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October 7, 2013 10:10 am

American Jews Should Focus Less on Israel and More on Judaism

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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TAGLIT-Birthright participants land in Israel. Photo: Birthright Israel.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, one of the greatest Zionist leaders ever, once wrote an essay entitled “Without Patriotism,” which he headed with a quote: “Have pity on me that I cannot love.”

He wrote, “The bitter root of our shame and our suffering… is that we do not give our own people the full love of a patriot. It would be better if we did not love our people at all, if we were unconcerned as to whether it existed or had disappeared, rather than that we should love it halfway, which means to despise it.”

In analyzing the results of the first major survey of American Jews in 10 years, we know now that many amongst us cannot love the Jewish people. There is a very high assimilation rate, and generations born as Jews are rapidly losing their Jewish affiliations. If 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarry, two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God, and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year, then many amongst us cannot love the Jewish people. If we claim continuity is important to us, we cannot possibly truly love our people if these numbers are accurate.

We should revisit the question of priorities in our community. Let’s question how important Israel needs to be to the equation of keeping Jews Jewish. The Jewish Agency for Israel recently announced plans to spend $300 million a year on pro-Israel efforts in the United States and other parts of the Diaspora. And if one combines that with the $100 million spent by Birthright, perhaps we could have $400 million that could, and should, be spent on making Jews Jewish (which would of course naturally leave them closer to Israel).

Israel is part of Judaism – but not the only part. How many youngsters who go on Birthright come back and end up marrying outside of our faith anyway? What would the impact be if those funds were spent instead on Jewish education?

A focus on Israel is important for Judaism, but it is not a binder. The new numbers raise a major question for us: If we are losing Jews so rapidly, how many vital Jewish projects will suffer tremendously, including Israel? Israel trips will not make someone feel the desire to practice Judaism. Jewish education and Jewish communities will.

A radical sea-change is required throughout the entire Jewish community’s thought process.

Ronn Torossian owns a PR agency, and is the author of the best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.”

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