Wandering Jews

Today's largest Jewish communities are different, but can still work together.

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Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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The Jewish people have always been a traveling nation. It is almost as if wandering has become our second nature, built into the DNA of our society and history. The Torah lists for us over forty way stations and oases that the Jewish people visited during their trek in the desert from Egypt to the outskirts of the Land of Israel. 

Rashi, subtly and almost ironically, comments that the Lord was kind to us and that He did not force us to visit many other way stations that could also have been part of our journey. In fact, for thirty-eight years, the camp of Israel resided in one place in the desert. 

Wanderlust has within it a positive component of curiosity and creativity. It also contains the nucleus of dissatisfaction and frustration. We are constantly looking for a better place to be and we are loath to make the proper investment and effort in improving the place in which we are. We are always looking for a more comfortable environment, better weather and more luxurious surroundings.

This has been true of the Jewish people over its long history. Even though many of our migrations were forced upon by others, with evil decrees and from cruel governments, nevertheless the spirit of migration made substantial numbers of Jews leave their homes to travel to other countries and continents. The wandering Jew became a stereotype both in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.

Among the many disparaging comments made about Jews by Charles de Gaulle was the one that described us as a restless people.  Perhaps this is so but it is also the key to our creativity, with countless number of contributions to human civilization. 

Over the past two centuries there has been a slow but steady reversal of our wandering. The vast majority of the Jewish people in the world now reside in two geographical locations – the State of Israel and the United States. Both communities feel themselves very much at home in their countries. So much so, that Jews from the rest of the world continue to migrate to these two centers of Jewish life. 

The State of Israel remains the promised-land and our eternal homeland, spiritually and physically. The United States has provided its Jewish citizens with freedom and opportunity never before granted to them in the history of our exile and diaspora. There is no question that these two communities have developed independently with different goals, ideas, practices and societal norms. I think that it is obvious that neither community will be able to satisfy the other one completely and consistently. 

The idea of Jewish unity has to be built not only with what connects us, our faith and shared history, but also with the realization that the communities are different and will diverge in attitude and practice on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the fact that these communities are different should not mean that they are bound to be antagonistic one to the other. A healthy respect and tolerance for each other and for the differences that exist between these communities would go a long way towards easing tensions and in promoting a spirit of good will.






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