Believe me – it’s no fun to be a party-pooper, but sometimes one must take up the role.
In a press release filled with hype and hope, the Olami Organization has announced that this week’s Olami Global Summit of Jewish Youth is boasting the highest attendance ever, with a line-up of dynamic speakers, and photos of cheering boys and girls. What’s there to complain about? Looking at the happy snapshots, even the cold heart of an old grouch like me turns into a ball of mushy kneidlach.
But read on. The young Jewish delegates from all over the world commence the Summit by visiting Spain during their Christmas vacation. Then they travel on to London, where they are joined by hundreds of other young Jewish people for a special Opening Celebration and gala address by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Then the group travels on for the Summit finale in Birmingham England - remind me, did the Psalmist say, “If I forget thee, O Birmingham?”
I can only judge by the Olami Organization’s upbeat press release. No mention of Israel. No mention of Jerusalem. No mention of Aliyah.
We have noted in previous articles that over seventy percent of Diaspora Jewry is totally unconnected to Judaism and to Israel. Intermarriage is ever on the rise. Fantastic sums of money are poured into all kinds of Jewish Education programs, including the Olami Global Summit, but the statistics detailing Jewish disconnection continue to follow a down-curve that is destined to plunge on and on until the Diaspora vanishes from the pages of Jewish History.
Olami Summit and other well-meaning programs like it, should be applauded for trying to slow down the avalanche. The problem is that if the orientation of Jewish Education in the Diaspora isn’t dramatically altered, the applause extended to all of these well-meaning programs will soon fall on an empty hall.
Nefesh B’Nefesh can help people come on Aliyah, and the Birthright Program can give away free trips to Israel, but the unrelenting down-slope of the Jewish bell curve will continue to dive if all of the Rabbis in the Diaspora, along with all of the exciting Jewish lecturers, and the Major Jewish Organization Presidents, Federation heads, and parents of Jewish youth, don’t tell the simple truth that the only future for the Jewish People is in the Land of Israel, and not in London, Madrid, Brooklyn, or South Florida.
This is what our Jewish youth needs to hear – “Move to Israel!” Nothing else can stem the tide of assimilation, not tefillin, not kosher food, not the joys of Shabbat. Not all of the exciting Jewish lecturers and happy get-togethers in the world.
Only one truth can save Jewish youth, the truth that is inscribed in the Torah over and over again, and which the Prophets of Israel all proclaimed: “The future of the Jewish People is in Israel!” That is the exciting message which must go out from the Olami Summit for the fun global happening to have any lasting effect.
And it is the Diaspora Rabbis, and Jewish lecturers, and Jewish Establishment leaders who must lead the way by their personal example of coming on Aliyah, rather than going down with the sinking ship in London or New York harbor, pretending that the lifeboat of Jewish Education will rescue the doomed Jewish passengers drowning in the glatt-kosher elixir of “Jewish Life” in foreign lands.
I am sure that Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Education Minister Naftali Bennett will speak about the exalted virtue of living in Israel when they appear at the Summit, but that isn’t enough. The call for aliyah must come from the leaders of Diaspora Jewry themselves – for if they don’t come to Israel, why should the young people? If life among the Gentiles is preferable to the adults, then in the minds of Jewish youth, it is perfectly kosher for them as well.
Strengthening Jewish identity is great, but not when it comes to strengthening Jewish life in the exile, where it can only decline. Five years. Ten Years. The clock is ticking. Wasted energy. The exile is destined to end. The Holy One of Israel is not a liar, Heaven forbid. He has promised to erase the shame of our dispersion and regather all of the outcasts of Israel, and He will, the ones who remain, no matter how hard Diaspora Jews try to fortify Jewish life in the Diaspora.
Spain? London? Birmingham? Why hold global Jewish get-togethers in places where Christmas is everywhere you look? What kind of Jewish pride and identity can you give a young Jew when he is a hated minority in a Gentile land? If there is a Christmas tree in Jerusalem, I haven’t seen it. And if there are a few, here and there, for tourists, or for the Christian Arabs in Bethlehem or Hebrew University, this party-pooper hasn’t seen them. No Christmas decorations lining the streets, no Santa Clauses, no mangers, no Joys to the World and Silent Nights. Just another holy day and night in the Holy Land – the way it should be for a Jew.