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November 26, 2014 | 4th Kislev 5775

Solidarity III

Galilee Diary #222
February 27, 2005
Marc J. Rosenstein

Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to the whole community which I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylonia: Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.

For thus said the Lord: When Babylon’s seventy years are over, I will take note of you, and I will fulfill to you My promise of favor – to bring you back to this place.

-Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10

I wonder if Jeremiah realized what he was getting into with this prophecy. We were instructed to make ourselves at home in Babylonia: to build houses, to raise grandchildren, to pray for the prosperity of our new home. And to be ready, bags packed, to return in seventy years! Sure enough, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed us to return – but by then, we had taken out mortgages, enrolled the grandchildren in school, opened thriving businesses, learned the language and the culture of our exilic home – we had unpacked our bags. Needless to say, there was no mass return. We became part of the exile and it became part of us, and so it has been every since. Individual Jews seeking personal fulfillment and groups fleeing the collapse of their collective exilic home have made their way here over the years, but the majority of the Jews of the world keep their suitcases out of sight and out of mind, in the attic.

Every since the Babylonian exile, there has been tension between the claim of the Jews who stayed in or returned to Israel to be the center, the authority, the bearers of authentic Judaism, and the claim of the leaders of Diaspora Jewish communities - which have often surpassed the Jews of Israel in scholarship, cultural creativity, and numbers – that dominance should be determined by quality, not merely by location. This was true in the Talmudic period, and in the middle ages, and it continues in our time. Many of us Israelis perceive ourselves as the true, authentic bearers of the fate of the Jewish people, putting our lives on the line to reassert our place in history and geography and to restore our ancient glory, while Diaspora Jews have missed the boat, choosing to enjoy the fleshpots of Babylonia/Miami/Berlin (ha!) as they blindly await their disappearance by assimilation or anti-Semitic violence. Thus, we Israelis have a right to the financial and political support of Diaspora Jews, whether they provide it out of guilt for staying safely far away, or out of a vicarious need to “be with us,” drawing pride and a strengthened identity through their connection with us. This sense of entitlement to the support of world Jewry led to an Israeli outcry a year ago, when American Jewish fundraisers tried to campaign for contributions to help the large numbers of Israelis living in poverty. We expect Diaspora support not as poor Jews, but as builders of the Jewish state, as bearers of Jewish national destiny.

For years, this asymmetry grated on the sensibilities of many (but not all) Diaspora Jews, who resented being seen as somehow inauthentic Jews, valuable only inasmuch as they could be exploited. While for many of us nothing has changed, it seems to me that in the past decade we are seeing a shift away from the classical Zionist view that the Diaspora is an aberration destined to disappear, toward a sense of symmetry and partnership. More and more Israelis are discovering that there is more than one way to Jewish authenticity - that the institutions built and supported by Jews in the Diaspora are worthy not of disdain, but of imitation; and that the huge expenditures of resources, energies, and creativity by Diaspora Jews on Jewish life in their own communities should command respect and admiration.

It may well be that We Are One, but we are learning that it is OK for us to be different from each other – and that Oneness should imply mutual respect.

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