What can we learn from the Jews of the United States?

In the 1950s, the Jews of the United States supplied a large percentage of the annual budget of the State of Israel.

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March 24, 2019 17:21
4 minute read.
What can we learn from the Jews of the United States?

(SATIRE) A 17-ton Herodian rock stolen from the Western Wall during the Mandate period is finally on its way home.. (photo credit: OLGA LEVI)

 
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In recent years, we have seen growing tension between the State of Israel and the Jews of the United States regarding topics such as conversion and the Kotel.

We have learned in Pirkei Avot 4:1: “Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is written: ‘I have learned from all my teachers’” (Psalms 119:99). Thus, one of the ways to decrease the tension is to ask a positive question: What are the important Jewish values that we Israelis can learn from the Jews of the United States and vice versa? In this article, I shall try to answer the first question, as a person who was born in the US, made aliyah in 1972, and travels back and forth quite a bit between the two most important centers of Jewish life today.

The first value is Zionism: It is doubtful whether the State of Israel would have arisen without the multifaceted support of American Jewry. President Harry Truman recognized the state thanks to his Jewish friend Eddie Jacobson. Beginning in 1945, American Jews purchased and smuggled to Israel much of the arms that enabled it to survive. The Israel Air Force and Israel Aerospace Industries were created by American Jews such as Al Schwimmer. Colonel Mickey Marcus built the “Burma Road,” which saved Jerusalem from siege in June 1948. Some 4,000 foreign soldiers, many of them American Jews, fought in “Mahal” in the War of Independence and 123 fell defending the State of Israel. American Jews were very active in Aliyah Bet, which smuggled Jews into Israel despite the British blockade. For example, Abe Kay of Washington DC headed the group that purchased the ship that became the “Exodus.”

In the 1950s, the Jews of the United States supplied a large percentage of the annual budget of the State of Israel. Since the State was founded, the UJA, now called the JFNA, has raised many billions of dollars for Israel.

Iron Dome protects us from the missiles of Hamas. It is funded by the US government and some of that support stems from the efforts of AIPAC, one of the largest Jewish organizations in the United States. Every year, 18,000 people attend their annual convention in Washington.

The nonprofit sector in Israel – including my own institution – would not exist if not for the generous donations of American Jewry.

Thousands of high school graduates come every year to study in yeshivot and other gap-year programs in Israel before going to college, and thousands of teenagers come every summer to camps and tours such as USY and Ramah Seminar.


Birthright has brought 650,000 college students to Israel since it was founded in 1999. It was founded and much of it is funded by American Jews.

The second value is “all Jews are responsible for one another” – the concern for every other Jew in the world. During the Holocaust, most of the Jews in the world did not try to save the Jews of Europe. The Jews of the United States learned an important lesson from that failure. Beginning in 1964, they led the struggle to free the Jews of the Soviet Union. They founded the SSSJ and other organizations that adopted the motto “Let my people go!” They organized mass demonstrations in Washington. They helped pass the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in 1974, which tied US trade to human rights and forced the Soviet regime to improve the plight of Soviet Jews. So, too, regarding the Jews of Ethiopia. American Jews founded organizations such as NACOEJ in 1982, and from then until today many American Jews have helped Ethiopian Jews in Israel and in Ethiopia.

The third value is sacrifice for the sake of Jewish Education and Jewish identity. The Jews of the United States have founded and maintained thousands of synagogues and schools, dozens of JCCs, youth movements, hundreds of day camps and summer camps – and all of this without government support. In order to give a Jewish child a good Jewish education – a synagogue, a Jewish day school and a summer camp – it costs over $33,000 per child per year. All of these institutions exist due to the dedication of parents who are willing to sacrifice much so that their children should grow up as Jews and remain Jews.

I will conclude on a personal note. I grew up in the United States and I learned all of the values described above from my parents, Rabbi Noah and Devorah Golinkin of blessed memory. They were ardent Zionists their entire lives; my father purchased the first Israel Bond issued on May 1, 1951. My father fought to save the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust and the Jews of the Soviet Union beginning in the 1960s. They raised me in the Conservative synagogues that they led and they drove me back and forth to day school every day for nine years so that I should get a good Jewish education. They were not alone; many American Jews taught and teach these values to their children.

These are just three of the important Jewish values that we Israelis can learn from our brothers and sisters across the sea. May we learn to be “wise” as in Pirkei Avot – may we stop criticizing each other and start learning from each other.

The writer is president of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and a professor of Talmud and Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. He will speak at the second annual JTS-Schechter Conference on Israel-Diaspora Relations to be held at the Schechter Institute on March 27.

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