By Dvir Kahana
We live in the most miraculous of times. We, the Jewish people, built a state from the ashes of exile and have achieved unprecedented success as leaders in all fields of life. However, it is from this unique reality that a global Jewish catastrophe is brewing before our eyes. For the first time in history the vast majority of Jews face a daunting choice: to remain Jewish or disregard it. Most are opting out.
Beyond this great challenge lies a deepening crisis developing between the State of Israel and the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora, the Jews of North America. Many outstanding individuals across the spectrum have toiled day and night to heal this wound, to inspire hearts and minds and to preserve and secure the future of the Jewish people.
To our dismay, a number of Jewish opinion leaders around the world have decided to base the conversation on the areas of contention, by fueling the flames of separation rather than focusing on that which that unites us. Is this how we will connect millions of unengaged Jews who have no connection to their Judaism or Israel? Can we cultivate the world view of so many on a negative campaign?
Can a connection with Israel be based on a mindset of struggle? Is this not a shallow message that might work in the short term, but will, over time, push more and more people away from Judaism and Israel?
Let’s start with the premise that we are one family. In family relations, we cannot force our agendas on one another. It is morally wrong and practically unsustainable. This is why we must deal with what we have in common, and conduct our debates and arguments through the prism of uniting, not dividing, our nation.
I believe the core of our relationship should stand on two essential pillars: a common memory and a common destiny. We live in an era wherein we all seek living beyond the mundane, yearning instead for meaningful experiences. We want something beyond routine, basic comfort. We seek a connection to a purpose beyond ourselves.
What do we as a nation have in common? What connects a Jew in London, Berlin, Chicago and Tel Aviv? We were framed by our collective past. Our existence is based on memory: an historical memory from the Exodus to Yad Vashem, along with a cultural memory of iconic texts, ancient and new.
But is this enough? Can this build and sustain identities and relationships? Can this be the catalyst for a serious and powerful choice, encouraging every searching young Jew to choose to be part of the Jewish story, the Jewish people, the Jewish state?
I think not. Memory without destiny cannot cause the passion and drive needed to be part of something big and amazing, no matter how miraculous our existence may be.
In the previous century, the Zionist movement provided that destiny. Jews were busy fulfilling the dream of previous generations. To build, as the Declaration of Independence says, “a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, the State of Israel.”
The revival of the Jewish state was the glue uniting millions of Jews around the world. This movement, of an entire nation and a united people, created one of history’s greatest revolutions leading to national redemption. The Jewish people fulfilled its dream and established its state. And here, too, from success arose a new challenge: How do we continue to sustain the 70-yearold dream?
Israel and the Diaspora both lack a Jewish vision and destiny. We have a joined strategic challenge, and the solution must be also be a joint one. We must take the notion of tikkun olam, fixing the world, and make it something to inspire and unite us; a new mass-movement that will, in only a few short years, change our people.
American Jews are a generation ahead of us in adopting this idea of destiny. Let us take this vision and spread it to the entire Jewish people. Three times a day Jews pray “to repair the world under the sovereignty of God.” We have an obligation and responsibility to make the world a better place!
To succeed, everyone must believe in the idea. The basic conditions for this include creating a mainstream mindset, in Israel and the Diaspora, that a vision and meaningful connection cultivate a feeling of pride and belonging. Then we must turn vision to action based on Jewish tradition, stemming from the morality of the prophets, the wisdom of the sages and the works of scholars from thousands of years to the present.
Acting together, Jews from all communities and locations in the global Jewish community should become infused with Jewish values while studying Jewish and Israeli traditions and texts. Programs of service that have a tangible impact should be encouraged, not ones which create a “tikkun olam” tourist industry.
We need the mindset and ability to bring together many thousands of volunteers under one umbrella, but to volunteer in a wide array of fields: in local communities, Jewish communities in need, in far reaching developing countries and at home, in Israel. Our road map to touch the hearts and minds of the unengaged Jews consists of continuous work and meaning, not a single event, with the goal of bettering one’s self through bettering the world around us.
This is the route to a meaningful connection and sense of pride for millions of Jews seeking an exciting vision and common destiny. Such a movement can become a unifying brand, built upon already existing local activities providing Jewish study and meaning, as well as identity-building experiences throughout the Jewish life cycle.
Let us pray that, together, we succeed in learning from our Maccabi ancestors who went against common wisdom and fast-changing trends. We need to preserve our heritage and nation by building a new creative link in the wonderful chain of Jewish continuity.
Only when united with purpose, not torn by divisive rhetoric, can we nurture our legacy as a people of destiny. Join us on this exciting mission.
Dvir Kahana is Director General of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.