Jewish destiny at risk in America

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As US Jewry’s door closes, Jewish destiny has moved to Israel

More Jews now live in Israel than in America. Quite a turn-around from half a century ago, when American Jewry numbered six million and Israeli Jewry numbered three million. American Jewry today number closer to five million (if we do not count the pseduo-“Jews” who simply and plainly are not Jews) while Israel’s Jewish numbers now stand at 6.85 million.

By Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer

Jewish fate and destiny not only have been moving away from the American chapter and towards the Israel chapter, but that transition now is apace.

There were historically meaningful Jewish chapters in Babylonia and Persia. We have lived through the West European chapter when Jewish life centered in France, in England, in Germany. The Iberian chapter in Spain and Portugal. The Central and East European chapters extending into Russian/Soviet Asia. The North African chapter.

Next, the American chapter began to unfold in the late Nineteenth Century as 3.25 million Jews came — fled — to the United States during the mad rush between 1881 when pogroms erupted after Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and 1914 when America locked its doors in the face of World War I and her fear of the “Communist menace.”

Others may debate whether the chapter’s wind-down is good. Regardless, the American chapter has had the better part of its run and seen its better days. I write this as fact, not opinion. It just is.

The American Jewish assimilation problem now is in free-fall. Of course “not all is lost.” I am one of hundreds of rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) in America, especially those of us focused on reaching out to unaffiliated and assimilated Jews — though we also recognize the equal importance of retaining and reinforcing those still in the ranks — who still teach and propagate Torah here, expanding and expounding as best we can, sometimes with great success. But an objective, dispassionate “walk around the block” of America brings home what is lost and is being lost worse.

For whatever the reason — no point in assessing blame here — the “Centrist / Modern Orthodox” yeshiva high schools are no longer able with quasi-certainty to prepare Orthodox teens from Centrist / Modern Orthodox homes to withstand American colleges.

Aspects of America’s cultural perversions even have permeated into Yeshiva University, as that institution finds it ever more challenging to balance its Orthodox moorings with the demands of a secular society that forces it to comply with secular cultural perversions in return for receiving federal funds and maintaining tax-exempt status. I was ordained at Yeshiva University’s Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan (RIETS); I know the score. Even the very greatest Roshei Yeshiva (rabbinic Torah scholars) at RIETS , long regarded as the citadel of Centrist / Modern Orthodox (M.O.) Judaism, are not free to speak out publicly on issues of the day.

It is not a solution to tell Centrist Orthodox / M.O. American parents to keep their children away from the colleges because, plain and simple, their children will go to the colleges, by hook or by crook. That still is instilled as the paradigm of Centrist Orthodoxy / Modern Orthodoxy. And a great many will be lost there, as they are every year. Perhaps the only blessing of the horrendous pandemic that has taken so many millions of lives has been that, at least for one year, some kids did not attend such colleges on campus, did not live in such dorms, dd not associate daily with such environmental factors. Some blessing.

American Jews in their ignorant bliss now are celebrating all the utterly assimilated lost Jews now married into the famous American non-Jewish families. I do not share the celebration; I mourn it. I did not take comfort when Chelsea Clinton married a Mezvinsky, with their Methodist pastor and reform rabbi sharing center-stage with a prayer shawl and a ketubah. A fraud on Judaism and an arrogation of one of our religion’s most sacred symbols and documents.

Politics aside — and I can think of few things less noble than carrying the Clinton” name — the only thing that made sense at that mockery of a “chupah” was when the groom or bride broke the glass to mark the churban — the Destruction. That made sense because — although the fall of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was the farthest thing at that moment from the minds of Bill, Hillary, the Methodist pastor, the reform rabbi, or the bride or groom — the glass-breaking was appropriate for marking the churban that was taking place at that very “chupah.”

Nor do I take any comfort on the other side of the political divide in the various Trumps (except for Ivanka, the outlier) who have had Jewish fiancees or spouses, nor in Hunter Biden’s Jewish spouse, nor in any of them. The JTA and The Forward — two deeply anti-Orthodox, leftist publications — celebrate Kamala Harris being called “mamaleh” by the children of her Jewish spouse and doing a nonsensical, even idiotic video about what Hanukkah means to her (see below).

