The Times of Israel published my new article “American Jews and Israel, the Great Divide”
The US election was not only the thermometer to measure the temperature of American politics, it also tested the waters between American and Israeli Jews on what they might consider their best common interest. The result was freezing cold. The American presidential race revealed that the alienation between both communities is only growing.
Back in October, an American Jewish Community’s survey revealed that only 22% of US Jews would vote for President Donald Trump and 75% would choose former Vice President Joe Biden. That estimation was close to the 77% support received by the Democrats according to exit polls during the election. Interestingly, that same percentage of Israeli Jews favored the opposite candidate, Trump, who is considered by many to be the friendliest US president toward Israel in history.
The rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities is not surprising. People’s worldview is marked by the environment in which they live. I am here, in the Middle East, on a small piece of land surrounded by enemies who are constantly thinking about how to slaughter us, to destroy us, so it is natural I think differently than if I were in America, sitting in comfortable physical security. It is clear where the opposite views derive from.
One may ask, isn’t it in Israel’s best interest to work to close the gap between the two communities? As the situation now stands, it is a lost cause. What can Israeli Jews offer that will be appealing to them if they do not care about Israel’s security and future? It seems to Israelis as if we do not exist to American Jews in any real way, not as a nation, not as a country, not as a people. It feels like they consider themselves as part of the people of Israel in name only but without common feelings.
After traveling in America throughout the years and meeting US Jewish leaders multiple times, my assessment is that beyond superficial declarations of being one people, actually drawing closer to Israel is not in their consciousness, in their awareness. They are Jewish people in America only. There is complete disconnection. No wonder almost 6 out of 10 American Jews have never visited Israel in their lives and these statistics haven’t changed for decades.
However, just as the detachment from Judaism did not save the Jews in Germany from persecution almost a century ago, the detachment from the Jewish state will not help American Jewry now. With antisemitism spreading rapidly, Jews are under threat, and distancing from Israel will do nothing to improve the perception of haters toward them. Just as in the past, Jews will be held accountable for whatever problems are on the agenda. This is the nature of antisemitism. Therefore, the only remedy capable of offering real help in this situation is unity.
From an economic perspective, those who still believe the American dream is alive and that their livelihoods are secure should wake up from their sleep. For a long while, America’s hegemony is slowly fading, as did happen with all the ancient empires. The trend is shifting away from the West towards the East, and Asia is poised to take over control of the world’s economy. Not only is China already at the top of the competition, but Japan, South Korea, and other countries in the Far East are also not far behind.
What does all this mean for American Jews? It means that the importance of Jewish unity cannot be overstated as the only safety net to guarantee a good future. Unity must be built with all haste above the split between Right and Left, between Republicans and Democrats, between American Jews and Israelis, above all the differences. Our future does not depend on any particular person or political camp; it depends solely upon our connection as one people.
Clearly, there are many contentious issues between the two communities worthy of addressing—opposite political views, disputes about who is a Jew, how Judaism should be practiced, just to name a few. However, above and beyond our disagreements, the State of Israel and the American Jewry must feel that no matter what, there is an underlying and indivisible bond that connects us together, similar to the way that siblings sometimes fiercely disagree but always remember that they are family.
Unity does not mean erasing our unique opinions or demanding that all think the same. (That would erode the very essence of the Jewish people who fiercely debate on anything.) No, all the differences remain and we just build a connecting bridge above them from recognition that our connection is far more important than any other issue.
As foremost Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) wrote,
“It is also clear that the immense effort required of us on the rugged road ahead requires unity as strong and as solid as steel, from all factions of the nation without any exceptions. If we do not come out with united ranks toward the mighty forces standing in our way then we are doomed before we even started” (The Writings of Baal HaSulam, The Nation).
Unity is the prime commodity and the bedrock of the people of Israel in that we possess the priceless method for bringing people together—families, nations, and all of humanity. When we begin to implement this method first and foremost between ourselves, the positive impact will reverberate forcefully around the world and our common destiny will be safeguarded.