Avraham Shusteris
Avraham ShusterisCourtesy
In the United States, Judaism is usually described as a religion while in the Soviet Union it was thought of as a nationality. Judaism is in fact both, but its important to understand what each component is and why both are essential in creating an ideal Torah society.

Religion is supposed to connect people to G-d. It provides a belief system, rules, and structure for living a life infused with spirituality. That being said, religion in of itself, does not connect people to each other in a significant way. A Brazilian and Filipino may both believe in the same god, however they have no common language, land, culture, history, and certainly would not sacrifice their money or their lives for each other. While their religious beliefs may be the same, they are not a unified society and have very little in common.

Nationhood works in an inverse way. People that are part of the same nation share a common language, land, culture and history. These factors have the power to connect people to each other and create a unified society- much more so than religion. Being part of a nation gives a person a sense of pride and identity and connects them with their ancestors and future generations. In times of war, people who are part of a nation risk and give their lives for total strangers for the sake of their nation. While nationhood is an incredibly powerful connecting force, this force, in of itself can be both superficial and dangerous. How many lives throughout history were needlessly lost through mob violence and wars in the name of senseless national pride?

In order to create an ideal Jewish society, both religion and nationhood are required. Nationhood to connect people to each other- ie Bein Adam L Chaveiro and religion to infuse the nation with spirituality and connect it to G-d- ie Bein Adam L Makom. At Sinai, the Jews thus became both a religion and a nation- the blueprint for the ideal society. Without either of these ingredients, a society is simply incomplete.

While the Jews have managed to maintain their religion despite two thousand years of exile, in some respects, they have forgotten what it means to be a nation. This is not their fault. Exile is the opposite of nationhood. Living in exile requires adapting to a new set of rules of survival which are exactly the opposite of the rules of survival for a normal nation.

In exile, surviving as a minority religion requires subservience to one's hosts, keeping a low profile and doing everything possible to avoid being perceived as a threat. While this has been the recipe for survival in exile, it is a recipe for disaster for a nation in its own land. The world of nations is a jungle where only the strong survive. Survival in exile requires projection of weakness and submission, whereas survival as a nation in its land requires projection of strength, pride and confidence.

We have emerged from a 2,000 year nightmare in which we were cripples - a Torah nation, devoid of the most critical component of nationhood - its land. The most frightening part of this nightmare is that so many Jews continue to sleep. In their slumber, they forget that we now have our own land and the rules of the game have changed.

Most "frum" American Jews have not considered returning to their land seriously. They are able to practice their religion in Lakewood, they have great yeshivos and kosher supermarkets with 150 different flavored dips for Shabbos, so why do they need Israel?

The reason they need Israel is because true Judaism is a combination of religion and nation. Religion to connect us to G-d and nation to connect us with each other. Jews can not connect to each other as a nation, unless they are together in their land- in Eretz Yisrael.

When Jews are together- in their land- several things happen. They begin to speak the same language and begin to share a common culture. They begin to share challenges and confront the same enemies. They begin to take pride in who they are and become willing to sacrifice for it. They begin to start realizing their true purpose in the world - to be a role model to the world through their connection with G-d. When Jews are in their land, with time, they begin to act like a nation. The begin to act, not like a group of exiles looking to avoid being noticed, but like a proud, strong and confident nation whose confidence is based on the fact that G-d has our back when we have His. They begin to have true achdus - unity- that we were always meant to have.

None of the above can be achieved in Lakewood and Monsey. We can build schools and shuls, start chesed organizations and even get together in Metlife Stadium for the Siyum Hashas, but that will never be enough to weld us into a proper nation. As long as Jews are in exile, we will always be bound by the rules of survival in exile. We will always need to keep our heads down. We will never be able to feel, recognize and internalize that G-d is our true Master, since we will always be preoccupied with how we are perceived by the nations that host us. In the exile, we can only aspire to grow as individuals and as communities, but we will never be able to grow together as a nation and have true achdus. That potential to become a true nation can only be realized when we are in our land and relearn what it means to be a nation.

Avraham Shusteris is an accountant in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He made aliyah from Monsey with his family in 2018.