Israel Off Center

Fishman, Hertzel

Israel Off Center Hertzel Fishman Is Israel the center of Jewish life? Historically, religiously, and psychologically, Israel has always been at the center of Jewish consciousness. But its...

...Shlichim from Israel are, all too often, appointed not on the basis of personal qualifications but because of other considerations...
...These representatives should seek to influence policy makers Knesset Members, government officials, newspaper editors, union heads, political party leaders on issues of common Jewish concern, not unlike foreign ambassadors who seek to influence the Israeli government and public on international political issues...
...It has abandoned the sacred Jewish National Fund principle of the land belonging to the Jewish people, with both land and the buildings erected on it never to be subjected to speculation or to easy profits...
...It has lost the distinctive value content which characterized the Second and Third aliyot voluntary service to society, social justice, egalitarianism, a superior work ethic, a developed sense of ahavat Yisrael...
...c. The development in Israel of an international cultural-vacation campus for Israelis and tourists, who together will forge friendship ties, engage in dialogue, and create and experience common expressions of Jewish culture...
...But the term remains an empty shell...
...At least in the Diaspora, their talents are recognized, their endeavors appreciated, and their drive to serve Jewry fulfilled...
...But it is little comfort that most Israelis agree that the civic ethos of their society is defective, for there seem to be no effective strategies on the horizon to correct the defect...
...The third dimension of the "Israel-centered" problem relates to the lack of an organic involvement of world Jewry in the domestic affairs of Israel...
...Many Jews abroad will undoubtedly continue to support Israel in every possible way, but such activity is not the same as recognizing the centrality of Israel in Jewish life...
...When a community sponsors one of its qualified youngsters at such a school, it becomes involved in Israel organically, and the student who graduates from such a school remains intimately bound with the Israeli society...
...The relatively few "major leaguers" in Israel are found in the government and the Knesset...
...These topics are discussed critically in the country's media and public forums every day...
...It is the Israeli who insists that the Diaspora recognize Israel's central-ity in Jewish life...
...Such recognition is not likely to come about naturally until Israeli representatives abroad manifest standards of personal excellence...
...Over the years Zionist Congresses have called for Jewish leaders abroad to migrate to Israel as proof of their Jewish commitment...
...Jerusalem, Israel...
...A second problem area affecting the centrality of Israel in Jewish life is that of the caliber of its representatives to international Jewish forums...
...It is both aggravating and futile for newly arrived Westerners to try to compete with Israeli political figures of East European, Middle Eastern or sabra mentality...
...The first deals with Israel's quality of life...
...b. The establishment in Israel of a topflight preparatory school (and dormitory) for gifted, leadership-type youngsters from all over the Jewish world...
...It has shorn the term of any ideological commitment or challenge...
...This, too, is naive...
...Israel has projected the state and its security as the essence of Jewish nationalism emptying the latter of its distinctive sense of Jewish collective purpose...
...Annual contributions yes...
...Hertzel Fishman is Director of the Department of Foreign Relations at the Ministry of Education and Culture...
...The anticipated argument that not every representative of Diaspora Jewry is of high caliber is not germane to our thesis...
...Have beens," or the young, politically ambitious, but still inexperienced sabras, are sent to the bush leagues of world Jewry...
...Moreover, Israel needs a special type of aliyah from the West technicians and industrial managers, not more academicians and storekeepers...
...Particularly painful is the fact that in several communities, "second home" sales for Jews abroad have artificially raised prices for the Israelis themselves...
...Such a pattern of Israeli representation in world Jewish communities and forums, financed mainly by the Jewish people in the Diaspora through their generous campaign contributions, is self-defeating and absurd...
...The absence of quality in Israel's daily life surely discourages Jews abroad from considering Israel as the center of their conscious or subconscious thoughts and aspirations...
...The badge of active political party membership as the primary criterion for Israeli representation vis-a-vis world Jewry has not ensured top quality choices, nor has it enhanced the prestige of the Jewish State among sophisticated Jews...
...Of late, because it has been maligned by the non-Jewish world, Zionism has suddenly become an acceptable term in Israel...
...Under these circumstances, to call for mass aliyah from the West, with the accompanying tremendous wasted investment in funds and effort, is to give voice to a meaningless cliche...
...Without such a motif in our daily lives, we are likely to be overwhelmed and demoralized by the continual sacrifices demanded of us in order to survive as a people besieged by foreign enemies, weighed down by enormous taxes, and 'subjected daily to burdensome pressures and psychological tensions...
...Israelis unquestionably pay lip service to the "noble" purposes of Zionism, but the gap between words and practices is so wide that it leads to a resigned cynicism which permeates every facet of our national life...
...But its centrality has lately come into question, and, ringing endorsements and denunciations aside, there are aspects of the issue which must be addressed honestly and openly...
...Otherwise, it is doubtful whether Israel can anticipate the loyalty and deep commitment of new generations of Diaspora Jews who are increasingly removed from the guilt-ridden Holocaust generation of their parents and grandparents...
...No authoritative agency in Israel has undertaken a systematic program seeking to upgrade the country's civic quality of life...
...d. Representation in Israel of national Diaspora Jewish organizations by individuals living in the country...
...Delegates to international Jewish conferences, Zionist congresses and World Jewish Congress sessions are not chosen on merit, in democratic elections within each political party, but are appointed on the basis of the individual's relationship to the party's power-makers...
...It needs young idealists who are prepared to live in the Galilee and Negev, not older or retired families who congest the cities and gripe about Israeli problems...
