There has been some controversy in recent weeks over advertisements broadcast by the Israeli Ministry of Absorption encouraging yordim to return to Israel. The ads instil a loss of cultural identity and assimilation.
The clear message of the ads is that a Jewish person in America is at risk and that if an Israeli is concerned about their Jewish future, they need to return home.
The reaction from many sectors of American Jews has shown these ads have indeed struck a raw nerve. The mainstream response has ranged from denial through to anger.
However the real story here is not the ads themselves. It will be wisely and widely suggested that the public funds of the Israeli taxpayer could be better spent and that the strategy to run these advertisements was at best disingenuous. However the reaction to the ads, which highlights a sense of insecurity and even paranoia has been interesting to observe.
I suspect that a similar reaction would be generated here in Australia were these advertisements to appear in the public media. Many Jews would feel embarrassed, cower for cover, and would further alienate themselves from association with the Jewish community.
Israeli-Jewish identity in Australia is not as pronounced as it is in certain regions of America, but nonetheless where it does exist it comes complete with the same sense of contradiction. Israel is home, it is family, and it’s unique culture of protectzia is preserved the world over. However Israel can at the same time be a barrier, an inhibitor, a career stifling identity for the Israeli emigrant.
Contrition about residency outside of Israel is also represented locally by religious Zionists who by and large are caught by the material trappings of the Australian lifestyle. Most are accepting of their circumstances not to be resident in Israel, but nonetheless both aspire towards Aliyah and support the ideology of the centrality of the Jewish State to contemporary Jewish identity (being nationalism, belief and culture intertwined into a single ethos).
Outside of these two groups of ex-patriot Israeli’s and Religious Zionists, there are an increasing number of Australia Jews who feel alienated from, and by, Zionist identity. The Zionist Federation of Australia has not developed successful strategies to arrest this trend, because by and large the only real solution is to build an attraction towards Jewish observance. This is not an agenda that the Australian Zionist movement wishes to embrace, ironically for the fear of further alienating the alienated. Here in Perth the Jewish community cannot bring itself to admit this in real practical terms. Our organisations prefer to attempt to adopt pluralistic affiliations that place the quantum of Jewish communal life ahead of its qualitative virtues.
There are an increasing number of Israeli yordim in Australasia, many of whom have little connection to the established Jewish community. Their secular Israeli identity cannot deliver the same type of security for their continued Jewish heritage as it did in Israel. It is simply not possible in Chutz la Aretz to maintain a casual connection to Jewish tradition, to the exclusion of community structures. In Israel it is a given that the culture and national activity is geared towards Jewish living, from festive occasions through to food, economic and social considerations. This is not so elsewhere, so whilst taking a Jewish birthright for granted without extending an effort to preserve it can be effectively accomplished by living in Israel, this attitude cannot prevail outside of the Jewish nation.
It is not surprising that the Jews of America consider the marketing campaign of Israel to be a chutzpah. It is also not surprising that the Jews of Australia do too little to reach out to involve expatriate Israeli’s or explore strategies to support greater involvement in communal life. It is however quite evident that the people of Israel have an important message that we just do not seem to want to acknowledge or heed. The most amusing part of this observation is that Diaspora Jews often consider they have the right, and sometimes the obligation to criticise Israel. However when the criticism flows back the other way, then the communities of the galut cannot stomach it.
Drilling deeply into the anthropologic causes of this disconnect, it comes down to a lack of confidence in being Jewish. That lack of confidence comes from a lack of knowledge, a lack of exposure, and a lack of pride in Jewish identity. Jews who do not know how to be Jewish are the same people that don’t know how to defend the egalitarian qualities of Israel, how to follow the basic structure of a synagogue service, or how to accommodate the dual nature of being a Jewish person in a non-Jewish society into their social and professional lives. Some of them rebel against Judaism and Zionism as a result of this. In the most extreme examples they are branded “self hating Jews”, but there are many far more moderate and less insideous expressions of reluctance over being Jewish and thereby inextricably linked to the nation of Israel.
Spengler writes it best in an article which concludes: “Liberalism is a self-liquidating proposition, and there are no liberals like Jewish liberals, who are a soon-to-be-endangered species. The sad thing is not that the liberal leadership of American Jewish organizations is complaining about Israel, but that they won’t be around much longer to complain about anything.”