The state of United States Jews – opinion – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 7, 2021

Israelis were surprised by the recent study that 25% of US Jews see Israel as an apartheid state though one has to wonder who this unheard of group who did the study is, and what its methodology was. Ben and Jerrys Ice Cream has decided their newest flavor is We Dont Like You. And during the recent conflict with Gaza, some students at liberal rabbinical schools in the US seemed to have more sympathy for the Palestinians who launched the conflict, than Jewish children huddling in bomb shelters in Israels South. All of this has created a sense of unease amongst Israelis who wonder, Whats going on with the American Jewish community?There are no simple answers, but clearly there are two opposite trends occurring in US Jewry. Jews who have a knowledge of Jewish history, Torah, and tradition are still fully supportive of Israel. Others, including a large percentage who have been educated in Western liberal universities that are mostly hostile to Israel, have a variety of attitudes that range from indifference to hostility. The deciding factor on how a person feels about Israel is how important Judaism is to them. In most cases, the less Judaism is important to a person, the less they care about Israel. Look at the Aliyah numbers of US Jews: While only 10% of US Jews consider themselves Orthodox, some 70% of US immigrants to Israel are religious.

The solution to the so-called crisis in Diaspora-Israel relations will not be found in more conferences, restarting the Kotel deal or yet another study about US Jewry. The building blocks of identity are an intellectual and spiritual appreciation of Judaism. In the past, institutionalized antisemitism or a sense of nostalgia pushed Jews inward toward community. But today, antisemitism remains active only on the periphery of society, and most US Jews do not feel threatened. And nostalgic memories tend to fade. But the more Jews know about Judaism, the more they will understand the value of a Jewish homeland.

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HERE IS where Israeli leaders can help. Its time for Israel to invest its moral authority and resources into Jewish education, to encourage US Jewish philanthropists and communities to make it their top priority. We cant ignore the issue of antisemitism, but far greater of a threat to our existence as a nation is disintegration from within, not hatred from the outside. The fear over antisemitism plays to peoples anxieties, and its easier to get a person to reach into their pocket if they worry about an external threat. US Jewry is spending a hundred million dollars a year on a variety of organizations who fight antisemitism. They do good work in this arena, but also duplicate their efforts in their quest for institutional relevancy. This, while the vast majority of young US Jews dont know the difference between Moses and Maimonides.

There are some effective efforts supported by Israel, like Masa, Birthright, Mosaic and others. But so much more needs to be done. For decades, money flowed from US Jews to support the building of a state, and now it needs to head in the other direction, strengthening the Diaspora Jewish people. What is needed is Jewish education, real teaching of history, language, Torah and tradition.

Imagine if every Knesset member would stress the need to bolster Jewish education in the Diaspora in both public and private talks. Imagine they would challenge Diaspora leaders to make it their top priority. Couple that with funding from government and national Zionist institutions for programs that make an impact and the potential is immense. It wont be simple to rollback over a century of assimilation. Its a daunting challenge and it will not happen fast. But it will work. And aside from support for Israel, true Jewish education will also instill in Diaspora Jewry the pride and knowledge needed to stand up to antisemitism.

The connection to community and Israel will be far greater if people have a greater appreciation for the depth of Jewish learning that has been the centerpiece of Jewish life since the dawn of Jewish history. Just look at countries like the UK and Australia, where higher percentages of Jews receive a Jewish education. The rates of assimilation there are lower than in the US and support for Israel is much stronger. If Ben and Jerry had attended a Jewish school that imbued them with a love of Judaism and Israel, they would be creating new flavors celebrating Jerusalem, instead of supporting boycotts. Sadly, whatever Judaism they got was probably minimal and simplistic, with a good chance the primary focus was all about social action, tikkun olam, instead of a serious intellectual engagement with Jewish wisdom.

Israel can help change the direction of world Jewry by focusing on strengthening Jewish education. It comes down to one basic fact: When Jews care about Judaism they care about Israel.

The writer is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County California, his email is

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The state of United States Jews - opinion - The Jerusalem Post

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