The elephant in the room

Superficial issues and news stories dominate the headlines, argues Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav Meir, crowding out more important issues.

Sivan Rahav Meir ,

Sivan Rahav meir
Sivan Rahav meir

From time to time, alert readers contact me, questioning why I do not comment on every public "uproar". So this week, I am going write about my lack of commentary. When you comment on any issue, you are in essence agreeing that it is very important.

Whether you support or even if you criticize an issue, you are in fact stoking the fire, which is burning very well without any additions. My personal feeling is that many of these fires do not constitute burning issues at all, they are nothing more than diversions from the really pressing issues. The fact that everyone talks about something, does not make it correct or urgent.

There is no shortage of examples to back up my point: Right-wing ministers who are so concerned about an Arab theater or a professor who signed a petition, that they have no time for making real policy changes; haredi enlistment to the IDF instead of integrating haredim into the workforce; the obsession with every detail about Netanyahu's questionings by the police instead of waiting for a decision to be made.

The other issue that hits the headlines time and time again is the Women of the Wall. For years, as a reporter I was part of the system. I covered the story of these women and saw how much attention is focused on a very small group of women who come to the Western Wall. I saw how a woman wrapped in a pink prayer shawl with tefillin on her head makes for a great picture and brings high rating and buzz.

But the story has remained exactly the same for the past thirty years: again and again we hear dire warnings that Reform Jews in the States will stop contributing to Israel, which leads to tension in the coalition, which leads to more compromises and appeals to the High Court. This is certainly an issue, but is it really the number one issue regarding the future of Diaspora Jewry?

I have just one question to ask: How many young Jews around the world married out of the faith in the time that the cameras were focused solely on the Western Wall plaza? I know it is difficult to film the disappearance of a nation.

There are no official spokespeople inviting journalists to cover a mixed marriage. However, the issue of intermarriage is tenfold times more critical. Back in 2014, the President of the Reform movement Rick Jacobs stated quite clearly: "I still hear people talking about intermarriage as if it were a disease. We must not consider interfaith couples to be a failure." In a recent commencement speech at a graduation ceremony of Reform rabbis, author Michael Chabon said that marriage between two Jews is a ghetto that imprisons them within a wall of tradition and we must break down these walls.

I quoted his unprecedented remarks in this column, but they hardly got a mention anywhere else and they certainly did not become an "uproar". That privilege is only reserved for Rabbis. Not one TV reporter asked for clarification on Chabon's speech, I did not read or hear any condemnation about abandoning such a basic and fundamental principle of Judaism. All I read and heard about was endless discussion about the length, height and width of the Reform plaza. This begs the question: Who has the vested interest in us speaking about this issue, and only this?

If I am unable to have an impact on where the public discourse is heading, then I prefer not to jump on the bandwagon which is careering toward the wrong destination.

I consider the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be my moral compass in issues of this kind. He was particular to respect his most bitter opponents and he certainly did not curse or insult Reform Jews, which unfortunately is not always the case here in Israel. But he argued that in our times, it is a mistake to set up new movements which demand less from the younger generation, claiming instead that we should demand more from them.

Do not lower the bar and make life easier, the Rebbe warned, instead demand and expect seriousness, hard work and dedication. We must create a meaningful and strong Jewish identity even in a global and liberal world. His energies were not spent on fighting the other, but on spreading a relevant and attractive Judaism. He understood that the struggle is not taking place in the Western Wall but on the West Coast. The struggle is against ignorance, alienation and apathy toward Judaism.

The intermarriage rate in the non-orthodox community currently stands way above the 50 percent mark. I have met quite of few of these youngsters here in Israel during their Birthright trip as well as on my lecture tours in the States and have gained a first-hand impression of them. Who is the largest stream in American Jewry? It is not those streams who employ a spokesperson and PR machine to put our press releases. The largest stream consists of unaffiliated young Jews who do not belong to any organization or community.

The Makor Rishon newspaper recently quoted Netanyahu as saying that there is no point in investing in non-orthodox communities because within one or two generations they will disappear due to assimilation and low birthrates (Netanyahu denies this comment). This reminds me of a remark by a young communal Rabbi in New York: The question is not the relationship between Israel and the American Jewry, but whether there will even be a Jewish community in the States in the future.