I am dismayed that this legitimization of intermarriage underscores how much the American chapter is ending before our very eyes. The American leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, publicly and proudly tells audiences now that the majority of all Reform households are intermarried. Shifting back to the other side of the political aisle, while the Ivanka conversion to Orthodox Jewish observance indeed has been a noble and honorable enterprise, one just looks at what became of her husband’s Jewish brother who rose to the distinction of having a non-Jewish Victoria’s Secret lingerie model on his arm. The parents demanded a conversion, but this one did not follow the path taken by Ivanka.

Back in the early 1970s, many American Jews actually protested against CBS-TV airing a comedy series that we did not find funny: “Bridget Loves Bernie.” It followed a Catholic woman married to a Jew — get the joke? Neither did we. It seemed a fight worth fighting — to prevent intermarried Jewish TV screenwriters, invariably Jewish men married to non-Jewish women, from trying to legitimize themselves by presenting their behavior as normal (i.e., “of the norm”). It still was not the norm. Yes, from time to time we would hear of a Mike Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen) with an Elizabeth Taylor or an Arthur Miller with a Marilyn Monroe, a Tony Curtis (born Bernie Schwartz) with a Janet Leigh or a Paul Newman with a Joanne Woodward. But that was Holloywood, where a reform rabbi could declare Sammy Davis, Jr. or a Taylor or a Monroe “Jewish” amid pending husbands.

Same in politics — a Jewish woman married to a Howard Dean or a Michael Dukakis, or others of that genre. But they still were outlier. It was a time when, as the quadrennial New York presidential primaries rolled in, the New York primaries focused disproportionately on where the candidates stood on Israel. That was Ted Kennedy’s focus when he opposed the incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980’s New York primary. That was what Henry Jackson brought in 1976. Even Gary Hart of Colorado came to New York and suddenly promised to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. That was what even the most secular New York Jews cared about in the 1970s.


More and more “Jews” in America are not even Jews — whether they were “converted” by Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist . . . or did not even undergo that, but identify as “Jews” because they married a Jew; or are the children of mothers not properly converted to Judaism; or are the children of explicitly, unequivocally non-Jewish mothers but the reform rabbis tell them they are “patrilineal Jews.”

But, hard as it may be for some to grasp, that was half a century ago. That is not today’s American Jewry. In today’s American Jewry, Israel no longer is one of the “top five” issues on Jewish voters’ minds. For American Jews who are not Orthodox, Israel ranks last among all major issues they consider when voting.

Intermarriage is absolutely out of control. More and more “Jews” in America are not even Jews — whether they were “converted” by Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist . . . or did not even undergo that, but identify as “Jews” because they married a Jew; or are the children of mothers not properly converted to Judaism; or are the children of explicitly, unequivocally non-Jewish mothers but the reform rabbis tell them they are “patrilineal Jews.” When we find leftist “Jewish” organizations who unabashedly attack Israel in America — “Jewish Voice for Peace,” “IfNotNow,” “JStreet,” “Bend the Arc” — these are centers for huge numbers of such non-Jewish “Jews.”

All this decline and decay at a time when yeshiva tuition never has been more enormous in America. Half a century ago, yeshivas perhaps were “substandard” in that they offered few exotic extracurricular offerings, and many rebbes were not suitable pedagogues but recent arrivals from the Shoah in desperate need of a job at ages 50 and 60 and unable to find it otherwise.

Paradoxically, American Centrist Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy now touts the best of rebbeim (Orthodox rabbinic faculty) — cool, hip, American-born-and-reared rebbes, funny, smart, in tune with the culture and lingo — and the schools offer better extracurriculars than ever . . . but the tuition increasingly is impossible while the results of twelve years’ Modern Orthodox / Centrist Orthodox yeshiva education through high school seem debatable after four years of American college.

