Dear Aish Family,
One of the issues that consistently comes up in conversation with leaders in Israel is the connection between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the diaspora. Anyone who has visited Israel knows that there is a different vibe in Israel than the rest of the world. Sometimes much is lost in translation when trying to create unity between Jews worldwide.
I was honored to attend the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meetings this week. Unfortunately, they were on zoom as many had a hard time attending in person due to corona restrictions. I sit on a variety of committees for the Jewish Agency and at almost every meeting the widening gap between Israel and the diaspora is raised. Increasingly, many diaspora youth do not view themselves as having any connection to Israel, and concern over this reality continues to grow.
I had a chance to meet with and discuss these issues with a number of friends this week. Among them, WZO Chairman and Jewish Agency Interim Chairman Yaakov HaGoel, Michal Cotler Wunsh, former Knesset member and current head of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Institute for Aliya Strategy & Policy, and Fleur Hassan Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. In all of these conversations we discussed the challenge of connecting Jews to Israel.
In essence, one can frame the question as whether we are a nation or a religion. Perhaps we are just a religion and one can practice Judaism anywhere in the world but not necessarily be compelled to be a part of a greater people. Or maybe Israel is just a nation-state, which is geographically designated, and if you leave the country, you can opt out.
It is imperative that we understand that we are both a nation and a religion. First and foremost, Jews are connected by the Torah that was given to us by the Almighty. This has been our bond for thousands of years. The Bible clearly sets out our relationship to the land of Israel which spans 3500 years. Yet being a religion is not enough. We are also a Nation. A nation of Jews who must care for each other no matter where we live in the world.
As we are witnessing today, without our spiritual bond we are losing a connection with our youth. So much so, that tragically some Jews have even taken to attacking Israel to demonstrate just how unconnected they are to their brothers and sisters. We must reach every young Jew around the world and let them know that they are crucial to the continuity of their Jewish family. Once we have that spiritual bond, we will undoubtedly look out for and support each other.
With the rise in global antisemitism, it has never been more important to create Jewish unity. We are a small yet proud nation. We have always pulled through no matter what horror has been thrown at us. We do this by standing shoulder to shoulder with each other and our Father in Heaven.
We must reach out to every Jew around the world and make sure they know that we are one family and we will always be there for each other. In this way we can loudly and passionately declare. עם ישראל חי – the nation of Israel lives!
Rabbi Steven Burg