‘I don’t live in Israel, but Israel lives in me” quipped Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel when he received his Presidential Medal in Israel last year. This was a revealing remark. The Jewish state resembles a refuge for Jews worldwide; a holy, homey sanctuary, if not in reality then at least in the heart – an insurance policy and a place to go if persecution makes Jewish life in the Diaspora intolerable.
Aliya numbers illustrate this. While life in America is prosperous and comfortable for Jews, there was an 11 percent drop in aliya in 2013. Conversely, Europe and France in particular are places which try to isolate, discriminate against and intimidate Jews. A recent poll by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency recorded that 40% of French Jews fear publicly identifying as Jews, and that 75% of European Jews feel anti-Semitism is on the rise. Western European nations saw a 35% increase in aliya in 2013 and France saw a whopping 63% increase in the past year. The chilling video that showed French anti-Semites on International Holocaust remembrance day call for Jews to “get out” was heard loud and clear.
The old observation that Jewish identity and survival hang on a pendulum, perennially swaying between persecution and assimilation, seems just as true now as it ever did. European anti-Semitism and American assimilation grant us the rare opportunity to witnesses juxtaposed ends of the proverbial pendulum simultaneously. But there exists today an alternative: Israel.
ISRAEL IS the place where all Jews are welcome.
It is a place free of hateful anti-Semitism on the one hand and apathetic assimilation on the other. Israel is where Jews can practice, live and feel their Judaism without fear, no matter the denomination. Negative connotations that accompany being Jewish are replaced with pride. Israel is diverse, open. Israel is the safe-haven, the ideology, the home and the solution. Israel protects, defends and permits our freedoms.
President Shimon Peres once said that “the Jewish peoples’ greatest contribution to the world is dissatisfaction,” so an opinion piece (by me, at least) can’t be truly complete without a complaint.
I socialize among fellow olim (new immigrants to Israel) and recently noticed an interesting phenomenon.
Almost all conversation between us covers, at some point, how abroad, salaries are higher, housing prices more affordable and how you get far better value for your money at the shops. Abroad, a friend just told me, you can get a BMW for the price of a Skoda in Israel! Anglos living in Israel lament over the high taxes and over inflated property prices. They dream of the shopping, food, clothing and electronics abroad, nevermind the family and friends.
This material obsession resembles an inverted Elie Weisel quote, how even though we live here in Israel, a certain part of “abroad” lives in us. Perhaps as long as we live in standards that we are not accustomed to, this feeling will persist.
After all, Israel has never been focused on material comforts as much as on ideological plowing.
President Shimon Peres continued his dissatisfaction anecdote by saying “I am an optimist. A dissatisfied optimist.”
Seemingly the ultimate Jewish blessing is just that: never being too happy with the status quo, sufficient complaining (of course), while tirelessly working to improve the situation, optimistically.
As 21st century Jews, we must realize what is unfolding. Assimilation and anti-Semitism strike on either side while we thrive in our ancestral homeland.
Although extra equity could always help, the greater picture puts everything into perspective.
Avi Charney lives in Israel and is working in law.