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Monday, November 13, 2006

The clueless head of the Jewish Agency

Some of you may recall that Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski was a political choice for the position in June 2005. He was selected by Ariel Sharon against the wishes of the political party of which Sharon was then a part (the Likud). Bielski was then the Mayor of Ra'anana, and his only qualifications for the position were a stint in South Africa as an aliya emissary, and being mayor of a community with a large number of Anglo immigrants. For those who have forgotten, here is a reminder:
Bielski’s election followed a tense showdown last week at the World Zionist Organization. The unusually heated election was between Bielski, the prime minister’s candidate, and former Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, the World Likud candidate.

The Jewish Agency and the government are supposed to work hand in hand, and the prime minister in past years has selected a candidate approved by his party. This year, however, World Likud accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of undermining the democratic process by choosing Bielski without the party’s consent.

Observers say the real issue was political: Bielski is a supporter of the government’s plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank this summer, while Sharansky is a vocal opponent of it.

Last Friday, Sharansky bowed out of the race after the Jewish Agency’s Advise and Consent Committee said it would not change its decision to support Bielski.
In an article today with the Jerusalem Post, Bielski shows how completely clueless he is about Jewish communities in the diaspora:
Jews have no future in America and should all move to Israel, Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski said Sunday.

"One day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage," he told The Jerusalem Post while in the United States to participate in the world's largest annual gathering of Jewish leaders.

"Assimilation is unstoppable and inevitable in a country of this size and with such a mobile population," he said. "We have to get them to move to Israel, and then Ariel Sharon's vision of one million olim from America will come true."

Asked if American Jews were fighting a losing battle to stay Jewish, Bielski answered in the affirmative. But he urged the American Diaspora to continue to fund Jewish education and renewal efforts.

"I want them to spend all this money on Jewish education and outreach because they're providing me [the Jewish Agency] with quality aliya material: 'more-Jewish' olim who are more aware of Jewish history, traditions and rituals," he said in New York Friday.
I am all in favor of Jews moving to Israel. I believe that this is still the best place in the world to raise Jewish children. But the Jewish people did not survive from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE until 1948 because there was a State of Israel. It survived because the Jewish people held on to their traditions. Yes, there was assimilation. Yes, there were people who fell by the wayside. But the Jewish people as a whole survived - and continue to survive - as God promised us, because we maintain Jewish tradition and Jewish ritual as we learned it from our parents and grandparents.

Jewish survival is not dependent on there being a State of Israel (although the survival of individual Jews and individual Jewish communities may well be dependent upon it - because that is what God has ordained). While many American Jews may well assimilate (and many have assimilated), what that means is that those who do continue to be Jewish will be those who are stronger in their commitment.

Many of those who are strong in their commitment may choose to come to live in Israel. I hope they will, God willing. But they cannot and will not be bulldozed into making aliya (immigrating to Israel) out of fear for their survival. No aliya 'pitch' will turn off American Jewry more. That's my opinion as an American Jew who made aliya fifteen years ago. Here's what some of the 'experts' say:
Eran Lerman, director of the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee, said aliya could play a role in enhancing the connection between the Diaspora and Israel. However, he took issue with Bielski's negative assessment of the future of American Jewry.

"There's a good, strong core of American Jews for whom their Jewish identity is a cause for celebration, which is not always understood by Israelis," Lerman said.

AJC executive director David Harris put it more strongly.

"American Jews face their share of problems, no doubt," he said. "But we're not disappearing any time soon. These kind of periodic pleas from Israelis have no resonance with American Jews."

Harris said US Jewry largely believed in "American exceptionalism," where Diaspora Jews were not only safe but flourish. "It negates the Zionist narrative that there is no future in the Diaspora," he said.

Harris called Bielski's comments "fear-mongering" and "counterproductive." He said they were more likely to turn off Jews from making aliya rather than encourage them, since Americans immigrate to Israel because of the positive "pull" of the place rather than the "push" of negative circumstances.

Harris acknowledged that assimilation was a concern for American Jews, but also pointed to trends of Jewish renewal and greater involvement with the community.
If Mr. Bielski wants to encourage aliya, he's not going to do it by scare-mongering. It can better be done by extirpating the post-Zionist, anti-Jewish rot that has crept into so much of this country, so that proud Jews from the United States will feel that they have a home here. That's my not-so-humble opinion.


At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carl, here are some interesting numbers concerning the Jewish population in the US and also a study on intermariage.

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that fearmongering is counterproductive, I also think that american Jews are living in a dream, ignoring reality, a dream that can, G-d forbid, turn into a nightmare at anytime.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


There is no question that intermarriage is the scorn of the American Jewish community. But among committed Jews, it's rare, and it's only the committed Jews who are even candidates for aliya.

Can a child of committed Jews go off the path and intermarry? Sure. But a child of committed Jews can go off the path here and leave. Happens all the time.

What aliya from the West (US, Canada, and to a lesser extent England, which is become Islamified enough to make staying there scary) contributes to Israel is that it is the most committed aliya - it's people who come here because they want to be here and not because they have to be. I would love to see thousands of American Jews come on aliya. I won't force them - or try to scare them - to do it. Let them be self-motivated.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger naftali said...

It can better be done by extirpating the post-Zionist, anti-Jewish rot that has crept into so much of this country, so that proud Jews from the United States will feel that they have a home here. That's my not-so-humble opinion.

You are so right.Every word that issues forth from israeli leadership is more demoralizing then the previous

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every word that issues forth from israeli leadership is more demoralizing then the previous
That is right, sometimes I ponder whether to go back to Canada but then I remind myself that I only came bacause Mitzvot here count for more and here I can be closer to HaShem. Anything else would make me go back in the next plane.


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