American Jewry’s Dirty Little Secret
In nearly every American Jewish home, a tzedekah (charity) box is thought of as a given, an absolute certainty. With a lot of fanfare, world Jewry thankfully supports many important causes, especially those connected to Israel in a major way. Billions of dollars are raised to support vital projects in the Jewish state. The dirty little secret which is rarely spoken about is that the small nation of Israel – and Israeli taxpayers – are funding American and international Jewish projects. But perhaps it’s time to re-examine priorities.
For example, this year marks the third year of increased funding by the Israeli government of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyhau pledged a total of $100 million from 2011-2013. While Birthright is undoubtedly a vital project which has had a tremendous impact on American Jewry and brought many young people closer to Israel, one wonders if it is the responsibility of Israeli tax payers to fund it.
Many Israeli youth the same age as these American Jews, which Birthright brings to Israel, travel the globe after their Army service – undoubtedly many of these young tax payers would prefer that their funds would pay for their own kids’ needs rather than for those of American Jewish kids, right? Last year Israel’s premier satirical television show, Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) ran segments mocking Taglit – one wonders how Israelis would feel if they knew their tax dollars were going to fund these initiatives?
The Jewish Agency for Israel, which receives funds from the Israeli government, also funds LAPID which brings 12,000 students to Israel annually for summer and school- year programs. Half of the funding for Masa Israel comes from the Israeli government, which takes thousands of Jewish youth from over 50 countries to Israel on semester-
and year-long programs in Israel. Important programs – but should taxpayers in Holon, Nazareth and the Golan pay for kids from Scarsdale, Miami and Skokie?
Perhaps to start, a wonderful gesture would be if wealthier Jews who make Aliya (move to Israel) declined to accept the wide range of financial benefits offered to those who make Aliya. Symbolically, as New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg accepts only a $1 annual salary, perhaps those who can afford it should refuse Aliya subsidies.
I spent a week in Israel recently visiting with friends and I noticed that so many Israelis in their 30s and 40s who can afford to live well in the Gush Dan (Greater Tel Aviv) area are increasingly working overseas. I have a close friend who travels to Cyprus Sunday-Tuesday every week to run his technology company and another friend who alternates weekly between Russia and Israel. Both of them have families but couldn’t afford the quality of life they are living if they didn’t work overseas. Both of them voted for Yair Lapid in this election. Lapid, the incoming Chairman of the Yesh Atid party succeeded in attracting Israeli voters en masse, in part, because of his pledge to tackle the high-cost of living in Israel.
Considering the situation on the ground in Israel, it seems “un-Zionist” for American Jews to accept Israeli tax payer money. While these projects are undoubtedly vital for the Jewish people, these programs should be privately funded completely.
In the year 2013, American Jewry shouldn’t need, want or accept Israeli financial support.