While all this has been unfolding in America, something different has been going on in Israel. In the 1950s and 1960s American Jews were brought up on the image of the starving Israelis, the beggars from Jerusalem. The United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish National Fund, and related Israel-support groups raised their money by advancing the image of a poverty-stricken, pathetic Israel that needed every dime it could get — even just a nickel you could drop in a pushka. Please help Israel — we are so desperate that we will forever thank you for a nickel.

That no longer is the image of Israel, the Start-Up Nation, the country that gave the world the CT scan and so many countless innovations in so many areas of endeavor that, for all the efforts of our non-Jewish and our Jewish leftist enemies, BDS ultimately has proven to be a colossal flop. Jewish leftists can BDS with their fellow anti-Semites — in bed with their Rashida Tlaibs and Ilhan Omars — but their BDS fails because even the people running BDS need Israel-made products. Stephen Hawking, for example, needed Israel-made technology in order to breathe and to communicate and, thus, to convey his support for BDS. Boycott everything Israeli — except the technology keeping him alive. That is today’s Israel. No beggar from Jerusalem she.

More Jews now live in Israel than in America. Quite a turn-around from half a century ago, when American Jewry numbered six million and Israeli Jewry numbered three million. American Jewry today number closer to five million (if we do not count the pseduo-“Jews” who simply and plainly are not Jews) while Israel’s Jewish numbers now stand at 6.85 million.

Not only does Israel lead the world in the most national elections to hold every two years (groan), but it may be the first country to overcome COVID. Israelis have real life-and-death issues on the table: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran and Syria and Hezbollah in Syria. Iran talking about nuking. In such an environment, it hardly devolves on Israel to worry about American Jews, and yet Israel does have a cabinet-level minister for the Jews in Exile, even as agencies like the Torah department of the WZO continue to disseminate Torah publications and teachings abroad.

All Israeli groups continue to send shlichim (emissaries) to America — some to promote or facilitate aliyah, but others just to teach Hebrew or to provide some wholesome madrikhim (advisors) for youth groups, for summer camps, and even as emissaries to Hillels on college campuses. On many college campuses, the Hillel rabbis are so pathetically ignorant or duds themselves that it falls on the Israeli shaliach to provide the most motivated Jewish undergrads on campus with the inspiration and charisma to connect Jewishly.

And then there is Birthright. While leftist and anti-Orthodox publications like Forward bemoan that Birthright is a bulwark against intermarriage, indeed Birthright has proven yet another way that Israel has reached out to and saved many young American Jews. My rabbinic colleagues and I are first-hand witnesses to young adults who have returned to Judaism, seeking us out upon their return, searching for an authenticity that their reform and conservative and reconstructionist temples never offered them.

Israel is where the focus of Jewish destiny has turned. I just think of and look at some of my dearest and most prominent rabbinic colleagues now on Aliyah: for example, Rabbonim Steven Pruzansky, Nahum Amsel, Yehuda Oppenheimer, Meir Salasnik, David Mescheloff, Eliezer Langer — once started, the list just escalates. Special rabbonim who ultimately brought their gifts and talents from the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere to relocate in Israel.

Those who know my own personal story know of my aliyah some years ago, as one of 35 young families who then created a new Jewish community in liberated Shomron (Samaria). G-d has His reasons that sometimes one finds himself compelled to take one step backward before moving two more steps forward. But, despite illness and other realities, one must never lose sight of what is real and what is mirage, what is truth and what is false. Even those among my rabbinic colleagues outside Israel who have purchased our karka (burial sites) in Israel make a statement to their congregations: “I hope that, when my period of service here ends, I will merit living in Israel, and know meanwhile that is where I will rest when that time comes. If my congregants ever choose to visit, that is where you will find me. If my children or grandchildren ever choose to visit, that is where you will find me. None of this Uman baloney. There is only one place where Jewish destiny will continue to unfold.”

American Jewry no longer has the station it did in the prior generation. Israel has supplanted it. That is the way it always was meant to be. And even while stationed in America, serving one’s part and facing one’s reality, it is sobering to see American Jewry’s door closing, and it is exciting to have been chosen to be born and to live in the Age when Israel supplanted it, for out of Zion shall come forth the Torah and the Word of G-d from Jerusalem.

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