How do we safeguard Jewish continuity in the Diaspora? If you asked David
Ben-Gurion or writer A.B. Yehoshua, the answer is simple: You can’t. For them,
the Jewish Diaspora has no future.
Only the State of Israel can sustain
the Jewish people into the 21st century. Only Jewish sovereignty can provide the
Jewish people with a comprehensive reality in which all aspects of life no
matter how mundane – from the roads and fields to the buildings and the computer
programs to the culture and the language and the military – are permeated by
Jewishness by virtue of the simple fact that they are the products of a
sovereign Jewish people’s collective endeavor.
If, on the other hand, you
asked an Orthodox Jew, you would be told that strict loyalty to tradition is the
key to Jewish continuity. The rigorous demands of Orthodoxy foster commitment
and self-segregation – the best bulwark against assimilation.
constantly reminded of one’s Jewishness via adherence to a comprehensive system
of heavenly inspired rules and regulations – Halacha – that governs every aspect
of one’s life, from the way one should tie one’s shoes to the most intimate
matters involving relations between husband and wife to the percentage of one’s
income that should be set aside for charity.
These rules and regulations
are relatively standardized so that a Jew in Casablanca shares much in common
with a Jew in California or in Calcutta. All discussions of the law exist in
books, which became – after their traumatic exile from the Land of Israel nearly
2,000 years ago – the Jewish people’s “portable homeland.”
There is truth
in both these claims. Israel is the only country in the world where the Jewish
population is actually growing. And the State of Israel has also become a focal
point for strengthening Jewish identity abroad. Birthright-Taglit, probably the
single most successful outreach program ever, has Israel as its
By simply bringing young Diaspora Jews to Israel, Birthright
has proved that the Jewish state, so often portrayed in the media as embattled
and controversial, can also be incredibly inspiring.
have shown that coming face to face with Israel is such a profound experience
that it actually encourages Jews to marry other Jews and deepens Jewish
connectedness in numerous ways.
Israel seems to provide young Diaspora
Jews with a unique opportunity to confront their Jewishness on their own terms
while experiencing the miracle of the Jewish people’s return to national
Meanwhile, the Orthodox community – particularly the haredim
– have emerged as the engine of Jewish population growth, not just in Israel
(where they are expected to make up one-fifth of the Jewish population by 2028,
according to the Central Bureau of Statistics) but also in the
The UJA Federation of New York’s recently released population
study showed that thanks to haredim, the Jewish population living in the “five
boroughs” (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) as well as
Westchester County and Long Island, is actually growing after decades of
Amazingly, 74 percent of Jewish children living in the five
boroughs are Orthodox. Orthodoxy’s success in fostering Jewish continuity in the
Diaspora is undeniable.
On Tuesday night, the Israeli Presidential
Conference kicked off with the forward-looking theme “Facing Tomorrow.” Some of
the greatest Jewish minds are scheduled to address the most pressing challenges
facing the Jewish people. High up on the priority list is the question of Jewish
continuity in the Diaspora.
One panel in particular, titled “To Be
Jewish: The Challenge of Being Jewish in the Diaspora,” which will be moderated
by The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief, Steve Linde, on Wednesday evening will
deal exclusively with this issue.
The role of Israel – in projects such
as Birthright – and the lessons that can be learned from haredi and Orthodox
Judaism’s success – at least when it comes to Jewish continuity – must figure
prominently in any discussion of Jewish continuity.