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In light of the growing disconnect between American Jews and the State of Israel, Lyle Plocher explains why it is important to try to repair this connection and calls for more American Jews to make Aliyah.
American Jews making Aliyah at Ben Gurion Airport Photo Credit: Moshe Milner/GPO
I recently came across 2 different articles that were instrumental in provoking me to write this article. The first article written was from 2014 and dealt with the problem of the declining number of Jews from around the world making Aliyah to Israel. The second article appeared recently on the Moment Magazine website and consisted of interviews with a group of 27 different Jews in the positions of rabbi, scholar, historian, journalist, diplomat and activist. The individuals who were interviewed were asked to share their opinion in regards to whether or not there is a “growing gap between Israel and American Jews.” Processing all of this information with the accompanying wide range of opinions has reinforced in my mind that Jewish identity, as it was intended to be, is at a “precarious crossroads.”
As a “watered-down” Jew (someone who does not meet the modern day definition of being Jewish i.e. having a Jewish mother), who has been to Israel six times in the last 15 or so years, I am somewhat baffled by the number of Jews that I meet in the US who have never been to Israel. These Jews all have the financial means to visit Israel, but have never made the journey. It’s hard to fathom that they don’t seem to have a desire at all to visit their ancestral homeland. In a survey of 1,074 Jews taken in 2012, by the polling firm Knowledge Networks, it was found that 59% of those surveyed had never been to Israel. Among the 41% who had made the trip, 19% went only once, 9% twice and 12% three or more times.
The survey also revealed that 31% of the Jews polled expressed no interest in visiting Israel. According to the second article referred to earlier, there has been a very strong decline in interest in or a sense of connection with the State of Israel among Jews born after 1980. Also, 70% of American Jews identify as Liberals, while Israel has been moving more and more to the right-wing side of the political spectrum.
Looking forward at the challenges ahead of seeing Jewish identity and influence in the world grow and not decline, we need to separate things into 2 categories. First, how do we increase the number of Jews from America and other countries visiting Israel each year and second, how do we increase the numbers of those who actually move to Israel.
In order to increase the number of Jews visiting Israel, 3 recommendations were recently made by David Bernstein of The David Project.
- More education for Jewish professionals on Jewish identity and Israel such as the Shalom Hartman Institute’s iEngage curriculum
- A shift in Jewish educational priorities emphasizing national consciousness along with connection to Israel
- A greater emphasis in synagogue life on promoting a strong connection to Israel
On the topic of moving to Israel, referring back to the first article from 2014, the observation was made that when large numbers of people have made Aliyah in the past, it was usually due to some kind of persecution in the host country. Very seldom are there large numbers of Jews migrating to Israel when they are living in relative peace and prosperity.
A very good observation about the “Call of Abram” can be found at bible.org:
“The command of God to Abram is, in effect, a reversal of what man attempted at Babel. Abram was secure and comfortable in Ur, a great city. God called him to leave that city and to exchange his townhouse for a tent. God promised Abram a great name (what the people of Babel sought, 11:4) as a result of leaving Ur, leaving the security of his relatives, and trusting only in God. How unlike man’s ways are from God’s.”
My conclusion after giving these topics some serious thought is that only when more Jews in America decide to turn to their “biblical roots” and become more like Abraham, leaving behind a perceived secure life of familiarity and prosperity, will we see a significant increase in Aliyah from the US. We are not dealing with a needed change in political views but a change in “religious views.”