May 6, 2021 — Jerusalem, Israel
This piece originally appeared in Maariv.
In recent days, as we saw the terrible pictures of the tragedy in Mt. Meron, we heard a lot about “Bnei Chul,” Diaspora Jews who came to Israel to study in yeshivas and perished in the disaster. Each and every one of them opens a window for us, the Israelis, to the Jewish communities around the world.
In our daily routine, the attention we give to our brothers across the sea, sons and daughters of the Jewish communities, is very limited. What do we really know about the world of those Jewish communities? Argentina, for example, home to 21-year-old Daniel Ambon, who perished in the disaster, has the largest Jewish community in Latin America. This community has about 200,000 Jews, who operate an organized system of Jewish schools, synagogues, and cultural organizations, all of which serve one purpose: strengthening the Jewish tradition and the connection to Israel. This community has warm relations with Israel, despite the trauma of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, which took the lives of 85 people.
British Jewry has an impressive tradition as well. The hundreds of thousands of Jews who have been living in the United Kingdom for decades operate religious education systems, youth movements, Jewish media outlets and even an amateur soccer league with dozens of teams.
Many claim that one of the most Zionist communities in the world today is the Canadian Jewish community, which includes about 400,000 people. The community is very active for Israel – from rallies to support Israel, to political lobbying, to pro-Israel activity in various organizations.
What is common among the Jewish communities around the world? First, most of the Jewish communities consist of 1 percent or less of the local population (except for the U.S., where the number is close to 2 percent). This fact defines the Jewish community as a small group, which positions itself as important and influential in order to remain relevant in its country.
Second, the Jewish Diaspora is comprised of a large variety of streams – Hassidic and Litvak, secular Jews, Orthodox and more.
Third, a significant part of the Jewish communities is connected to Israel and all that it symbolizes – language, culture and spirit.
But these communities have additional features, some of which are very challenging. For example, a significant part of the communities is compelled to use local security organizations. It is seemingly normal to see armed soldiers guarding Jewish kindergartens or synagogues, but it mostly points to the level of threat and warnings that exist today, in 2021, against those communities.
In a survey AJC conducted recently, we found out that a third of American Jews don’t take part in public events, because they fear being targeted for their Judaism. In addition, 67% of French Jews are worried about the high level on antisemitism in their country.
But in addition to the security threat, there is another challenge, which is to maintain the Jewish tradition. Most Jews were so successful integrating in their countries the phenomenon of intermarriage and distancing from Jewish values started gaining strength, especially among American Jews, but also in Europe. If so, it is surprising that in some communities an elaborate Jewish education system has been developed that is so expensive some Jewish families cannot afford. For example, one year at a Jewish school in the U.S. will cost $25,000-30,000 per student.
What seems to us Israelis natural – unique Shabbat atmosphere, subsidized Jewish education for all ages, a variety of products for Jewish holidays and personal security – is very limited for Diaspora Jews. We must remember our brothers, the Diaspora Jews, not only in times of crisis and terrible disasters, but also in their complex, antisemitism-filled daily lives. Let’s bring the values of the Declaration of Independence to life without separating who is “more Jewish” or “less Jewish.”
Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich is Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) office in Israel.