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Two Ships Bound Together

Two Ships Bound Together

ropes on a ship

Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai says:  A parable: A man brought two ships, tied them to anchors and iron weights, stationed them in the middle of the sea, and built a palace upon them.  As long as the two ships are tied to each other, the palace stands firm.  Once the ships are separated, the palace cannot stand.  Thus it is also with Israel:  when they do the will of God, God builds God’s upper chambers in the heaven; when they do not do God’s will, God found God’s vault upon the earth, if one may say so… (Sifre Devarim, Parashat V'zot Hab'rachah)

In the past, Israel understood and expected Diaspora Jewish communities – specifically those in North America – to bankroll the fledgling state and to come on aliyah. In 1948, the newborn Jewish state depended on outside philanthropy for almost 40% of its budget. The organized Jewish community of the Federations, United Jewish Appeal (and Keren HaYesod, which raises Jewish communal funds outside the U.S.), and the Jewish National Fund delivered, raising significant funds for Israel as a demonstration of Diaspora Zionism. 

Giving money and staying out of politics is, of course, a simplistic view of the relationship, but for the first few decades of Israel’s existence, many Israelis upheld the notion of shlilat ha’golah (negation of the Diaspora), viewing it as the job of Diaspora Jews to provide resources for the state and stay out of influencing policy because, after all, we were not living there to bear the brunt of those policies.

Fortunately, as the Israeli-Diaspora relationship evolves, we are able to move beyond these notions of yesteryear and together build a strong partnership among all those who care passionately for and about Israel – whether they live in Medinat Yisrael or elsewhere in the world.

And yet, although they are different than those from the time of Israel’s founding, concerns and worries about the country’s future remain. Faced with existential threats from the outside and intense divisions from within, some Israelis once again are looking to Diaspora Jews for inspiration and help. Among them is Haaretz editor Aluf Benn. In reaction to Israel’s political scene, which has taken a turn for the worse, he wrote a recent Daily Beast op-ed in which he said, “Don't leave us alone….[and] that is why we are reaching outside of our borders…and are turning to our American friends whose voices have been drowned out for too long. Now is our opportunity to make a change.”

In an effort to expand its presence and find a welcome for its progressive values, Haaretz recently organized a conference in New York – attended by journalists, activists, politicians, community and religious leaders, and others – providing a forum for various high-level conversations about Israel’s future and the future of those who see themselves bound by fate and destiny to the Jewish State. The gathering offered an important opportunity to listen to many – Israelis and North Americans – who dedicate themselves, personally and professionally, to bridging the gap between Israelis and Jews around the world.

As we Diaspora Jews wrestle with Israel and the many issues that plague her, we’re asking key questions about how to effectuate political change: How can we make Israel more inclusive? What can we do about the society’s contentious issues – from settlements and refugees to minorities and religious freedom and expression for the non-Orthodox? Although no single conference can begin to solve these or other issues, the Haaretz gathering and its candid discussions was a positive step in the right direction.

To ensure additional steps forward, let us demonstrate that our ship is firmly parked next to Israel’s by showing up and participating in subsequent conversations. Likewise, it would be exceedingly helpful if Israelis, too, are willing to listen, to trade ideas, and to engage in meaningful discussion. Each of us will speak up when something rocks our boats, as we are bound together, and instability affects both ships and the palace that rests atop them. After all, if our ships break apart and the palace sinks, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Rabbi Bennett Miller, senior rabbi of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, N.J., is the national chair of ARZA, and also serves on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He earned his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1988.

Rabbi Bennett Miller
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