What Happened The Night God Promised To Make Abraham a Great Nation?
And why I am not upset with the dwindling American Jewish population…
Is it heresy for me to say that? To say that the loss of Jews within the greater American population does not give me sleepless nights? I do not worry about the intermarriage rate. I do not worry about the Diaspora Jews (mostly American) who are trying to change the rules of joining the tribe, or affect how we relate to the sacred Land of Israel, or how we define our sovereignty as a Jewish nation in our indigenous homeland.
I only worry that we, the Israelis who live here, beat our breasts with an exaggerated sense of responsibility toward them; and that we, those who have come home to reestablish our Israelite kingdom in modern form pay too much attention to their cries of foul when we do not capitulate to their supposedly better judgement of what is best for the Jewish people, what is ethical for the Jewish people, and what is best for Israel at war, cold or hot.
I am happy to hear what Diaspora Jews think. If they point out things we have not considered, important issues and perspectives to take into account, that is great. But I am not willing to have them dictate to us. Not about anything.
Some decry the decreasing American Jewish population because it affects the impact the Jewish lobby can have upon the American government. But since when is a political lobby our strength? Nations act in their own self-interests regardless of the size of lobbies that try to influence them.
So no: Our strength comes from our convictions, from our connection with the land, and our connection with God (even for those who do not believe in God because even a rejection of God is God-centered).
Our strength comes from our self-respect and here is where we are still deficient. Here is where we are as yet unable to throw off the shackles of our Exile mentality. And that directly affects the way we relate to our Diaspora.
There are three kinds of hand-shake that can represent three kinds of Diaspora-Israel relationships: The one that feels like a dead fish, the one that squashes the bones in one’s hand, and the firm handshake. Israel’s over-concern with not upsetting the Diaspora makes us like the dead-fish hand-shake. Our over-rigidity would be like the hand-crushing shake. The firm grip comes from self-confidence and humility in harmony. The firm grip would be as the sovereign nation that understands itself and feels like it has nothing it needs to prove to anyone else in order to justify its right to exist.
We have yet to learn how to think and act as a sovereign nation. One day we will stand up straight, proud of our accomplishments, proud of our determination and proud of our evolution as we work out the kinks and creases in our young modern state. One day we will figure out how to work toward a balance among the three-pronged task before us: respect for our ancient traditions, love of our sacred land and adaptation to the modern world without losing our sense of self.
Israel is the sun. The Diaspora is many moons.
And the Jews are supposed to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. That is what God promised to Abraham.
“God took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky, and count the stars if you can! So will be your descendants.’” (Gen. 15:5)
“If you can [count them].”
But what if on that night the sky was cloudy? How many stars were hidden behind the clouds, uncountable? Were they as the number of Israelites who stayed behind in Egypt rather than follow Moshe out into the desert? Were they as the number of Israelites who remained in Babylonia when Cyrus the Great permitted the exiled Jews to return to the Promised Land? Were they as the number of Jews opting out of Jewish life now, whether actively or passively?
Jews behind clouds were never who defined our collective identity. It was the Jews who stood up and said “count me in” who strengthened our community through the ages, our nation, our peoplehood. As Chabad goes out in the world to find Jewish souls who yearn to return to Jewish spirituality, they do not bend Judaism to make it more palatable; they say: This is Judaism and welcome back home, if you wish.
So, too, Israel must say: This is Israel. You are welcome home, if you wish. To THIS Israel. Imperfect Israel. Blemished Israel. A sun with spots. But a brightly shining, warm sun, no less.
We owe the Diaspora nothing other than being the ongoing work in progress that we are. Unashamed, Unapologetic. Jewish. A firm handshake that engenders respect. And let individual Jews decide whether or not to come out from behind the clouds into the sunlight. Their choice. A choice made more attractive when we stand tall and assertive.
This is a slightly modified version of the op-ed that was posted on Israel National News on 23 July 2019.