Orthodox Diaspora Jew, secular Israeli Jew - 2 different worlds - opinion

Where do these successful Jews find a common ground as members of the Jewish people?

Yeshiva University Maccabees in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament (photo credit: YU ATHLETICS)
Yeshiva University Maccabees in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament
(photo credit: YU ATHLETICS)

With much interest, I recently read about the significant achievements made by two talented, young Jewish men in the fields of entertainment and sport. One is a basketball player, Ryan Turell, who led Yeshiva University on an unprecedented winning streak and the other is actor Yadin Gelman, who won a leading role in an epic new film about Israel’s War of Independence, despite just beginning his career.

These achievements particularly interested me, because these two high-profile young men represent two very different types of Jews. One lives an Orthodox religious life, is from Los Angeles, goes to school in New York and wears a kippah while playing basketball on the court. The other, although growing up in a traditional religious home in Israel, now lives a secular life in Tel Aviv, acting and bartending (maybe this work has stopped, now that he is making a living as an actor). These differences interest me and are of concern to me, as I ask myself the question: Where do these successful Jews find a common ground as members of the Jewish people? This question is an important one for of all of us fellow Jews to ponder, address and act upon.

The subject of Jewish unity and diversity is very critical and relevant to all Jews, whatever their lifestyle and wherever they live. I grew up in Los Angeles, in a wonderful family, but also a non-religious and non-Zionist one. During the height of the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, as I worked in the African American ghettos and Latino barrios of disadvantaged neighborhoods in Southern California, I began to search my own roots. This led me to Israel after the Six Day War and then years later I settled in the Jewish state, married, and raised with my wife our five children. Now, each of our children are working or studying in Israel, having already served an average of four and a half years in the army, and still serving in the reserve duty.

Today, you could say I am an observant Jew. I do not like the categories of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, National Religious or secular. As my wife and I try to be positive influences on our adult children, I have thought deeply about what we, as Jews, need to do to find a deep and meaningful common ground, whether we wear a kippah or not and whether we live in Israel or the Diaspora. I do have some perspectives on this, as I approach my 74th birthday. I will share my views as to what the talented two men I noted above and all Jews need to consider in finding a meaningful link among our people. 

I break it down into four key areas –

Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women (credit: BEYOND MY KEN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women (credit: BEYOND MY KEN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Developing and sharing together a deep appreciation and awe of the creation – our world, the universe – it truly is amazing; and then, in logical follow up, an exploration of a creator:

This can be done in many ways, but as Jews we have inherited an amass of deep wisdom on these subjects and it is most worthwhile, wherever one is along their life journey, to take advantage of this profound collection of Jewish learning.

Identifying with and promoting the moral and ethical values of Judaism within our Jewish country and Jewish communities, and outward to the world:

In my view Judaism and our Torah’s true purpose has always been to promote humanitarian, ethical and moral values. The 10 commandments are a great gift the Torah has offered to humanity throughout history and we, as Jews, need to live by these values by doing acts and deeds of kindness, caring, and love, and accepting the responsibility to better our communities, our country and the world. In fact, tikkun olam (repairing the world) begins with ourselves, within our families and outward, each according to their ability, circumstance and the opportunities afforded.

Identification to the land of Israel, the miraculous return to the Jewish homeland and the deep appreciation for the State of Israel:

One does not have to be a scholar to realize that after 2,000 years of wandering, settling in different parts of the world, and sadly, often being persecuted and discriminated against, that we now have our own country that continues to be a miracle in the making. We have many differences as to how we see the status of the State of Israel today and what it should be, but from an objective view, modern day Israel has become a light in so many areas – a tribute to the talented people living in Israel, and again, truly a miracle. My view is that not every Jew needs to live here, although it is a great blessing to do so, but every Jew needs to find a way to identify with Israel. It can be through visits, connecting with a worthy cause in Israel or with family, or simply just saying WOW this is a country I care about and I am proud of it. We have a long way to go for Israel to be an eternal light to ourselves and a light to the nations, but let’s each find our way to contribute to this mission.

Jewish tradition – connecting with the past, present, and future:

Most people today are focused on the present and on the future, which is certainly healthy and understandable. However, as we know in Judaism, there is great respect for the past and the Jewish tradition it represents. This meaningful tradition, if one understands it, has kept the Jewish people alive, despite the tremendous challenges and difficulties our ancestors have faced. The tradition is the glue that keeps that link between the past, present and future, and so much sacrifice has been made to never let it disappear. Every Jew must find their balance of tradition and modernity, and there is so much to gain from it. It warms the heart when one sees Gal Gadot talking about lighting Shabbat candles. In this all too crazy, digitally ever connected world, all of us can benefit from a timeout – better put: time off – to enjoy family and friends, to think about what each of our lives is all about, and what our purpose in this world is as Jews and as individuals. It is a blessing and a gift to be here on this earth as Jews and one that we must appreciate so much and take responsibility for.

The young successful men that I referred to in the beginning and all of us can and must find meaningful common ground as Jews. This is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity for our survival, and for the world’s.

The writer is co-founder and executive chairman of Agri-Light Energy Systems, a company where renewable energy, agricultural, and technology meet; and is a co-founder and board member of Value Sports, an NGO promoting values and character building for Israeli youth (Jews and Arabs) involved in all kinds of sports.