Not so long ago, Zionism was a derogatory word in Israel.
It was used in
common speech as a synonym for “nonsense.” People used to say, “Don’t talk
‘Zionism’ to me,” meaning, “Get serious!”
That cavalier attitude, which existed
in the 1950s, no longer exists. Perhaps this is because a renewal of Zionism in
the original sense of the word would mean large-scale immigration of Jews to
this country and preserve the current ratio of secular Jews to ultra- Orthodox
The latter oppose Zionism as a godless affront to their
religious beliefs. The current consensus here is that Israel should continue to
be a Jewish and democratic state. As far as the haredim are concerned, the term
“Jewish” presumably could be replaced with or appended by “God-fearing,” or
Much more important than rhetoric and terminology,
however, is the apparent fact that Israel’s survival as a state committed to
Hebraic culture and values depends on the perpetuation of a heterogeneous Jewish
majority composed of religious Zionists and nonreligious ones. Attainment of
this objective requires a constant and substantial rate of Jewish
North America, especially the United States, is the most
plausible source of such an influx. There are several theoretical reasons why it
can fulfill this role.
Although the estimated six million Jews who live
in the US enjoy a satisfactory standard of living, are physically secure and are
politically free, they cannot overcome the impact of social
The current rate of intermarriage in the US is 60 percent.
This has a very serious consequence from the standpoint of Jewish religious law
which decrees that the offspring of mothers who are not Jewish according to the
Orthodox rabbinical definition cannot be considered Jews according to Halacha
Because of the democratic nature of American society,
most Jewish children and adolescents come into close and constant contact with
non-Jewish peers. By the time they become adults, they often see no reason to
insist that their future husbands or wives must be Jewish. Thereafter, many of
those who intermarry do not insist that their offspring be given a Jewish
The statistical results show that the Jewish population’s
numerical growth is well below the national norm.
One of the latest
symptoms of this demographic problem is the drop in enrollment in Jewish day
schools. Consequently, fewer American- and Canadian- Jewish children can read,
write or speak Hebrew, are familiar with Jewish history and tradition and have
any cultural affinity with Israel.
Those who do come to Israel from North
America as olim
(immigrants) therefore do not find it easy to adjust to a
country in which the Hebrew language is dominant.
Emigration from the US
or Canada also runs counter to the historical character of North American
society, i.e. the readiness to admit, welcome and support newcomers from all
over the world, and contradicts the effort made by the emigrants’ parents to
adjust to the American way of life. There can be no doubt that Jews have been
among the greatest beneficiaries of the American tradition of admitting
newcomers anxious to escape European anti-Semitism and become citizens of a free
country in which equality is a national ideal.
The most tragic exception
to the open-immigration policy occurred during the years when the Nazis held
sway in Germany. Only a relatively small percentage of those who were in
desperate need of refuge were admitted.
Nowadays. immigration to Israel
need not be an exclusively ideological or self- sacrificing act. The late
president Ezer Weizmann once remarked in a private conversation that life in
Israel should become so attractive that Jews abroad would prefer its ambiance to
that of the Diaspora. His concept has been achieved to a significant extent. The
standard of living here is comparatively high, professional and business
opportunities do exist.
The best way to enable young Jewish men and women
to enjoy these benefits is by encouraging them to be proficient in the country’s
national language – Hebrew – before they get here. More emphasis should be
placed in the Jewish schools of North America on fluency in Hebrew. This is
because the need for crash linguistic courses in ulpans after their arrival can
sap the energy needed for successful integration into the country’s economic and
In short, the Jewish people cannot have it both ways.
Maintenance and defense of an independent Jewish and democratic state requires
an overwhelming Jewish majority.
This goal cannot be realized if half of
the world’s Jewish population continues to live abroad and a significant number
of native-born Israelis prefer to emigrate to the US, Canada and Australia.
(Paradoxically, the official demographic statistics publicized annually in
conjunction with the advent of Rosh Hashana never disclose the number of yordim
who left in the preceding 12 months.) To achieve their declared objective, the
various Zionist organizations here and abroad must develop effective techniques
to attract Jewish immigrants to Israel.
Failure to do so will have
profound demographic consequences. According to Wikipedia, Israel’s haredi
ultra-Orthodox population, which is non- or anti- Zionist, doubles every 12
years because of its high birth rate. That factor alone could change Israel’s
national character from secularist to religious by the middle of this
By the way, one of the greatest anomalies of this situation is
that 40% of the haredim do not work for a living and therefore do not pay taxes.
Nevertheless, their financial needs and the budgets required by their
educational institutions (where mathematics, the sciences and foreign languages
are not taught) are subsidized by government funds most of which are obtained
from the secular taxpayers. This is one of the direst consequences of Israel’s
political system in which coalition governments inevitably depend on
haredi-oriented political parties for their survival.The writer is a
veteran foreign correspondent.
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