One People, Two Resurrections
First published on Ynetnews
The Zionist narrative of Holocaust and resurrection has never been able to appreciate and recognize Jewish resurrection beyond the national home’s borders; when Zionism looks at the Diaspora, it still sees it as the European Jewry in the early 20th century, which is still exposed to an inevitable and imminent holocaust, either as the result of anti-Semitism or as the result of assimilation.
“There is an unprecedented crisis between Israel and the Diaspora,” former Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said last year. Well, of course there is. After all, the Zionist narrative never fully recognized the “Diaspora” Jewry’s legitimacy.
Holocaust and resurrection—that’s how Zionism summarized the 20th century. As far as Zionism is concerned, the Holocaust marks the inevitable fate of the Diaspora Jewry: Only a sovereign people in its own land possess the cultural, political and military strength needed to survive and prosper.
As soon as Zionism focused on establishing the national home, it began denying the value of the Diaspora Jewry, and the Holocaust served as the proof justifying this denial.
Not in the United States. As far as the US Jewry is concerned, the Jewish people underwent two unique resurrections in the 20th century, which had not been experienced for 2,000 years: The resurrection of the State of Israel and the resurrection of the US Jewry. The first created a reality of a sovereign Jewish majority in its land; the second created ad admired Jewish majority, which is seen as an equal among equals.
In the US, like in Israel, the Jewish people experienced decades of cultural, economic and political empowerment and revival. The resurrection’s success in the US was a major contributor not only to Israel’s political and security-related power, but to its Jewish character and identity as well. The North American Jewry helped lead the discourse between tradition and modernity, and created an option of liberal Jews (either religious or secular) who immigrated to Israel and took part in shaping the Jewish identity and discourse in Israel.
The Zionist narrative of Holocaust and resurrection has never been able to appreciate and recognize the Jewish resurrection beyond the national home’s borders. When Zionism looks at the Diaspora, it still sees it as the European Jewry in the early 20th century. As a diaspora, it is still exposed to an inevitable and imminent holocaust, either as the result of anti-Semitism or as the result of assimilation.
Granted, unprecedented numbers of US Jews marry non-Jews. The main reason isn’t assimilation or a weakened Jewish identity; they are simply living in an era in which, for the first time, non-Jews are willing to marry members of the Jewish religion. This reality poses a new challenge to Judaism, but it is also an opportunity.
Unlike Israel, where Jewish identity is inherited, in the US every Jew is obligated to pick his or her identity. In a reality of mixed marriages, there is no guarantee that children will pick Judaism. Such marriages could lead to assimilation, but not necessarily. A person who marriage a non-Jew doesn’t interpret that act as a betrayal of his Jewish identity.
Communities that created programs aimed at bringing such families closer have demonstrated amazing results, all the way to equal feelings of Jewish identity among children from mixed marriages and children whose parents are both Jewish.
More than a million “non-Jews” live in Jewish families today, live a Jewish lifestyle and are committed to the Jewish identity of their family. With proper educational and communal intervention, we could turn them into an enormous potential of development and growth.
One of the anchors for the success of Jewish resurrection in the US is its connection to Zionism. While most US Jews don’t want to immigrate to Israel, their connection to Israel has shaped their identity as Jews. Israel is not just a source of pride or a “safety net.” Israel has taught them that Judaism is not just a religion but also a national affiliation, and this insight has strengthened their identity.
But the suspension of the Western Wall plan, the conversion issues, the comments of Israeli politicians and other acts against the US Jewry indicate that the State of Israel is still stuck in the narrative of denying the Diaspora.
Israel and the US Jewry are facing considerable threats. It’s time to stop denying each other and to understand that it is only through mutual responsibility, respect and tolerance that we will be able to secure the Jewish people’s future—in Israel and in the world.