Two of the most accepted criteria for Jewish affiliation in the Diaspora are synagogue membership and financial support for Israeli and communal causes.
Neither means much to the Israelis in our midst. Most wouldn’t be seen dead in shul, and philanthropy isn’t part of their culture, especially as they feel no allegiance to the community and its institutions. As a result, we blame Israelis for ignoring us, and they complain of being shunned by fellow Jews.
As reported in this paper, Amir Gissin, Israel’s energetic and creative consul general in Toronto, is trying to break the impasse. His appeal to synagogues of all shades to make some gesture to local Israelis during the High Holidays is a first attempt to narrow the gap.
There was a time when Israeli diplomats abroad tended to shun their compatriots. To be a yored – someone who has “come down” from Israel to live in another country – carried a stigma. That’s no longer the case. Though Israel still badly needs Jews to “go up,” to “make aliyah,” to secure its Jewish majority, as an open society, it has learned to accept that some of its citizens will, for a variety of reasons, choose to live elsewhere.
They also know that to isolate them is to further their defection from Judaism, particularly among the young. Though they may still speak Hebrew at home and be in touch with relatives in Israel, perhaps even dreaming of rejoining them there one day, most are likely to stay put and thus are in danger of being lost to the Jewish People.
That’s the thinking behind Gissin’s idea of adapting the Israeli concept of Yom Kippur Lekulam (Yom Kippur for all).
Even the most secular Israelis connect at least twice a year to some aspect of Jewish tradition. They privately celebrate a version of the seder, and they publicly mark the Day of Atonement, even if only minimally. Gissin’s aim is to enable Israelis on the periphery to come together, also with other Jews, on Yom Kippur to observe the day in some form.
Accepting that our synagogue structure doesn’t permit unrestricted access to worship services during the High Holidays, Gissin is asking community leaders to make special provisions for Israelis, perhaps before Kol Nidre or during a break on Yom Kippur afternoon, or at some other time. They would thus have an opportunity, however symbolic, to mark the occasion and have intimations of belonging.
A few events are planned for this year, but Gissin’s scope is much larger. It’s hoped, therefore, that in the future, reaching out to Israelis will become part the High Holiday activities of every congregation. Of course, it’s not enough, but we have to start somewhere.