August 28, 2007
ron weiser BLOG
So having enjoyed our time in Israel where it was great to see the hotels full, Ben Yehuda crowded and as I wrote recently, as long as one was not in Sderot people generally very happy, we headed off to that second demographic centre -– New York.
I spend my communal time in Israel and Australia with the Jewish Agency, the Sochnut. It is still officially called one of the “National Institutions” of Israel.
And along with the World Zionist Organisation, where I served for over a decade, was the forerunner and founder of the modern State.
It is a large organisation which operates across a number of fields, primarily alyah and Jewish/Zionist Education throughout the world and is the largest funnel of Diaspora money into Israel in any wide ranging overall planned sense.
Ironically, as with all of the other governing institutions of the Israel, one needs to be a little careful when mentioning the Sochnut to one’s Israeli relatives and friends -– for along with the government, the opposition, the Knesset in general, local councils, mayors, the police, the army, the economy, garbage collection, the weather and even one’s neighbors’ personal affairs -– the average Israeli has plenty to say about how if only they were directly in charge, they could do it -– anything at all that is much better.
Nevertheless, the Education Committee and Department of the Sochnut operates all over the Jewish world in the areas of formal and informal Jewish Education and, of course, is very active here in Australia too.
It also plays a large role in Taglit/birthright as well as being the 50 per cent partner with the Israeli Government in MASA -– a multimillion dollar subsidy fund for long term educational programs in Israel, from 6-12 months duration, for our youth.
This was a major initiative of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who inverted classical Zionism which had been predicated on the disappearance of the Diaspora, to mean today that the State of Israel and the Sochnut -– as part of their mission statement as it were – aims to save as many Jews as possible in the Diaspora.
It is safe to say that the Sochnut plays a leading role in Australian Jewish life currently and by the direction it takes in the years ahead, into what our future may be.
By demographic and monetary weight, the Americans dominate the Jewish Agency.
Although we can be very proud of the role and prominence of Australia and Australians who punch way above our numbers and who play a multitude of roles within the most representative organs of world Jewry, American Jewry (outside of Israel herself) is the dominant force.
So to spend a little time in New York is in insight into some of the factors that will loom large in World Jewry’s future.
Whether it be:
* their organisational structure which is dramatically different from ours,
* a Friday night tephilla at the extremely popular BJ’s on the upper West Side where Carlebach minyan meets cello and violin accompaniment and which is a magnet in particular for singles,
* the fact that so many Jewish New Yorkers are highly educated and single,
* to see how many of them have never visited Israel, even once during their lives,
* the low numbers in Jewish day schools
* the extremely high assimilation rate
* advertisements for J-Date in Times Square
* their US patriotism
* the strength of the 3 major religious streams and their distance from each other
The list can go on and on. The picture may appear to be confusing because at the same time we have a strengthening, more committed and highly visible core and increasingly less committed and more diffuse layers of outer circles which are growing larger and drifting further at an alarming rate.
That by the way is something we have in common.
Now on the one hand we have an expectation that because there are some positive significant factors here working in our favour we will avoid the situation of US Jewry, on the other hand we are not some sort of “super Jews” who can feel smug in the belief that it can’t happen to us.
It will. And it is.
Where our own factors play their most significant role is in the way we can tackle both the rate and speed of what is undoubtedly occurring, but we require a very high self opinion to believe that the direction is anything other then inevitable.
The following story leaves me quite ambivalent about the success we can have.
On my return a person from within the community told me how lucky I was to have been in the place she loves New York where, she said, “every second person is Jewish and there are so many kosher restaurants”.
I said that if that is what she likes, she surely must love visiting Israel where there are an even higher percentage of Jews and kosher restaurants.
“Israel” she said, “haven’t been there in 20 years!”
Hmmm. Too much of a good thing I suppose.