Opinion |

Make Aliyah or Disappear

Western Jews are threatened by assimilation and only in Israel is it possible to live on any point of the Jewish spectrum, and especially on the secular end, without needing to assimilate

Israel Harel
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A man prays at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 31, 2018.
A man prays at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 31, 2018.Credit: Joseph PREZIOSO / AFP
Israel Harel

After the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh (they were murdered in a synagogue, dear chief rabbis; they were not just members of the “Jewish community”), bitter arguments erupted over the causes of the murder. But few discussed one cause: an ingrained, organic hatred for Jews that has no connection to incitement or other recent developments. And there was no discussion whatsoever of one essential message, the supreme Zionist message – aliyah.

Granted, Jews in Pittsburgh, like most Western Jews, aren’t generally in danger for their lives, but they definitely are threatened by another existential danger – assimilation. And assimilation means the end of the Jewish people.

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Thus the call that should have resounded at this moment of crisis was as follows: Jews, save yourselves! Jews, move to Israel! Only in Israel is it possible to live your lives at any point on the Jewish spectrum, and especially on the secular end, without assimilating.

No leader of stature either in Israel or outside it (perhaps because there are none) said this to the Jews of Pittsburgh, or to all Jews living in exile (yes, exile). Not Israel’s president, not its prime minister, not the Knesset speaker and not Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett’s remarks in Pittsburgh were routine words of mourning, in good English, but lacking an unequivocal demand. There was no call that would shake up the disastrous rut that besets local Jews and millions of their brethren in wealthy countries, whose numbers are gradually shrinking. He should have shouted, “Jews, move to Israel. Save yourselves and future generations from assimilation.”

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Overseas Jews, and especially American Jews, have many gripes about us, some of which are justified. And those gripes are widely heard here. In contrast, we virtually never give voice to our gripes about them.

But by not doing do so, we are betraying both them and ourselves. Just as they don’t hesitate to rebuke us – for being “occupiers,” for the nation-state law, for the status of gays and of Reform and Conservative Jews – we ought to hold a mirror up to them, first and foremost to their spiritual leaders’ failure to prevent assimilation.

This isn’t just criticism; it’s a call to save the Jewish people. Nothing less. True, they are liable to respond with protests, anger and a feeling of insult. But presumably there will also be some who will ask themselves, honestly, whether magnifying what is bad about Israel doesn’t serve as an excuse for, or a refuge from, what’s happening in their own backyard.

Israel, after all, isn’t guilty of failing to prevent intermarriage. Life in exile is guilty of that! And exilic leaders, who don’t tell the truth to their communities, bear the responsibility.

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In the 1930s, too, there were very few leaders who dared to raise an outcry and warn against Jewish apathy, both in Europe and in the United States. The few who did foresee the future and speak out about it, like Ze’ev Jabotinsky, were accused of sowing panic. Even in pre-state Israel, most of the Jewish community’s leaders hardened their hearts.

Today, the danger is “only” spiritual annihilation, which is hugely different. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of the future of the Jewish people, the result is liable to be similar if we don’t wake ourselves up and awaken others.

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Jewish Agency and countless overseas Jewish organizations cannot undertake the necessary rescue operations. They lack the internal fire, leadership, spiritual strength, feeling of urgency and organizational capabilities. The sad truth is that Israel, too, is ignoring and denying the situation, and not just because of the other challenges it faces.