I’ve written a bit before about the Israeli government’s new initiative to…well, fix? save? something?…diaspora Judaism. Now this appears in The Forward as a puff piece for the new project.
I’m still not buying the program.
Israel’s fix for Judaism is:
trained Israel educators will staff more than 200 college campuses, and that as many as 100,000 young Jews annually will spend time in Israel learning about themselves, their heritage and their homeland. Global service learning projects will dot the world. Jewish teachers will get the kind of support and training that will make them ever more effective. And young Israelis who have a national rather than a personal connection to Judaism will be invited to press the reset button on their self-understanding.
So, let’s summarize: American Jews will have Israel education. AJWS already does the service learning thing, so maybe “check.” Jewish teachers will receive training approved by the Israeli government (perhaps read here, Chief Rabbinate). And young Israelis who are secular will be “invited to press the reset button” and become…religious Jews.
Also, we’re going to make it clear that American Jews’ homeland is not, after all, the United States; it’s Israel. This bit of marketing has been doing pretty poorly for a long time among American Jews; I can’t imagine it getting a ton more traction now.
More from the puff piece:
And who, you may ask, will ultimately run this initiative? The answer is in its very name: The Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative.
Who funds this? A third of the yearly spend comes from the Israeli government. Deepthroat (Mark Felt), as portrayed in “All the President’s Men,” taught us long ago to “follow the money.” So who’s running this thing?
Oh, it’s okay, because it’s also some of our (the American Jewish community’s) money:
Recent reporting by the Forward uncovered that of the $26 billion in assets claimed by the Jewish not-for-profit world, nearly 38% of the money belongs to organizations with an Israel-centered focus. With so much money going to Israel already, does it make sense to have that money move to Israel from the United States, and then potentially move back again in the form of educational programming?
So, with $9.88 billion in assets in the hands of Israel-centered Jewish organizations, we’ll see a fraction of that “move back again.”
I’ll dispense now with the venomous tone. If the Israeli government wants to spend its money this way, let it. I’m happy to see some kind of recognition that the diaspora Jewish community exists. There are worse ways money could be spent; there are probably better ways (recent reporting on soldiers’ salaries and Holocaust survivor pensions come to mind here).
But I worry that the diaspora Jewish community is being infantilized here. The Israeli Jewish world and the diaspora Jewish world are very different. The worry here is–or should be–for American Jews, that Israel’s agenda will dominate what happens to this funding and these programs. And the government’s continued willingness to give a pretty free hand to bordering-on-haredi authorities in almost every area of Jewish life is a problem if it turns out that those authorities are driving the spending decisions. It drives away people who might actually be willing to make aliyah–something Israel is supposed to be on-board with–and it drives away from support for Israel Jews who might otherwise be more supportive.
I’m concerned that Israel isn’t really taking the long view of Jewish life here, and is instead taking a shorter-term approach that smacks of political expediency by focusing on Israel education for Americans and Jewish education for Israelis. It sounds, in other words, like this initiative is centered on a push toward the right in both Israel and the American Jewish community.
I don’t think that takes Jewish life here or there in a healthy direction.