Narrowing the gap between American and Israeli Jews
To ensure that American and Israeli Jews remain one people, we as Americans must strengthen our bond with Israel.
Israel US flag Photo: Courtesy
Two major and roughly equal- sized branches of the Jewish people live in
Israel and the United States. We are separated by distance and diverging more
and more by culture. In other words, we are gradually becoming (or have already
become) two different people. This is a very unfortunate development,
especially for a nation as small in numbers as our own – around 14 million –
in a world that is big and often hostile, especially to the Jewish
Some attributes that make us one people, rather than just
coreligionists, are common history, common ancestry, common ethnicity, common
historical homeland, common language, common culture and common
To ensure that American and Israeli Jews remain one people,
we as Americans must strengthen our bond with Israel.
in Israel is the best way to do this. While a large aliyah is unlikely at the
present time, American Jews should spend more time in
Unfortunately, a surprisingly large percentage of American Jews
have never even visited Israel, and some don’t care about Israel at all. As for
those who do, an occasional lecture, editorial or contribution is not
So what are some specific suggestions to narrow the gap between
American and Israeli Jews? To start the conversation, here are some ideas for:
(1) national and international Jewish organizations; and (2) individual
congregations and the Jewish community.
Suggestions for large Jewish
• Encourage American retirees to spend winters in Israel instead
of Florida. If they like it there, their children and grandchildren will
• Organize reasonably priced vacation camps in Israel for adults,
families and children. The programs should focus on Israeli history and culture,
and the Hebrew language. As an alternative, organize similar Hebrew family camps
in the United States.
• Promote children’s summer camps that foster
Jewish pride, knowledge of Jewish and Israeli history and camper exchange
programs that bring Israeli campers to the United States and American campers
• Continue to support Birthright trips and encourage young
people to attend.
• Make inexpensive blocks of apartments or small
cottages available on kibbutzim or moshavim for rent or purchase.
timeshares available on the Mediterranean coast.
• Encourage Israelis
residing in the United States to volunteer at least one hour a week to reach out
in their communities and organize groups of people to speak Hebrew and discuss
• Promote Israeli news on iba.org.il, Shalom TV and the
• Encourage Jewish newspapers to maintain a running column
called “How to Narrow the Gap,” and thus provide a forum for readers to share
ideas, information and experiences about improving our connections with
Suggestions for individual congregations and the Jewish
• Organize the study of Hebrew, preferably through a community-wide
• Organize a Hebrew conversational group conducted by Israeli
members of the community.
• Organize a group to discuss Israeli
• Have presentations on Israeli and Jewish history.
disseminate information from Jewish Federations and local temples regarding
events related to Israel.
• Foster relationships and cooperation
between Israel committees of different synagogues.
• Encourage American
kids to communicate with Israeli kids.
• Become a sister synagogue with
a synagogue in Israel.
• Make arrangements to rent, on a permanent basis,
a few units in a guest house on a moshav or kibbutz so that community members
can take turns renting the units, and for a short time, living as Israelis in a
• Organize screenings of Israeli movies followed by
• Encourage all members of the community to participate in
this effort and share their ideas.
MOST OF these ideas directly or indirectly lead to Americans visiting Israel for extended periods. When Americans
do visit Israel, they should have access to programs that teach Israeli history,
culture, Hebrew, and generally provide exposure to Israelis. Such programs
will benefit American Jewry, and will encourage close connections between
American and Israeli Jews, which may not develop on shorter and more expensive
Indeed, the cost of visiting and staying in Israel is a
common deterrent to American visitors.
Israelis will benefit from these
pro- grams too. They will learn about American culture (including our tradition of politeness) and the religious pluralism of American Jewry, improve
their knowledge of English, and receive invaluable moral, and perhaps financial,
Moreover, spending a vacation, or part of it, in Israel will not
prevent Americans from visiting other places.
To give just one example,
flying to Israel on Air France makes it possible to stop in Paris for some time
before continuing to Israel.
Some of the ideas above might not be
practical, but hopefully others are.
As a Jewish people, we must continue
this conversation, so that when we say “next year in Jerusalem,” we do not
really mean “next year in Florida.”
The writer is a mechanical engineer
who emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1979. He has
visited Israel once, and often twice, during every year since then.