Knesset panel: Increase focus on Diaspora Jewry

Earlier this month the Pew Research Center unveiled a massive study on assimilation and intermarriage in the American Jewish community.

American Jewry 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
American Jewry 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In response to the rising rate of intermarriage in the US, lawmakers called on the government to pay increased attention to Diaspora Jewry. The call came at a Monday meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.
Earlier this month the Pew Research Center unveiled a massive study on assimilation and intermarriage in the American Jewish community. Among the findings was that one in five Jews identify as having no religion, and that “among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six in ten have a non-Jewish spouse.”
Representatives of the Jewish Agency, Jewish Federations of North America and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry testified regarding the decline in Jewish endogamy, while MKs debated the best way for Israel to engage Diaspora Jewry to stem the tide of assimilation.
MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) told the committee that the rising cost of Jewish tuition was one of the factors leading to assimilation, as tuition costs in the tens of thousands of dollars have priced many families out of the Jewish educational system.
“The Knesset must discuss this and bring the prime minister in on this” discussion, he said, asserting that “Jews send their children to gentile schools because they have no chance” for another education.” The rising price of day school tuition, Zeev asserted, is a “catastrophe.”
Dvir Kahane, the director-general of the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, told MKs that he believed that the issue of Diaspora Jewry is just as “strategic” for Israel as the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons and noted that the government is taking the step of conferring with representatives of Diaspora Jewry during a gathering immediately prior to next month’s Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Jerusalem.
In a statement after the meeting, committee chairman MK Yoel Razbozov said that he believed that Israel “must be more attentive to the needs and desires of the Diaspora” and that “not enough has been done to strengthen the Jews living in different countries.”
“Israel is dependent on the Diaspora; our existence here is supported with the help of Diaspora Jews... and it is important that the Israeli government will address the Diaspora,” he said.
Razbozov called on the Knesset to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora and critiqued the government for allowing responsibility for the Diaspora to be split between several different bodies.
MK Dov Lipman, who made aliya from the US eight years ago, told The Jerusalem Post that he agreed that one of the central problems facing American Jewry is that of education, and that “communities and federations must invest more in Jewish day school education.”
However, he added, “this is not something that Israel can do much about.”
Lipman said that while it may be unpopular to say, “another solution is aliya and as a country investing more in aliya.”
There must be a “clear strategy from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, and we must start with a roundtable with all the relevant groups and experts,” he added.
“Without a clear strategy regarding what role should Israel play in Diaspora Jewry, we will get nowhere.”
Rebecca Caspi, a representative of the JFNA, told MKs that “the Jewish Federations, who represent the largest Jewish community of the Diaspora, are ready to sit at any table and be an active part of any discussion with the government of Israel to explore new programs and avenues of cooperation.”
The meeting was “an extremely positive development,” Caspi subsequently told the Post.
“We had seven Knesset members from a really broad range of parties and a serious representation from other parts of government, from the MFA [Foreign Ministry], the director-general of [the] Diaspora Affairs [Ministry] and leading thinkers and policy-makes from a very broad range of organizations,” she said.
“I really felt a significant ramping up of the attention and depth of thinking that the government is doing now on partnering with Diaspora Jewry in a very new way, and I think a lot of that may be the opportunity that this government represents and reflects.”