A window is pictured with the Star of David in a new synagogue in Cottbus, Germany.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A recent survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee and The Jerusalem Post demonstrated, yet again, the substantial rift between the two largest Jewish communities in the world.
While discussion over the role that religion in general and Orthodox Judaism in particular should play in Israel is becoming increasingly heated, the Israeli public is unfortunately unaware of the effect the government’s anti-liberal approach to this issue has on deepening the dispute with American Jewry, as well as non-Orthodox Jews worldwide.
On the other hand, Jews in the Diaspora often feel obligated to choose between their Zionist identity and their standpoint on human rights. On many occasions, Israeli government policies over the course of the lengthy Israeli-Palestinian conflict drove American Jews to doubt the Zionist idea entirely – distancing from the State of Israel or detaching their Jewish identity from the Jewish homeland.
At this time, it is crucial to reinforce the distinction between supporting the idea of a Jewish state and supporting a specific political policy. I fear the line is becoming increasingly blurred for many Jews in the Diaspora, and I call upon them, as well as Jews in Israel, to reclaim Zionism and reload it with its initial, core values: mutual respect, pluralism, unity and prosperity of the Jewish people.
The Zionist idea, to establish a Jewish homeland in the land of our forefathers, is a modern, liberal concept. It is wrong of both left- and right-wing political groups to load the idea of Zionism with their own agendas – an act I would argue is largely responsible for the vast dispute reflected in the recent survey.
I believe one can both support the Zionist idea, the very existence of a Jewish state, while remaining liberal and maintaining a human rights agenda. The Zionism portrayed in Herzl’s writing and in Israel’s Declaration of Independence expresses a humane and liberal ideology, seeking peace for Israel and its neighbors, as well as religious pluralism, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the State of Israel.
As I stated, many Israelis are oblivious to the importance of our relationship with the Diaspora Jews, and would probably not be unnerved by the recent survey – an issue that should absolutely be addressed. The World Zionist Organization works across Israel and even more vigorously in the Diaspora to promote a complex and challenging dialogue regarding the connection to Israel and the bond between one’s Jewish and Zionist identities – the two elements necessary, in my opinion, to ensure the future of the Jewish people and the realization of the Zionist vision. Jewish people in the Diaspora need to be made aware of the great many people here in Israel who think kindly of them, and hold their views and opinions in high regard.
In this month of Tishrei, when we are commanded to conduct “cheshbon nefesh” (“accounting of the soul”) and to reconcile, it is time for us all to pose the tough questions regarding our relationship and provide the answers as to how we can more openly connect.
It is time for Israelis to make significant decisions regarding the future of our nation and the place of Judaism in our life. We have to understand that by not accepting every stream of Judaism, by not allowing other types of marriage, burial, conversion – we are, in fact, distancing ourselves from the other half of our people. The implications of this rift are ever-present today, and imminently precarious to our future.
Diaspora Jews should, on their part, take into account that even if it does not seem so, we in Israel are in constant internal debate, and change is taking place. Slowly, I agree – but surely. Israel is taking the right measures for long-term change, and while political obstacles often hinder the process, a stronger liberal Jewish community is ever-growing in Israel.
Personally, I devote my efforts to this one cause: bridging the gap and bringing Jewish people together. It is the heart and soul of my department’s activity in the World Zionist Organization, and we are not the only ones. Many Israelis are concerned with this issue, and as an Israeli, Jewish woman and representative of the Reform Movement at the WZO, I would like to address our dear brothers and sisters in the Diaspora: There is more than one way to express your Zionism.
I encourage you on the occasion of the New Year to make a decision: what action would you like to take? There are many voices out there like mine. We will not give up on you, please – do not give up on us! The author is chairperson of the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Diaspora Activities and a member of the Zionist Executive Board.