Jerusalem skyline 370 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Passover is a holiday of numbers. We ask the four questions, drink the four cups
of wine, and ask, “Who knows one? Who knows two?” etc. This Passover we should
all have a much larger number on our minds. Who knows 700,000? 700,000? What
significance does that have in Judaism? The answer is scary. It is the number of
Israelis living in the United States of America.
Last week I visited with
leaders of the Israeli community in Los Angeles, which numbers a startling
400,000. They described how their children don’t attend Jewish schools, never
attend a synagogue, can speak but not read Hebrew, and have little or no
connection to Judaism or Israel. This has led to the inevitable –
Those involved in Israeli politics are always talking
about the demographic issue as it relates to the Arabs.
Can you imagine
what 700,000 more Jews would mean for the stability of the Jewish state and its
future? Shouldn’t we begin to focus on bringing our brothers and sisters back to
Israel? But, as I sat at the dinner table with these concerned Israelis, some
who have lived in the United States for 30 years, I could not stop thinking,
“What have we done to chase these people out of Israel?” And, an even more
disconcerting thought; “how many more are we going to force to leave?” Citizens
have a difficult time with the stringent and extreme rabbinate when trying to
arrange the most basic life-cycle events. Women feel intimidated when they walk
in certain parts of the country. Men are serving more army reserve time than
necessary. Families are paying more than their equal share of taxes while
supporting tens of thousands who should be sharing the tax burden. Secular
Israelis feel the state slipping out of their hands and they are in panic
When you add all of the above to the growing gap between the super
wealthy and the middle class, it is no surprise to me that those who left the
country to make a better living have no interest in returning and why many more
are, no doubt, contemplating moving out.
At the seder, we will talk about
the enemies from without who seek to destroy us in every generation, but “God
saves us from their hands.” What about our selfdestruction from within? Is there
a promise that God will save us from our internal decay? Not that I am aware of.
It is our responsibility to repair ourselves and make things right, and the only
way to do so is through the political system and negating the influence and
significance of the extremist, ultra-Orthodox parties.
As we enter into
election mode, all concerned citizens should have this thought front and center
in their minds as they begin the process of sorting through the various voting
When we gather around the seder table to celebrate the
miraculous path from slavery and exile to the promised land, we should
contemplate the hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters who have
chosen Diaspora over Zion, exile over redemption. This contemplation should lead
to a commitment to work to address the issues which have created the problem and
are leading to tens of thousands more Israelis to contemplate fleeing their
If we work together and correct these flaws in the voting
booth, then we can look forward to the fulfillment of the moving chant with
which we conclude the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” for former
Israelis.The author is a member of Knesset, an ordained rabbi, and the
founder and chairman of the Am Shalem movement.