The chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World
Zionist Organization comments on the nature of the relationship between
Israel and the Diaspora in the 21st century.
"Judaism cannot exist outside Israel. Those who do not live in
Israel and do not participate in the daily decisions that are made there
and that are entirely Jewish, do not have a Jewish identity of any
This statement was made by author A.B. Yehoshua to the Jewish leadership
in America at a conference of the American Jewish Committee. As chairman
of the executive of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist
Organization, I should support what he said. Our primary role is to
encourage the immigration of all the Jewish youth in the world to the
State of Israel. That is the state's duty.
Especially now, just a few days after "Herzl Day," as declared
by the state, I find Yehoshua's statement disconnected from the
existential reality of the Jewish people. More than half of the Jewish
people live in Israel. The state is perceived by the Jewish community in
the Diaspora as a strong and established state, not as a weak state just
starting out, connected as it was in the past by an umbilical cord to
Diaspora Jewry, and dependent upon it.
The concept of aliyah has also changed. Most of the immigrants arriving
in Israel today come to guarantee their family's life as Jews, to give
their children an opportunity for education and a profession, and to
build their future in a Jewish society and state. Immigration from
distressed communities has dwindled and the motives for immigration that
we knew in the past, like escaping the immediate existential dangers
that existed in exile, have nearly disappeared. Jewish communities
abroad are mostly developed and strong. They are deeply rooted in their
locales and involved in day-to-day life there.
That is how millions of Jews in the world want to live. This is their
free choice and even if it does not match our aims, we have no
alternative but to respect it.
However, let us remember that the Jewish communities of the world face
the difficult and troubling problem of assimilation, which in some
places is as much as 80 percent. The younger generation's distancing
from Judaism and their lack of interest in a Jewish framework and
community is also a difficult problem faced by many communities. These
trends contribute to erosion in the number of Jews outside Israel by
some 50,000 a year!
Therefore, the State of Israel must make it a top priority to help
Jewish communities stop this erosion and, in various new and creative
ways, enlist them in the cause of continuing the existence of the Jewish
people - wherever it may be.
The main way in which we propose to do this is to position Israel as a
source of interest, challenge and identity for Jewish youth from all
over the world, and as the meaningful center of their personal identity.
We see the enormous influence that a visit to Israel has had on tens of
thousands of young people, whom we bring every year for a short visit,
as in the Taglit program, or for longer periods of time. Encouraging
aliyah was and will be in the future one of the main goals of the State
of Israel. The Jewish Agency is the bridge to fulfillment of that
We are working to strengthen the "attractive" elements of
Israel, but in the absence of significant factors that help
"push" them, most Jews in the Diaspora, particularly in the
United States, choose to remain where they are. The lives of many of
them are connected to Israel. They contribute to it generously and are
involved in many joint projects, like strengthening the Galilee and
Negev, narrowing social gaps or advancing education. They regard the
connection with Israel as the primary means for connecting their
children with Jewish tradition, culture and values, with the assets of
Jewish culture and community life, and particularly as a means for
guaranteeing their continued lives as Jews.
In today's reality, these are the main challenges facing the existence
of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora. In a technological,
mobile and accessible world, in the global village of our day, a Jew
living in New Jersey can hold a bar mitzvah for his son at the Western
Wall, send his daughter to the Hebrew University for an education, use
Skype to talk with friends in Tel Aviv, host in his home young Israelis
who are going to be counselors at a Jewish summer camp, contribute to
the establishment of student residences in Afula, take part in a project
to advance youth in Dimona, and be involved in life in Israel through
repeated visits to the country.
If we do not recognize this reality and the challenges it poses to the
Jewish people, we might lose the entire campaign. Or give up in advance
on our continued existence as a people, for which Israel is the
experiential center and the source of identity. The concept posited by
A.B. Yehoshua regrettably ignores this reality and is not consistent
with the experience of our lives in this era.