“It is time to start treating the gap between Israeli and American Jews as spectral in color rather than monochromatic

It is time to start treating the gap between Israeli and American Jews as spectral in color rather than monochromatic. Activists who try to name the root causes of this problem often point to single-causes: the chief rabbinate, the occupation, intermarriage, the preoccupation of American Jews with idiosyncratically American Jewish ideas about Judaism, etc. Often, these single-cause arguments are thin veils atop implicit polemics about the problems of “the other side,” with equally implicit apologetics about the fundamental legitimacy of American Jews (against the misbehaving Israeli government) or of Israeli Jews (against the narcissistic vicissitudes of American Jews.)

These single-cause arguments are silly. Israeli Jews and American Jews are on diverging paths because of the following factors and more: the ethnic overhaul of American Jewry due to intermarriage, adoption, and conversion; the ethnic overhaul of Israeli Jewry thanks to immigration and the citizenship rules of the Law of Return which allow for partial Jewish ancestry; political, religious, spiritual, and ideological trends in both countries; the massive gap in cultural and linguistic vocabulary; the educational systems in both places that have yet to figure out how to authentically represent the other; imbalances between the two in philanthropy and perceived responsibility to “the Jewish people;” different social and political circumstances given the respective geographies of America and Israel, and so on.

When we pretend that our mythic construct of “Jewish Peoplehood” belies an essential shared identity that has been merely compromised by minor and recent changes, we do a disservice to the complicated changes these communities have been separately undergoing for generations, and we deceive ourselves into thinking that one or two strategic meetings with the Prime Minister, or a few more busloads of teen tours, will reverse the trends of divergence.

The same thing happens when we assume that everyone takes for granted, or can easily internalize, the rhetoric of the Jewish people as “family,” when most Jews increasingly do not feel that this metaphor effectively describes their relationship to one another. Privileging a failed narrative and assuming it will hold sway is not an effective long-term strategy.

Step one for the Jewish communal agenda is to take more seriously the independent evolutions of American and Israeli Jewry, and their corresponding divergence of paths, to reject single polemical theories of causality, and to recognize the need for systemic approaches toward rebuilding the relationship.

Yehuda Kurtzer, “Minding the Gap: A Primer for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropy”, eJewish Philanthropy (18 July 2017) [http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/minding-the-gap-a-primer-for-jewish-professionals-and-philanthropy/]