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Op-Ed: American Jewish Commitment to Israel & Judaism

Religious pluralism in Israel is just not the problem. Staying Jewish is.
Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 5:15 AM


While traditional Jews will continue getting closer to Israel and Israeli institutions, I have little doubt that the organized American Jewish establishment will get even further away from Israel in the next few years.  The simple reason is that they are moving further and further away from Judaism. Over the last few years Israel has become the world’s largest Jewish community (over six million now in Israel), and we can expect to continue to see a sea-change in the “special relationship” between American Jews and Israel.

There can be no question that in the Diaspora, traditional religious Jews are more likely to remain Jewish in the years to come.

Despite that fact, I’d venture that among the ten largest American Jewish organizations, perhaps 5% of the staff is religious – and fewer of their programs are targeting the religious establishment. While there are many well-meaning Jews serving American Jewry, there are very few orthodox or traditional people working at these organizations.  Secular, liberal Jews are “serving” a community that has grown so vastly apart from them – and is different in so many ways. Liberals become Universalists and move further away from their religion, nation and people.  

It is alarming to see the huge disconnect between the “American Jewish leadership” and the committed Jewish community – From the UJA to the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and others, how many of them are religious? How many of them send their children to Jewish day schools? How much of their programming is urging people to observe more mitzvoth? (very few). Secular, liberal Jews are “serving” a community that has grown so vastly apart from them – and will only get further apart from Israel.  

Increasingly, seeking for some meaning, these people will hold events like the one reported upon in Arutz 7 Yesterday here. Under the headline “Jewish Leaders in US Call for 'Pluralism' In Israel”, an event hosted by an organization called the Jewish People Policy Institute, former American Ambassador Dennis Ross (no friend of Israel) spoke of the need for "religious pluralism" of Judaism in Israel, and “Israel's status as Jewish and democratic state.”

One wonders, however, assuming that the numbers from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project are accurate that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarry, how relevant will audiences’ like the one Ross is hosting be in 10 or 20 years?

66% of American Jews don’t belong to a synagogue, 25% don’t believe in God, and 33% had a Christmas tree in their home last year – so if young American Jews don’t practice Judaism, how can they speak to Israel about a Jewish State?  What is the purpose of this organization and similar ones if they don’t have Jewish continuity?

Politically, the State of Israel will increasingly look to Evangelical Christians and other allies for support. But, one wonders if American Jews don’t become closer to Judaism, how can they become closer to Israel?

We should hope that the American Jewish establishment realizes Jewish tradition is vital for the continuity of our people. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky said in 1937, “Jewish religious tradition is not an archaic object of our history, but an active pulsating power which exists today and will continue for all eternity.”

Ronn Torossian is an active contributor to Arutz 7.