This one is likely to tick off American Jews. A few months ago, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm when he told members of the American Jewish Committee that “[Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets . . . you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory.” As a result, he claimed Jewish life in Israel is far more complete than in America. (Yehoshua issued a semi-apology, in which he did not retract his remarks, but merely insisted that they were no different from what he’s said in the past.)
Now Uri Orbach, the influential Israeli journalist and TV personality, has written a column singing the praises of Israeli secular Jewish life, as opposed to the expressions of non-Orthodox Judaism found in the United States:
Israeli seculars enjoy a Jewish existence that is more intense than that enjoyed by any non-Orthodox American Jew. In America, if you do not observe the mitzvahs and are not connected to your community, your religion has not expression in your daily life. If someone would remind you, there is a chance that you would mark Passover or Hanukah (it takes place around Christmas time.)
If you are a non-religious Jew in America, the probability that your children will marry gentiles is huge, and the likelihood that this won’t bother you too much is also quite high. Based on various estimates, the Jewish people lose about 50,000 Jews annually in the US alone. Even within Reform communities the struggle is no longer against intermarriage, but rather, focuses on guaranteeing minimal Jewish education for the children even if their parents intermarried.
In Israel, on the other hand, it is easy to spot the scope of secular Zionism’s achievement. The Zionism that established the Jewish State managed to create a reasonable Jewish environment for seculars. Israelis enjoy a Jewish atmosphere thanks to Hebrew and political mechanisms: The Hebrew language and culture, Shabbats and holidays, life in the land of the Bible, the Jewish environment and the army.
Only in Israel do seculars have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays a little bit, to eat kosher a little, to wed, and divorce, be born and die as Jews, and all that without observing the mitzvahs. Only in Israel nobody will tell you: What, you’re Jewish? I would have never thought that… (unless you are a construction worker.)
Zionism’s great achievement is therefore the guarantee of a Jewish existence for secular Jews.
I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. . .