Yom Haaztmaut Israeli flag 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Many US Jews, spurred on by a group of prominent American Jewish media pundits,
were apparently upset by an Israeli campaign to encourage Israeli expats living
in American to return home.
Admittedly, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry
campaign, which resorts to blatant scare tactics, is aggressive.
short video, Israelis living in the US are warned against the potential danger
of cultural and religious assimilation that could result from raising children
One ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a
hanukkia and Skype-ing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. The
grandparents’ faces are transfixed with sorrow when their precious granddaughter
refers to the holiday being celebrated in Israel as “Christmas.”
sad fact is that for Israelis, in particular second-generation Israelis born in
America, rates of assimilation are worryingly high. Recent studies by Dr. Lilach
Lev-Ari, head of the Sociology Department at Oranim College and a lecturer at
Bar-Ilan University, have shown conclusively that these second generation
Israelis – like the little girl Skype-ing with her Israeli grandparents – tend
to define themselves as Americans and do not identify with American Jewry or
One reason for this high rate of assimilation is the fact
that their parents – first-generation Israeli emigrants – tend to define their
Israeli identity more in national terms and less in religious terms which more
readily accommodate the idea of a “portable homeland.”
Army service, the
Israeli landscape, the people are all elements that are enlisted to maintain a
unique Israeli (not necessarily Jewish) identity. But this sort of identity is
hard to pass on to children, unless, of course, fairly frequent trips are made
to Israel or active attempts are made to maintain contact with what is going on
The fragility of Israeli identity in a Diaspora setting –
the target of the ministry campaign – seems not to be fully appreciated by US
Jewry. Unfortunately, even among US Jews, who have developed a multitude of
creative ways of maintaining Jewish continuity in a super-liberal, multicultural
environment have nevertheless been assimilating at high rates for some time now.
Israel is, after all, the only place where the Jewish population is actually
However, what really seemed to rouse the ire of the organized
Jewish community was an ad depicting a young Israeli woman attempting to
commemorate Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers. The moment is ruined by her
American boyfriend (husband?) who, we are told, is unequipped to fathom the idea
that expats mourn for their fallen soldiers.
True, the message was
vacuous, but it hardly seemed to justify US Jewry’s anger, which eased only
after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stepped in and stopped the campaign.
Michael Oren, ambassador to the US, said it “clearly did not take into account
American Jewry’s sensitivities, and we regret any offense it
While Netanyahu was right to be attuned to American Jewry’s hurt
feelings and stop the campaign, the magnitude of the reaction seems to be based
on a mistake.
Nowhere in the video depicting the young Israeli woman is
it implied that her boyfriend is Jewish.
Nevertheless, numerous media
personalities inexplicably jumped to the conclusion that he was. This led
normally level-headed commentators to claim that the campaign equated marrying
an American Jew with marrying a non-Jew. The ad seemed to be saying that neither
will fully understand your Israeliness.
Why would so many smart American
Jews be so receptive to a questionable interpretation? Why didn’t they assume
that the young man in the video could not be an American Jew because an American
Jew would immediately identify with the young woman’s mourning? Could it be that
American Jewry have their doubts? The campaign was rightly shelved.
the need to prevent the assimilation of second generation Israelis remains.
Strengthening Jewish continuity of Israeli expatriates might be accomplished by
integrating them into the Diaspora’s many Jewish communities.
option is social frameworks tailored especially for Israeli expats such as
Tzofim Garin Tzaban, run by the Friends of the Israel Scouts, through which
children of Israelis maintain social ties with one another in the Diaspora and
volunteer for IDF service together.
Still another option might be
extending the right to vote in Israeli elections to some Israelis living abroad
as a means of fostering their involvement and connection with Israel. Whatever
the method, reaching out to Israeli expats is an honorable endeavor that mustn’t
be discontinued because of an unfortunate misunderstanding.