World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder at the 7th Annual JPost Conference in NY.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
n an article published in The New York Times on August 13, Ronald Lauder – a great man with many merits to whom the Jewish people owe a lot for his generous and tireless efforts for them and the State of Israel – wrote: “The State of Israel distorts Jewish values and harms democracy and equality. This will cause more Jews to distance themselves from the State of Israel. The West is indifferent and even hostile to it.” In addition, Mr. Lauder wrote that the behavior of the State of Israel is “a great threat to the future of the Jewish people.”
Strong words. Coming as they do from Mr. Lauder, one must take notice. But just as one owes a generous friend a fair hearing, we also owe it to them to call them out when they are mistaken. This task, on behalf of the European Jewish Association and on behalf of traditional and authentic Judaism, falls on my shoulders today.
The language and vehemence of the arguments put forward by Mr. Lauder are startling – and no doubt were designed to be so – as is the framing of the premise in absolutist and divisive terms, effectively the language of them or us, or our side or their side. This on its own is deeply regrettable. As an American. Mr. Lauder is well aware of President Lincoln’s famous statement that a house divided itself cannot stand. Looking at the current American political landscape, the foundations do indeed look a bit rocky, and perhaps this helped frame his thinking. But Israel? I profoundly disagree.
Let us be clear. Mr. Lauder’s arguments are nothing new. There have always been differences of opinion among the Jewish people about what will guarantee the future of the nation – assimilation amongst the nations, or rather separation from them.
Enough years have passed for us to know the truth today. Those who do not like Jews did everything to persecute them. They persecuted the enlightened, they persecuted the modern and they persecuted the assimilated with as much, if not more, venom and hatred as the traditional. Looking at Israel’s enemies today, are there any that realistically make any distinction between the branches? No, it’s the tree that they want to uproot.
That Judaism survived is thanks to those who fought a stubborn struggleto preserve the roots. And those roots, without arrogance or boastfulness, are those of authentic Judaism. The reality is that the high percentage of assimilationists among the Jewish people (over 70% including those who left the Jewish people and have no traces left), were from the same group that sought safety in the nothingness.
The Reform movement has been around for well over a couple of hundred years, but anyone who enters a Reform synagogue and asks his or her neighbor whether their grandfather was also a Reform Jew will receive a negative answer 99% of the time. Reality has proven that in most cases, the grandson of the Reform practitioner is no longer, in being or in practice, Jewish.
A STUDY published in Los Angeles by Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz showed how the situation looked for 100 first-generation Jews after four generations when spread out among the various groups. The answers leave no room for doubt: From the secular, four will remain Jewish; from the Reform, 13; from the Conservative, 52; from the Modern Orthodox, 337; and from the ultra-Orthodox, 3,398 Jews. Even with a margin factored in for statistical error, the facts are stark in their clarity.
We must take a look at the long-term – and a sober look at that – at what the future of the Jewish people is, and not be alarmed by background noise and criticism. We certainly should not take on-board the criticism of Western leaders, whose very history and approach is often testament to at worst a lost, or at best, a very badly broken moral compass.
There is no doubt that Judaism should be pleasant and welcoming to every person and to every Jew, and certainly more can and should be done to be as inclusive and open as possible. But in no case should we be sacrificing the roots of the tree, those of Judaism itself, for the sake of prevailing political circumstances, trends or movements. Judaism teaches us that every person must be a disciple of Aaron HaKohen, who loves peace and pursues peace, loves people and brings them closer to the Torah. But not to bring the Torah closer to them. In other words, it is up to us to embrace the Torah, not the other way around.
The State of Israel is the life insurance of the Jewish people. Every country in the world has known dark periods, and the Jewish people have no insurance certificate anywhere else in the world. The vast majority of Diaspora Jews understand that their vital assistance to the State of Israel might someday be the best investment they made for their own future. American Jews – who have contributed so much and have been the drivers of so much that is positive in Israel – understand this well. Israel is the only Jewish state we have.
Therefore, every Jew in the world who cares about the continuity of the Jewish people must do everything he can to ensure that the State of Israel will always remain an authentic Jewish state, one that even after four generations will remain Jewish. Therefore, it must be Orthodox Jewish at its core.
It must also be sensitive, humane, behave respectfully to all its citizens and continue to be a beacon of justice and honesty. On evidence, I believe that it continues to be a beacon. And I and the many thousands of Jews whom the European Jewish Association represents, continue to see it – and with pride – as such. Of course, and as I have said, more can be done to be more inclusive and to reflect modernity. But first and foremost, it must forever remain a Jewish state, because we have no other people and we have no other country.
The writer is a rabbi and chairman of the European Jewish Association.
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