Washington, DC – When I was a boy it was an embarrassing thing to be an Israeli who was a yored, who had left Israel. The very name, yored, connoted a downfall, someone who had retreated from the extraordinary to the ordinary, from the special to the mundane, from the holy to the profane.
Did these people not understand that Moses died with but one wish, to step foot in the Land of Israel? Did they not get that for 2000 years we Jews had prayed to return to the land? Did they forget that Herzl had given his life – dying in his forties – in his efforts to translate his dream for Israel into a reality? And finally, did they forget all the IDF soldiers who had died so that Israel would be inhabitable?
As a boy growing up in Los Angeles and Miami, what was often commented upon was the mystery of Israelis leaving Israel to open a pizza shop on South Beach? Really? For a small business like this, you left the Jewish state?
The net result of such harsh judgement was to stigmatize Israelis and make them retreat from the Jewish community. Rather than being Jews entitled to all the benefits American Jewry had to offer, they started one step behind. They were the Jews whom were slightly looked down upon.
The net result was their alienation from the Jewish mainstream. Israeli-Americans had essentially three choices. One, assimilate into oblivion. Two, connect exclusively with other Israelis. Third, connect with Chabad, but usually with Chabad programs set up specifically for Israelis.
Then along came the IAC.
Tonight, as I write these lines, philanthropist Sheldon Adelson just gave a speech in which he explained why he decided to invest tens of millions of dollars into the Israeli-American Council.
Why was there no good way for Israeli-Americans to connect with Israel, he asked? What was the point of losing them both to Jewishness and Israel? And why should they have been stigmatized in the first place?
He’s absolutely right. The stupidity of making Israelis who live outside of Israel feel like failed Jews has been fully exposed. The objective should always have been to connect them with Judaism and the Jewish people and to stand up for their homeland, even if they live outside. This is especially true now that Israel is fighting a PR battle for its very survival and who better to galvanize among diaspora Jewry than those who are connected to the land by birth and very often by IDF service.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand the beauty, the mitzvah, and the advantage of living in Israel. And it is definitely preferable for Israelis born in the Holy Land to embrace the privilege and build a life in the first Jewish state in 2000 years. I currently have three children living in Israel, with a fourth on the way, and two have served in the army, with our son about to finish more than a year of grueling training.
Israel is the Jewish homeland. It is right and proper that it has, over just the past few years, become the place where the majority of the world’s Jews now reside.
But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that almost a million Israelis have left Israel since the establishment of the State. They are as Jewish as Abraham. They are as Jewish as Rachel and Rebecca. Neglecting them, or making them feel secondary, is a sin. To the contrary, our message to them, as it is to all Diaspora Jewry must be: wherever you are and whatever you do, you have obligations to your people. You are never absolved.
Your being domiciled in the United States, or France, or Britain imposes serious obligations. You are not a yored. Rather, you are an Ambassador of the Israel to the world. You must fight BDS on campus. You must lobby your Congressman and Senators to support Israel. You must attend Chabad and Hillel on Campus on Shabbat and holidays and push their leaders on campus to fight for Israel as well. You must send your children to Jewish day schools and you must have a mezuzah on your door proudly identifying your home as a Jewish residence. You should have an Israeli flag flying outside your home and you should help organize pro-Israel events in your communities and fund pro-Israel advertisements in local and Jewish media.
Above all else, you must teach your children to love and support Israel. You must visit often and connect your family with their relative in the Holy Land and give them a connection with the land.
And you should always be open to returning to Israel and who knows, if you raise your children to be proud and observant Jews and fighters for the Jewish state, they may choose, of their own volition, to make aliyah.
The IAC has communicated that message effectively and persuasively. I fully recognize that some will object and say they are not in favor of an organization that destigmatizes leaving Israel.
Let them come to an IAC conference, like the one that just ended today in Washington, DC. Let them see nearly 3000 young Israeli-Americans who come to hear great speakers teaching them how to fight for Israel, how to stand up for the Jewish state, and how to beat the Israel haters at their own game.
Israel is in a serious PR battle for its good name. It is being demonized worldwide. We need all hands on deck. Especially those who were born in the land and will forever remain intrinsically connected to its religion, its values, and its culture.