Ultra-Orthodox Jews look towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is only natural that American Jews and their Israeli counterparts do not see eye to eye on matters concerning Jewish identity.
After all, the two largest Jewish communities in the world have very different legacies.
While American Jews developed more flexible forms of Jewish expression that enabled them to integrate into a dominant non-Jewish culture without losing their identity, the Jews of Israel have a majority-culture mentality that is intimately tied to patriotic acts such as IDF service and settling the land. For the Jews of America, Jewishness is both a bulwark against assimilation and an expression of Americanism. For the Jews of Israel, it is taken for granted as an element of national identity that, when relevant, is represented by the Orthodox establishment.
That is why it was surprising to discover that American Jews and Israelis Jews have remarkable similar opinions when it comes to matters of Jewish identity.
A series of polls commissioned by The Jerusalem Post in partnership with the American Jewish Committee reveal that a majority of Jews in both Israel and America want to see a more inclusive approach when it comes to matters of Jewish identity.
The polls reveal that 74% of American Jews and 62% of Israeli Jews believe that the State of Israel should officially recognize the various pluralistic Jewish denominations – namely Reform and Conservative – and allow them to conduct marriage ceremonies and conversions in Israel.
Seventy percent of American Jews and 61% of Israeli Jews said that they support establishing a pluralistic section in the Western Wall plaza to be used for egalitarian prayer services.
Forty-eight percent of American Jews said they believed that recognition of Orthodox Judaism as the official policy of the State of Israel weakens relations between Israel and the American Jewish community. Fifty-four percent of Israeli Jews said they were opposed to allowing Orthodoxy control over matters of religion in Israel.
What explains the consensus on the issue of inclusion? It seems both American and Israeli Jews understand that there is nothing quite like Jewish peoplehood.
While other nationalities were formed over time as a result of a group of people living in a specific geographic area, the Jewish people was created well before it settled in the Land of Israel and continued to exist well after it was exiled from its land.
Nor is Jewish peoplehood based on religion. A Jewish atheist is no oxymoron. In fact, some of history’s most famous Jews were completely irreligious.
But this fact made them no less Jewish.
Language does not determine peoplehood either. While it would be difficult to imagine a Frenchman who speaks no French, Jews are no less Jewish for lacking Hebrew – or Yiddish or Ladino.
American and Israeli Jews understand that the bonds that tie them together go beyond religious adherence or a connection to a strip of land or the ability to converse in a common language.
Israeli Jews and American Jews also understand the strategic importance of unity. American Jews were integral to helping Israel negotiate the $38 billion Memorandum of Understand on security assistance.
A majority of both American and Israeli Jews understand that they are a huge extended family with a common history and a shared fate. A Jewish state must, therefore, be as inclusive and accommodating as possible. No Jew should feel excluded.
From pluralistic prayers at the Kotel to defining “Who is a Jew?” broadly to recognizing non-Orthodox forms of Jewish expression, the State of Israel’s leaders have a commitment to making every Jew in the world feel that if or when the time comes, this place can be home.