We know how to cry anti-Semitism, but we don’t know how to welcome all Jews to Israel
Just a few hours after hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens had congregated, en masse, near the Knesset, in the capital of Jerusalem, expressing their deep opposition to the proposed reforms of the incoming right-wing religious government, Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yisrael Lau, made a forceful statement on Channel 13 news. So powerful and profound were his words that you could hear the gasp of the news anchor, Ayala Hasson.
He said, “We know how to die together, but we don’t know how to live together.” That sad reality has been playing out in our midst for too many years, but never has it been such a stark reality as now. Ever since the new government, united in their common vision of bringing their version of Judaism to the forefront for every citizen, we have been at war internally.
New Orthodox governmental ministers, with big aspirations but no experience, have laid out their plans for how they believe Israel should be represented – plans which would radically change the face and tone of the only democracy in the Middle East, known for its pluralism, diversity and tolerance of those who are different.
It seems as if Rabbi Lau’s words were more than just a deep passing thought but, rather, a plea which comes from a place of having lived through the horrors of Buchenwald and seeing the murder of his entire family, with the exception of his older brother. So, imagine how he felt in 1945, at the tender age of 8, when he was finally able to immigrate to the land where he would no longer have to worry about being persecuted just for being a Jew.
And imagine how sad it must be for him to now look at his beloved homeland and witness a bitterly divided country being torn apart at the seams. But the infighting is only one troubling symptom of how we, as a people, have failed to unite because we are unable to remember from where we came, historically speaking.
It is returning to that imagery, which might be the only thing to save us and cause us to reflect upon why each Jewish soul is vital, unique and worth preserving. But we are so far from acknowledging that point, despite countless articles being devoted to that very commitment – that is, until the writer is confronted with ethnic Jews, who do not subscribe to the Jewish faith as defined these days. Suddenly, they cease to be Jewish and no longer part of the tribe.
It gets even worse. Those so-called compassionate purveyors of mercy, for their people, immediately exclude such individuals and mark them with vitriol, angrily hanging them out to dry.
I remember one such conversation with a man who wrote what seemed to be a sensitive, loving and compassionate article about the urgency for Jews to immigrate to Israel while they still have a chance. The moment I asked him about Jews who have rejected today’s expression of the Jewish faith, and whether or not they, too, are included in his impassioned invitation, he changed his tune.
His compassion shifted into disdain, both for those who have intermarried, as well as those who have decided against religious involvement. To him, it didn’t matter that they were born Jews. By his way of thinking, they had chosen to abandon Judaism, as a religion, and so his response was, “They shouldn’t try to come here if they are facing persecution, because they already made their choice when they took another path.”
In other words, those who didn’t think like him or follow his path, dare not apply.
That type of callous indifference to fellow Jews who have, indeed, chosen a different lifestyle but who, nonetheless, retain their ethnicity and, likely, other connections to their people, cannot come from the heart of a caring Jew who is still haunted by the memory of six million who went to their death simply because they were born Jewish.
Undoubtedly among them, were atheists, as well as those whose faith was not according to Jewish law. Benjamin Disraeli was such an individual, yet despite his conversion, his detractors referred to him as a Jew throughout his lifetime. What about Jews who married European gentiles during the years preceding the Holocaust? They, too, are numbered with those who perished during a dark and evil time. We mourn them too, each Holocaust Remembrance Day, but in 2023, as a nation, we are still not prepared to change the blatant prejudice and dismissal of such Jews who are not welcome to immigrate to Israel.
Among the world’s Jewish population, which is estimated to be 15 million, it has to be acknowledged that a very small percentage are observant, religious Jews. In America alone, the rate of intermarriage among Jews is now said to be 58% among all Jews and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews.
How does anyone with a heart, a conscience and a historical memory of our people, reject those kinds of numbers, refusing to allow them the same rights afforded to religious Jews, of access to a refuge from persecution, should it come to that?
Why are we, as a regathered people after 2,000 years of exile, unwilling to welcome those with Jewish blood to a homeland, which, for them, could make all the difference of life or death? Why do they have to meet certain criteria in order to be protected from those who couldn’t care less whether or not they light Shabbat candles or recite the Hanukkah prayers?
Until we, as a people, can arrive at a place of mercy, compassion and an understanding of the true heart of a loving God, who constantly invites us into His chambers no matter how unworthy we are, we will not be a united people who have anything to offer the outside world because we will be too busy trying to check the authenticity of each other’s documents.
We must, indeed, learn to live together with acceptance, tolerance, welcoming and graciousness. Anything less is an indictment of who we are, the mercy we’ve been shown and the lack of worthiness in finally being granted a homeland for all Jews as God intended, without pre-condition.
In fact, the Jewish prophet Ezekiel wrote, “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.” (Ezekiel 36:24, 25).
In other words, we come to Israel in a wretched state but God, Himself, takes care of that. If that’s the plan, then who thinks that all Jews should not be welcomed to live in Israel? Maybe the better question is, “Have those already living here attained a state of perfection and sinlessness, making them more eligible than the rest?
If so, then, by all means, they should continue to cast the first stone!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.