID ELIEZRIE Is at Chabad/Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda, he can be reached at rabbi@ocjewish.com.

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