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Op-Ed: For Passover: Two Modern Exiles

About 45% of the world's Jews live in Israel. What does that do to the word "exile"?
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:49 PM




Population numbers are almost always inaccurate. This is especially true with Jews. Some who are counted as Jews aren’t Jews. Some who are Jews don’t want to be counted. Sometimes, the counters prefer to count only these Jews and not those.

Jewish census numbers can be tricky. They don’t always tell the truth. But if you close your eyes, you might see something. You might see trends.

Trends are not like numbers. Numbers are easy to understand. Trends aren’t. Numbers might be precise, but they aren’t ‘truth’. Sometimes, the ‘trend’ is more truthful than the ‘number’.

Here are some trends:
Israel has recently announced that her Jewish population now stands at six million (this number does not include an additional 319,000 citizens from the former Soviet Union who live now in Israel but who are not Jewish). This number, six million, is important for two reasons. First, it is the number we commonly associate with the Holocaust, where six million perished. Now, Israel has another six million. There is something symmetric about that.

Second, the number six million echoes both the original Redemption from Egypt and the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948. In both ancient Egypt and the year 1948, the number of Jews participating in those historic events (Redemption and rebirth) was (approximately) six hundred thousand.

Six hundred thousand left Egypt in the Exodus. A different six hundred thousand were present in Israel when she declared Independence. Now, that six hundred thousand has become six million. There is something intriguing about that symmetry.


Does a Biblical ingathering unfold before our eyes?
Today, Israel’s new Jewish estimate represents about forty-five per cent of the world’s total Jewish population. That makes Israel—no matter whose numbers you look at—the country with the world’s largest Jewish population. America is number two, with perhaps forty-four per cent.

That’s interesting. With so much bad press about Israel spreading around the world, you’d think that Jews would be running away from Israel as fast as they could. But even as some Israelis do that, the trend doesn’t lie: Israel’s Jewish population grows—and grows. There is something suggestive about that.

Does a Biblical ingathering unfold before our eyes?

If this population estimate suggests that forty-five per cent of the world’s Jews live in Israel, then fifty-five per cent do not. That’s actually an important observation because, when most of the world’s Jews don’t live in Israel, the word, ‘exile’, doesn’t sound so harsh. For example, when America held the largest number of world’s Jews, ‘exile’ wasn’t the way you referred to America. Instead, you called America, ‘home’.

But that’s about to change. It may have taken Israel more than 64 years to contain the world’s biggest Jewish population, but it won’t take anywhere near that long for Israel to reach an even greater milestone: being home to more than half the world’s Jews.


Once more than half of the world’s Jews live in Israel, the definition of ‘home’ will change. ‘Home’ has always been where the majority lives. ‘Home’ will become Israel. Once that happens, then every place outside Israel will by definition become ‘not home’; and once that happens, ‘not home’ will really mean ‘exile’. When most of the world’s Jewish population resides in Israel, it becomes much easier to call everyplace else, ‘exile.’

This recent Israeli census announcement even suggests something about the nature of exile itself. You see, when most of the world’s Jews will make Israel their true ‘home’, ‘exile’ becomes more than a concept or philosophic conceit. It becomes reality, one that can be divided into two parts: a good exile and a bad exile.
A good exile (if there really is such a thing) is geographic. It is the exile of one who wants to be in Israel but cannot. It is the exile of one who recognizes he belongs ‘home’. It is the exile of one who longs to return.

A geographic exile is a ‘good exile’ because it can be corrected.

The bad exile is different. It is spiritual. It cannot be corrected. It is not benign. It eats away at your heart. It seduces you. It is a kind of exile where choice and desire focus against Israel in favour of some ‘other’ place.

That was the attraction of ancient Egypt. It felt like ‘home’. Yes, there was physical slavery. That was bad. But for eighty per cent of the Jews there, the physical slavery wasn’t bad enough.

In America, we see a similar spiritual slavery, one that consumes both religious and non-religious Jews. These Jews appear to commit more to America than to Israel—each for his own reasons, each with his own justifications.It was the same in ancient Egypt. Even in physical slavery, eighty per cent justified their spiritual exile. They committed to Egypt. Then they disappeared. Where do you live?  What’s in your future?