The very sad truth is that a large part of American Jewry has decided not to educate their children and grandchildren to be Jewish in any shape or form. This reality sits at the heart of the present divide between these American Jews and the State of Israel.
As someone who has been involved in centrist, Orthodox Zionist education for close to four decades, I have seen the results when Jewish children receive this education; they almost always maintain their religious identities. They overwhelmingly affiliate with Judaism, mitzvot, torah, Jewish holidays, values, etc. This also includes being connected to Israel on multiple levels. But if a population has almost no knowledge of Judaism, its history, or its values — is it any surprise that they feel “alienated” from the Jewish state? These non-affiliated Jews have been brought up to be citizens of the world, and many are liberal and progressive. In my view, those political ideologies clash with Judaism’s ideas and values, and especially its idea of nationhood and nationalism. Their alienation is not a function of a certain government in Israel or a certain politician.
Many of these people use the terms “Tikun Olam” and “Kavod Ha Briyot” over and over, but when taken out of the context of the 613 commandments and Jewish Halacha, these phrases are meaningless — and they are not core Jewish values.The problem is not Israel, its policies, its government, or its politicians. The problem is that a vast number of American Jews have willfully decided to reject most of what Judaism has to offer. For these non-affiliated Jews, the idea of Jewish nationalism and Jewish statehood is baffling at best, and evil at worse.
Many politically liberal people are anti-nation state, and pro-open borders. Hence, the alienation felt by many American Jews is not a function of what Israel does, but rather what Israel is: The nation state of the Jewish people.
We can and certainly must have conversations between those of us who are unabashedly pro-Israel, and those who feel alienated by Israel. So, let’s begin this conversation where it should begin: addressing two diametrically opposite views of Jewish nationhood and statehood. This will help us have a meaningful and fruitful dialogue. Otherwise a great deal of time will be wasted discussing different policies of this or that Israeli government, politician, or prime minister, when in reality that’s not the issue at all.
Instead, we need to talk about the lack of Jewish education among many progressive and non-affiliated Jews, and their objections to states that are the nation-states of a certain group of people. That will help us get to the core of the issue that presently divides much of American Jewry from the state of Israel.
Rabbi Yotav Eliach is the author of Judaism Zionism and the Land of Israel, nominated for the National Jewish Book Award.