'Lost Jews' video shows Israeli chutzpah towards Diaspora Jewry
For a short-lived campaign no offense caused to the sensibilities of Jews outside of Israel was considered.
An Israel outreach program has pulled from its Web site a campaign video meant to scare the Israeli public about the inevitable 'de-Judaization' that occurs to good Jewish stock in the Diaspora.
The Masa organization last week released a video, which shows eerie headshots of young, smiling youths with painfully Jewish names. Each of these faces gaze at the camera from atop flyers that read 'Missing' and 'Lost' in English, Russian, and Spanish.
Though the organization could not be reached for comment Tuesday, the video no longer appears on Masa's Web site, YouTube or Facebook pages.
The unexpected viral reaction it has stirred among Diaspora Jews both still abroad and in Israel may have something to do with its sudden removal.
Or maybe the group just realized that Israeli chutzpah and gross generalization could cause unexpected offense.
In the video's base appraisal of Jewish life outside Israel, the Diaspora is seen as a seductive garden of goyish delights that breeds absolute dissonance from Judaism, leaving once-proud, self-identified Jews little more than the hopelessly lost children smiling back from the iconic milk cartons of America.
The head of the campaign, Motti Scharf, told Haaretz last week that the campaign was spurred because 'the public in Israel is displaying apathy towards [assimilation], because the process is slow and not dramatic, out of sight.' Scharf added "the time has come to put the issue on the table."
Scharf's message that "the time has come to put the issue on the table" shows not only how ignorant he and many other Israelis are about the wealth of Jewish life lived abroad, but also shows that the brains behind the video have never been to Hebrew school or a Jewish youth organization meeting in the United States.
The dangers of intermarriage in the Diaspora were 'put on the table' several decades ago, spoon-fed to every Jewish school child along with Holocaust history and Sandy Koufax.
Forget how the video implies that any mixed-marriage automatically leads to a completely gentile life for the couple and their children, it sends a clear message to the large, proud community of Diaspora Jews who came from mixed unions and see themselves as no less a part of the nation of Israel, that they are, by and large, missing persons floating adrift in a sea of gentiles.
On one hand, the video is harmless because most of the people it could possibly offend will never see it and wouldn't understand the Hebrew voiceover anyway, possibly being led to believe they'd seen a preview for a Yiddishkeit version of 'Lost' or 'Without a Trace'.
Nonetheless, there is an entire community of Jews living in Israel, from the U.S. and the former Soviet Union especially, who are the products of mixed marriages, a "cruel reality" that did not stop them from forging a strong Jewish identity and who understand the Hebrew voiceover clear as day.
Many members of this community hold proud family backgrounds that rendered them Jewish enough for aliyah, but painfully, not Jewish enough to be considered Kosher by the religious authorities in their newfound home.
As a child of a mixed-marriage myself, I know quite intimately how a Jewish life lived on the frontiers of the Diaspora (Texas) in a family of suspect Jewish pedigree can still engender a very strong identity with Judaism.
If anything, I've learned that such a background can make the bonds stronger. I also have learned that no matter how strong that bond feels, and even if it does drive you to live in Israel, it's not up to the child of the mixed-marriage to decide whether they are alienated from Judaism, a simple dismissal by the Rabbinate of your Jewish credentials and your entire upbringing does a much better job.
I also know that Cyprus is a lovely place to visit in autumn, and no clergyman there will ask for the bona fides of your professed creed, and no money will go to build a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Keep in mind, my mother converted.
The video is objectionable not only in its superficial and ignorant appraisal of the results of intermarriage or the fruits of a Jewish life lived outside Israel, but also because of what it says about how Israel views itself in regard to Judaism.
In this perspective, Israel is the possessor and only true adjudicator of the religion, the owner and true realization of a Jewish life lived.
This view of the Diaspora implies that only a life lived in Israel can prevent assimilation, and only an encounter with the joy of Judaism in Israel can ensure Diaspora Jews stay proud and conscious enough of their heritage to "remain Jewish."
Sadly, the video also offers no explanation for the widespread alienation felt by many Israeli Jews who have experienced Judaism in Israel since birth.
It appears the solution offered is not to invest in Diaspora programs meant to enrich the spiritual life and connections to their heritage for Jewish youths living outside Israel.
Rather, the message seems to be "Are you alienated from Judaism in the United States? Then come to Israel where you can be alienated by us, all with the blanket approval of the state!"
In a sense it's the ultimate anti-post-Zionist message; the only place you can be a Jew is in Israel; that the only place you have reasonable odds of not only falling out of touch with your heritage or becoming an MIA of the gentile galaxy, is to come to Israel, a solution fitting for all Jews anywhere in the Diaspora, regardless of who they are or where they are in life.
This old school message negates the Diaspora, or any value in living a Jewish life there.
For Masa and the Jewish Agency, it's time to party like its 1948.