The Future of Zionism

Following Israel’s 63rd birthday, Diaspora Jews need not be concerned with the question of whether Israel will still exist in another 63 years. Rather, the question they need to be asking is whether Diaspora Jewry will still be around then.

Yom Haaztmaut Israeli flag 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yom Haaztmaut Israeli flag 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Let’s be honest: for Jews in the West, and especially in America, Zionism has never been directly about them. For most , being a Zionist means supporting the State of Israel. In the best case scenario, this translates into donating money to Israeli causes, defending the Jewish state to wide-eyed neighbors, and lobbying the local congressman from time to time. But  actually immigrating to the Jewish homeland is something else entirely. So in a sense, export Zionism is akin to being a cheerleader rather than a field player.
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For these Jews, Zionism means ensuring a safe haven for those less fortunate Jews who suffer from anti-Semitism. Not feeling particularly threatened themselves, giving to Israel is essentially an altruistic act - they are giving on behalf of the greater good of the Jewish people.
This past Independence Day, most Jews in the West were preoccupied with the notion of whether Israel will still be around in another 63 years.
But the question that should really concern them is what will be left of Diaspora Jewry in another 63 years.
With shifting demographics, the future of Zionism is bound to be very different in the West than it is today. The altruistic proclivity of today’s Zionism  will be replaced by a far more self-centered concern: do I want my progeny to remain a part of the Jewish people?
Let’s examine those demographics. Only a hundred years ago, there were many sizable Jewish communities spread out literally across the four corners of the earth. Most had existed for centuries and were the birthplaces of some of the greatest Jewish minds in history. Some of them, such as the Yemenite community, were over 2,500 years old.
However, in the span of only a few decades, Jews experienced the most dramatic demographic shift since the destruction of the First Temple. The advent of Nazism coupled with anti-Semitic attacks in Muslim lands meant that most of these ancient and venerable communities either vanished entirely or have at least diminished significantly.
According to a recent report by the renowned Jewish demographer Sergio Della Pergola, today there are only 18 communities with 20,000 Jews or more, and only half of those have over 100,000. The vast majority of world Jewry - over 92 percent - lives in Israel, North America or the EU.
The real problem is that outside Israel, no major community is growing. Intermarriage rates for Diaspora Jewry lies at about 42 percent, and in the US (where over two-thirds of Diaspora Jews live), the rate is closer to 50 percent. Add to this the relatively low fertility rates and a net demographic loss in terms of conversions, and it becomes clear that Diaspora Jewry will radically shrink over the next 63 years. While some hold out the hope that children of intermarriages will actually provide a demographic boost to these communities, statistically speaking, most of the children of intermarriages do not go on to identify as Jewish and do not marry Jews. 
But while Diaspora communities are in a demographic crisis, the community in Israel is booming. Ignoring net gains due to immigration and conversion, each year approximately 80,000 more Jews are born than die in Israel. To put this into context, each year Israel’s Jewish population is growing by more than the total number of Jews in the Ukraine (71,500) or South Africa (70,800).
Consequently over the past decade, Israel has become the largest Jewish community in the world, with Tel Aviv finally surpassing New York as the city with the largest Jewish population. Within the next 20 years, Israel will gain the majority of world Jewry.
When this happens, the historic significance will be revolutionary. Even during the Second Temple era, only about a quarter of world Jewry lived in the land of Israel. It is a process unmatched in all of human history.
This brings us back to the undeniable statement that the future of the Jews will be in the land of their ancestors. For better and for worse, of course. We can all think of dozens of lamentable problems with the state of Judaism in Israel (many stemming from the state not taking a more laissez faire approach to Judaism). But unlike the joke of the two Jews stranded on an island who end up building three synagogues, we have built only one Jewish state.
The challenge, therefore, will be to create a reality that will accommodate comfortable and enjoyable living in the homeland. But again, only those who choose to be a part of the Jewish future can have a say in shaping it. If you do not bear the consequences, you can have no place in deciding the rules of the game. This is why there are no members of Knesset representing the Diaspora, and neither should there be.
Of course, Jews in the West are flourishing. They are accepted socially, excel academically and are financially stable - for the most part. But they flourish not as Jews, but as individuals. Sometimes it seems they flourish despite their religion, and not because of it. While a growing number of Diaspora Jews have gone back to their roots and become more educated about their religion, they unfortunately remain a minority.
Ironically, it is precisely the wealth of opportunity (and opportunity for wealth) that will become the dilemma for Jews on an individual level.
The Passover Haggadah instructs each individual to feel as though the Lord brought him out of Egypt personally. Likewise, sooner or later each individual Jew will need to introspect and ask himself what he wants to pass on to the next generation. Does he value his Jewish tradition and heritage more than the economic and other opportunities available in the Diaspora. If the former trumps the latter, there is little doubt that his future will be in Israel.
So I throw down the gauntlet: for the Diaspora Zionists who believe that the ultimate consideration is to be a part of the Jewish future, the time to stop being the cheerleader and start taking to the field is nigh upon you.
The writer is the former Deputy Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) in Herzliya.