In a recent column, CJN editor Yoni Goldstein raised eight important questions for Canadian Jews to ponder. One of them was: “At the heart of Diaspora Jewry is the need to balance support for Israel and the health of our own communities. Should we be focusing more on Israel? Or is the growth of Judaism in the Diaspora an equal imperative?”
Those of us who enjoy the benefits that come from giving of our time and dollars to others also know the challenges and responsibilities that come with those benefits. The challenge of choice – the unlimited choice that exists for those of us who care about the world around us, and particularly the Jewish world, which has, in and of itself, virtually unlimited needs.
The powerful pull of Zionism, and the extreme need of the Zionist initiative both before and after the formation of the State of Israel, have overwhelmed the Jewish world for well over a century. The Jewish world necessarily got used to the idea that the ideal of “next year in Jerusalem” needed our support – and if we were not going to be physically available to live the dream of our own state, the next best alternative was to raise or provide money, or both, to enable those who were making that dream a reality. Giving to Israel –whether through the local federation, the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency or a host of other charities that sprang up to focus on the specific needs of the nascent state – became a wonderful habit.
Meanwhile, back at home in the Diaspora, our communities, particularly in North America, prospered beyond any expectations we would have had a century ago. Having had the opportunity to operate freely amongst our neighbours, we learned that we could live the good Jewish Diaspora life if we worked hard, obeyed the law and supported each other.
But in the last several decades, much has changed, both in Israel and in our Diaspora communities. Israel has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world. Its status as the “startup nation” has become legendary. Its economic health is strong, its standard of living reasonably high and improving. Despite its many existential threats, life in Israel now is treasured by most.
Paradoxically, the Diaspora communities are now facing threats to our communities associated with our total acceptance by the broader communities we enjoy. Questions of Jewish identity and intermarriage, as well as the lack of religiosity, have become existential to the long-term strength of our communities. In addition, all of our Jewish institutions – whether they be synagogues, day schools, Jewish camps or social service agencies – are short of money. Many in our communities live below the poverty line. Our seniors, including Holocaust survivors, are in need of support.
In my view, the question of where we ought to invest our time and dollars should be answered by considering how we can best strengthen the Jewish People, a people that is comprised of many Diaspora communities, together with Israel at our centre.
In my regular association with members of the shinshinim program – comprised of 18-year-old Israelis who visit Toronto for a year of public service – I am often asked why, if I love Israel so much, I do not make aliyah. The answer to that question is similar to the answer I believe applies to the question raised at the beginning of this column – that is, I can do more for the Jewish People, and therefore for Israel, while living in the Diaspora, where I can make a good living that allows me to support Jewish (and non-Jewish) causes, and build strength in Israel through building strength in our Jewish community.
Ultimately, Israel cannot survive on its own in this world. Like all of us, Israel needs friends – friends with influence, and friends who care. Friends who send money, and friends who raise money. Friends who advocate for Israel, and friends who visit. After all, the Jewish People is every one of us – whether we live in Israel, or in the Diaspora. And to the extent that we build the stronger Jewish communities, whether in Toronto or Los Angeles or Tel Aviv, we are strengthening the Jewish People as a whole.
If we need both the Diaspora and Israel – and I believe that we do – then our obligation is to support both, or, more accurately, to support the Jewish People by investing in our local communities, in Israel and in organizations that strengthen both. That is what federations and other organizations do. They allocate significant funds to Israel, while large amounts stay at home to build our own communities, which in turn allow those communities to continue to support Israel, both financially and as a good friend.
Without building the Jewish communities of the Diaspora today, we cannot hope to continue to support Israel tomorrow. In the long run, an investment in the Diaspora enables ongoing investment in Israel and the Jewish People.
Michael Diamond is a business consultant, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He is involved extensively in Jewish and non-Jewish community life and sits on or chairs several boards and committees of a number of non-profit organizations.