...but why personal concern...
...Those who can make distinctive contributions are often ignored because they are not party hacks...
...Beyond those areas, the caliber of our society is not high...
...As long as the relationship of the Diaspora to Israel is strictly financial, with no genuine joint responsibility in planning for Israel's development, or real accountability to contributors abroad for the funds collected, one cannot expect thoughtful Jews the world over to express a sustained sense of personal involvement in Israel...
...There are, of course, Israelis of superior caliber in every field, but an overview indicates that we lack highly qualified manpower in practically all areas of life...
...For how can Israel be central to the lives of Jews the world over if they are not concerned and involved with these day-to-day components of the third Jewish commonwealth...
...Both world Jewry and Israel are the losers, and the batting average of those seeking the centrality of Israel in Diaspora consciousness drops still further...
...The past quarter-century has amply demonstrated that Diaspora Jewish leaders some of them highly successful and competent individuals are, with few exceptions, reduced to frustration in the Israeli milieu...
...Diaspora groups will have a chance to influence the thinking and decisionmaking in Israeli political life...
...While it would be naive to expect Israel to become a perfect society, it is equally naive to expect it to occupy a central role in Jewish life the world over, unless it deliberately seeks to upgrade its civic and Jewish life...
...Such a community, controlling the climate of its society to a considerable extent, would be supported during its initial period of absorption by Diaspora sponsors who would view the group as their extended fam-ily...
...Such a center can become a content-filled, inspiring "second home" for masses of Jews from abroad who tour Israel, and a concrete reflection of the personal benefit they derive from the country when they come to visit...
...Why worry about the quality of education in Israeli schools, the spirituality of the society, the participatory democracy of its citizens, the social gap, the caliber of its culture, the absorption of its new immigrants, the civic ethos of its population, the work ethic of its inhabitants, the integrity of its people in short, why concern oneself about the quality of its daily national life, if there is no possibility of personal input and impact...
...Modern Israel's Judaism remains chained to the galut version of East European and Mellah orthodoxy, while sensitive, pluralistic-minded Jewish citizens cry out for significant innovations relevant to their religious needs...
...Indigenous Israelis have been waiting some families for as long as 10 years for home phones...
...For many reasons, some of them beyond Israel's control, the country's civic ethos is disappointing not only to sensitive Jews abroad but, more important, to thoughtful Israelis...
...We lack a sustained sense of positive national destiny, a sensitive pattern of personal interactions and citizen-government relationships based on integrity, concern for the society at large in time of peace, love of neighbor (especially for the new immigrant), and a genuine, active commitment (not only verbal) to the spiritual and redeeming features of Zionism...
...In politics, academic life, industry, labor leadership, religion, belles let-tres, the media, the dramatic and fine arts, Israel, while surely not lagging behind other developing countries, is far from producing standards of excellence sufficient to inspire its own citizens or the Jewish Diaspora...
...Individuals who are not fluent in the language of the host country, and who know little of its mentality, are sent on junkets abroad, or given major assignments affecting the future of Israel-Diaspora relations...
...Many Israeli representatives at international forums of world Jewry are clearly not equal to their Jewish counterparts abroad in general education and world perspective...
...The Jewish state has abandoned Zionism to the ministrations of a small establishment not accountable to the nation...
...It is generally recognized that Israel has registered genuine achievements in various spheres of life science and medical research, humanistic education in kibbutzim, folk music and dance, basic agricultural self-sufficiency, army efficiency and esprit, etc...
...Barring the realms of the country's military and political security which must remain the exclusive domain of Israelis because we are the ones who bear the exclusive responsibility for our physical survival everything else affecting Israel must become the domain of committed Diaspora Jews as well...
...tourism OK...
...Regrettably, parties in Israel are the only decisive civic forums in the country, and by identifying with a particular party and retaining constant contact with those who mold its policies (via letters, visits, conferences, discreet fund-raising, etc...
...A legitimate sense of pan-Jewishness vis-a-vis Israel must be expressed not only in political pressures on foreign governments and financial contributions to Israel, but in manifest responsibility for the inner quality and national destiny of the Israeli society...
...The development of an organic relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry requires a radical change in the current status of this association...
...If Israeli political parties the only effective civic entities that carry weight in Israel are not prepared to send the best qualified of their members to world Jewish forums, the Diaspora will react negatively, or worse yet, with indifference towards Israel...
...Centrality" is a state of mind, not a cliche or a mindless public declaration...
...The concept of a "second home" in Israel for Western Jews was the creation of Israeli realtors, backed by the government's shortsighted financial policy...
...It has relinquished the chalutz motivation of "ask not what the country can do for you...
...e. Organizing, in the Diaspora, "friends of' specific political parties in Israel...
...And if the Israelis' morale is low, it is not only because of our neighbors' threats, but because our everyday life is void of civic pride, mutual trust and a national sense of purpose beyond basic physical survival...
...Here are several suggestions each of which clearly necessitates elaboration which may lead to a new pattern of organic relationships between the Diaspora and Israel: a. Aliyah of young people and families to Israel in groups to a new moshav, kibbutz, or city neighborhood each group member knowing in advance what his role will be, and the group as a whole sharing an intra-family relationship...
...It is he who must justify this demand by personifying qualities which objectively warrant respect...

Vol. 1 • April 1976 • No. 9


 
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