‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ for Israeli expatriates

700,000? What significance does that have in Judaism? The answer is scary. It is the number of Israelis living in the US.

Jerusalem skyline 370  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem skyline 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Passover is a holiday of numbers. We ask the four questions, drink the four cups of wine, and ask, “Who knows one? Who knows two?” etc. This Passover we should all have a much larger number on our minds. Who knows 700,000? 700,000? What significance does that have in Judaism? The answer is scary. It is the number of Israelis living in the United States of America.
Last week I visited with leaders of the Israeli community in Los Angeles, which numbers a startling 400,000. They described how their children don’t attend Jewish schools, never attend a synagogue, can speak but not read Hebrew, and have little or no connection to Judaism or Israel. This has led to the inevitable – intermarriage.
Those involved in Israeli politics are always talking about the demographic issue as it relates to the Arabs.
Can you imagine what 700,000 more Jews would mean for the stability of the Jewish state and its future? Shouldn’t we begin to focus on bringing our brothers and sisters back to Israel? But, as I sat at the dinner table with these concerned Israelis, some who have lived in the United States for 30 years, I could not stop thinking, “What have we done to chase these people out of Israel?” And, an even more disconcerting thought; “how many more are we going to force to leave?” Citizens have a difficult time with the stringent and extreme rabbinate when trying to arrange the most basic life-cycle events. Women feel intimidated when they walk in certain parts of the country. Men are serving more army reserve time than necessary. Families are paying more than their equal share of taxes while supporting tens of thousands who should be sharing the tax burden. Secular Israelis feel the state slipping out of their hands and they are in panic mode.
When you add all of the above to the growing gap between the super wealthy and the middle class, it is no surprise to me that those who left the country to make a better living have no interest in returning and why many more are, no doubt, contemplating moving out.
At the seder, we will talk about the enemies from without who seek to destroy us in every generation, but “God saves us from their hands.” What about our selfdestruction from within? Is there a promise that God will save us from our internal decay? Not that I am aware of. It is our responsibility to repair ourselves and make things right, and the only way to do so is through the political system and negating the influence and significance of the extremist, ultra-Orthodox parties.
As we enter into election mode, all concerned citizens should have this thought front and center in their minds as they begin the process of sorting through the various voting options.
When we gather around the seder table to celebrate the miraculous path from slavery and exile to the promised land, we should contemplate the hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters who have chosen Diaspora over Zion, exile over redemption. This contemplation should lead to a commitment to work to address the issues which have created the problem and are leading to tens of thousands more Israelis to contemplate fleeing their homeland.
If we work together and correct these flaws in the voting booth, then we can look forward to the fulfillment of the moving chant with which we conclude the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” for former Israelis.
The author is a member of Knesset, an ordained rabbi, and the founder and chairman of the Am Shalem movement.