Holocaust Remembrance Day: Jewish survival, continuity is our goal - opinion

We have prevailed, survived and flourished. We will do so again but we need goodwill from all sides. Jewish survival and continuity should be our greatest goal.

 RIGHT TO left: The writer meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and former Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor in Jerusalem, in 2017. (photo credit: Sonia Gomes De Mesquita)
RIGHT TO left: The writer meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and former Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor in Jerusalem, in 2017.
(photo credit: Sonia Gomes De Mesquita)

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from the Holocaust, for the perpetrators, for the bystanders and for the victims.

For the Jewish people, it has been 78 years since the liberation of the death camps and we must do everything possible to ensure our sustainability and survival. Our tradition is replete with the demand for a sense of wide communal responsibility, the most famous being “Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh,” all of Israel are responsible for each other.

But how can Jews vouch for and support each other when the divide between Israel and the Diaspora is so stark?

Jews supporting each other despite the stark Israel-Diaspora divide

We are not even on the same page when it comes to perceiving each other’s challenges. Earlier this month, I had a candid discussion with the president of the European Jewish Congress, Dr. Ariel Muzicant, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs European Leadership Conference. He strongly believes the gravest challenge facing Jewish communities in Europe is the threat of assimilation, which is eroding the sense of Jewish identity and connection to Jewish heritage.

The data he presented is astounding, with the de facto implication that Jewish communities around the world are increasingly shrinking. This represents a significant threat to the survival of these communities, with the greatest danger looming over the small ones. However, Israelis are largely unaware of this grave challenge, and Israel is not doing enough to address it.

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (credit: REUTERS)
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (credit: REUTERS)

Many Israelis believe the Jewish Diaspora is Israel’s first line of defense, whether advocating for Israel, providing financial support to Israel and its civil society or fighting delegitimization and BDS. If we have a growing number of unaffiliated or assimilated Jews, Israel’s first line of defense will certainly grow weaker.

But the significance of the global Jewish community is more than their support, they are part of our state’s DNA and an integral part of our identity. Losing Diaspora Jewry is akin to losing oneself. We must work together, Israel and the Diaspora, to make being Jewish a source of pride. It should be easy for Jews to connect to their heritage and to Israel. But this will be impossible to achieve if this relationship is not reciprocal.

According to a recent survey undertaken by the Center for Jewish Impact in partnership with the Geocartography Knowledge Group on Israel-Jewish Diaspora Relations, 66.4% of Israelis believe the Jewish Diaspora does not have a right to be involved in Israeli affairs since they don’t live in Israel, despite their contributions and impact these policies may have on them. Moreover, nearly 80% are not expecting the relationship with the Diaspora to improve. Nearly 48% even believe the relationship will grow further apart with the instillation of the new government.

As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is a good time to remember that Israel’s Law of Return was designed to encourage Jewish aliyah based on a mirror image of the Nuremberg Laws.

If anyone was Jewish enough to be persecuted and targeted for death by Nazis as a Jew, then they are Jewish enough to make aliyah. We dare not forget that. The Law of Return must not be changed. If we want Jews in the diaspora to rekindle their relationship to Israel and experience it with their own eyes, we should build a reciprocal relationship with as few obstacles as possible and definitely not create new ones. This is the reason we need the Law of Return unchanged.

THIS POSITION receives widespread support in Israel, with 61.4% of Israelis expressing concern that changing the Law of Return will jeopardize the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

There are a host of NGOs, like the Center for Jewish Impact, that travels around the Jewish world empowering large and small communities alike. However, we cannot do this mostly alone. We need the Israeli government to step up, to extend the hand of fraternity to all Jews, regardless of their affiliation, not remove it. This is not the time for Israel to go AWOL.

In addition to the challenges of assimilation, antisemitism is increasing at deeply concerning levels. The attacks from the far-left, the far-right, Islamists, and black and white nationalists in a pincer movement is crushing Jewish communities.

We are at a vital time for the Jewish people, with around half living in Israel and a half in the Diaspora. We need to reinforce the ties that bind us.

Education is always the key to these ties. We need to invest to build mutual understanding, learning and instill Jewish pride. We must strengthen this relationship on both sides.

Diaspora Jews should not be disconnected from Israelis and Israelis can not be disconnected from the Jewish Diaspora.

This relationship, as a strategic issue, should be seen as second in importance only to the strength of the civil society in Israel.

Israel needs to remain the safe and potential home for all the Jewish people, regardless of everything else. It is no coincidence that one of the first laws passed in the nascent state was the Law of Return.

One could argue that law is akin to a ketuba, a marriage contract between Israel and the Jewish people that can not be rescinded and dare not be amended.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we bow our heads in memory of the six million, we don’t ask how many were Orthodox, how many were Reform and how many were affiliated. They were all part of our people, and our collective memory and history, and were targeted for being Jews.

The Jewish people have known many challenges, external and internal, and we have overcome them all, even at the greatest cost. Nevertheless, we have prevailed, survived and flourished. We will do so again but we need a clear strategic plan and goodwill from all sides.

Jewish survival and continuity should be our greatest goal, wherever we live.

The writer is the chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact, a member of the CAM Board of Governors and the chair of the Board of Trustees of World ORT.