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Jewish Tours Argentina


Disconnected from Reality

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 significance."

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 objective.

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.

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