Lech Lecha in reverse: Israelis must reach out to Diaspora Jews - opinion

We need to be prepared to travel out of Israel, away from our homeland and be there for our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora in their times of need and their times of joy.

 THE WRITER (left) visits Beth Yeshurun Day School in Houston. (photo credit: WZO)
THE WRITER (left) visits Beth Yeshurun Day School in Houston.
(photo credit: WZO)

Somewhere in the past few years, Israel reached an important milestone where we are now home to the world’s largest Jewish community. Most demographers believe that in the very near future, the majority of Jews will call the Jewish state home.

Perhaps more importantly than this being a source of national pride, it has also changed the dynamic between Israel and the Diaspora.

From even well before 1948, Jews around the world looked towards Israel and felt a distinct sense of obligation. Financial and other forms of support were sent our way, providing the backing we needed to ensure our very survival.

Now the roles have been reversed.

Our forefather Avraham was the very first oleh (Jewish immigrant) to this land when he arrived about 4,000 years ago. But as described in this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, any tranquility in this new home lasted a total of seven verses before the Torah describes how the land grew fallow and Avraham and his wife Sarah were forced to flee to Egypt.

 ABRAHAM TENDING his flock.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) ABRAHAM TENDING his flock. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Fast forward four millennia. In order to prevent a similar modern-day exodus by the olim of the past century, the new Yishuv (settlement of pre-state Israel) relied heavily on the Jewish nation abroad – for monetary support, diplomatic maneuvering and all sorts of other efforts that have been widely documented (along with many others that will likely remain unknown.)

As we approach 75 years of independence, Israel is now a strong and established modern country. Even as we are forced to contend with all sorts of enemies each and every day, our physical survival is no longer in question and our national resources are able to be distributed far beyond only national defense.

This aspect of independence, where our very survival is no longer contingent upon others, has perhaps one distinctly problematic reality. We are far less cognizant of the critical importance of the Diaspora. We have failed to ensure that the flag of the Diaspora is given the respect it deserves.

Many, if not most, Israelis, specifically those who aren’t readers of The Jerusalem Post, live in a reality that is almost completely disconnected from that other half of world Jewry that lives beyond our borders. Any interaction, at best, with Diaspora Jews comes in observing, or profiting from, incoming Jewish tourism.

To address and rectify this failure, it’s helpful to return to the paradigm of Avraham who taught his people two critical lessons.

The first is that we can never rest on our laurels or our past. We need to always be ready to get up and go, to be proactive in who we are as individuals and as a people.

THE SECOND lesson is one of compassion for the world around us. Avraham had the innate ability to care for humanity at large. He lived with a constant sense of purpose and together with Sarah worked each and every day to ensure his existence would benefit others. He waged wars, freed slaves, welcomed guests and acted with compassion to the people of Sodom.

His existence was one of active solidarity.

We need no reminding that Israel is not the country it was in 1948. But perhaps we do need to remember that similarly the Diaspora is also not what it was 75 years ago. The Jewish world is once again fighting daily obstacles on all fronts from threats like antisemitism, assimilation, financial ruin in certain communities, and much more.

Diaspora Jewry is also extremely diverse in almost every way. What the Jewish community of Argentina is facing is worlds away from the challenges being experienced in Cleveland. Similarly, the Jews of Milan and Paris – or pretty much any two locales you might find on the Jewish map.

But the one constant that we can find in every single community is a desire to strengthen Jewish identity – to reinforce the passion and commitment to that ancient connection to our peoplehood – and no less importantly today, our Jewish statehood.

Pride in Israel is perhaps the ultimate expression of modern Jewish identity and is something that we proudly look to carry on to the next generations.

If we want to heed the call to more closely align ourselves with the struggles of Diaspora Jewry we need to remember those lessons shared to us by Avraham. We can’t stand by and wait for the crisis to get worse or expect that someone else will bail them out. We need to act.

The onus of national responsibility must now be turned – to us the people of Israel. It’s our turn to hear the words of “Lech Lecha” – Get up and go – that Avraham heard which brought him to this land.

But this time the going is heading in the other direction. We need to be prepared to travel out of Israel, away from our homeland and be there for our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora in their times of need and their times of joy.

That understanding is what drives World Mizrachi and me personally as Vice Chair of the World Zionist Organization and Head of the Education Department. We know that the bridge between Jerusalem and the rest of the world needs to be strengthened. Particularly we must be prepared to admit that, as it is now, that bridge is almost entirely heading in one direction because Israelis are not accepting the mantle of responsibility of embracing the Diaspora.

Every year we receive hundreds of requests from communities around the world asking for emissaries to come from Israel. Every year filling those posts becomes more challenging as fewer young people and families are willing to take on the enormous responsibility of picking up and moving to a new land.

To my fellow Israelis, I ask you to hear this call and remember the other 50% of world Jewry that remembered us when we needed them.

This is the modern call of Lech Lecha – Get Up and Go. Let it not be forsaken.

The writer is vice chairman of World Zionist Organization and head of the Education Department, and World Mizrachi representative in the national institutions.