Op-Ed: The Pew Poll and The Elephant in the Room
Rabbi Reuven SpolterThe writer is a Jewish Studies Lecturer at the Orot Israel College of Education and coordinates Israel Immersion programming for the kollel fellows at Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem. He made aliyah from Oak Park, Mi. where he was the rabbi.
Dr. Jeffrey Woolf recently published a compelling article on the recently released Pew Poll on the state of American Jewry and Judaism and its frightening results. The poll's findings are not really that surprising, and merely confirm what everyone already knows: non-Orthodox Judaism cannot overcome the liberal values of Western society enough to ensure Jewish continuity. For that matter, much of Orthodoxy struggles with it as well.
Dr. Woolf accurately notes that stunning contrast between the American and Israeli Jewish communities, but at the same time, fails to note the "elephant in the room" that has preserved our people in exile for centuries. He writes:
"I am, at the same time, thunderstruck by the stark contrast between the Pew Study, and the most recent Guttman/IDI Study of Israeli Jewry. The findings are almost symmetrical opposites. Israeli Jews believe in God (over 80%). There is a Jewish Renaissance (in Study, Culture, and Observance) in Israel that literally boggles the imagination (even as it confounds the usual definitions of Religious and Secular). And, while individualism and individual expression are certainly not absent, the sense of national cohesion, what we call bayachad, is movingly strong. Anyone who lived here through the Second Intifada, or the various wars and campaigns since then will readily attest to this fact.
"All that my American brothers and sisters have so readily jettisoned, is held sacred by the Jews of Israel. No wonder that we speak so often at cross purposes. The two communities organize themselves around different value systems."
What he calls "bayachad" I call the reaction to "anti-Semitism" and Jew-hating. I think that they go hand in hand.
While American Jews enjoy an unprecedented period of freedom to live unmolested by their neighbors and the governments in which they reside, Jews in Israel have been the targets of constant and consistent threats that Dr. Woolf himself notes: "the Second Intifada, or the various wars and campaigns."
It's a sacrifice to live here, and that sacrifice leads to a search for meaning, and has led to a desire to reconnect to Jewish roots and values.
Let's not sugarcoat things: over the past two decades we have endured a devastating campaign of suicide bombings, kidnappings of our soldiers - some of whom survived, some not; a summer of rockets at our northern cities, years of rockets and bombs at our southern cities (and in the last campaign, at Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv); the murder of families and children in their homes; the list goes on and on. It's not "Jewish" news. Here it's national news.
And while it can get exhausting, it's a sacrifice to live here, and that sacrifice leads to a search for meaning, and has led to a desire to reconnect to Jewish roots and values. The signs of that reconnection pervade even secular Israeli society, from the celebrities who proudly keep Shabbat to the formerly secular movie stars (here too) to the soccer stars who celebrate goals by taking a kippah out of their sock to recite the Shema on the field.
Describe a Jewish community throughout Jewish history that didn't suffer anti-Semitism, and you'll be describing a community that no longer exists - as it assimilated into the broader culture.
Perhaps, then, the shift of anti-Semitism from diaspora communities (I've read that Israelis now find Berlin a great place to live) to the Jewish State is indeed fitting. The nations of the world inherently sense the significance of Israel, and the diminishing role of Jewish communities around the world. They focus their hatred on the most powerful Jewish entity that exists at the time.
While this trend portends short-term benefits for the Diaspora Jewish community (and long-term tragedy), it reflects a fact we already know: the center of the Jewish world has shifted to Israel, and the Jewish State now drives the Jewish agenda.
One "price" for this shift is the minimal to non-existent anti-Semitism felt in America, and the resulting fact that, to quote Dr. Woolf, "American Jewry is gently committing mass suicide through assimilation."