By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Natan Sharansky is by no means the only Israeli who says that Europe is doomed, at least as far as the Jews are concerned. In view of what has happened in Paris this week, one headline I saw described his words as prophetic. But it’s not only France that Sharansky has in mind. Events in other European countries support his contention.
And statistics bear it out. In 2014 Israel received a record number of immigrants from Western Europe and Ukraine, the latter escaping the “liberation” from anti-Semitism by Vladimir Putin. In view of the terrorist attacks in Paris this week, the trickle of Jews from Europe coming to live in Israel is likely to increase.
Sharansky has, of course, a personal interest in the outcome. As the chairman of the Jewish Agency, the organization that since its inception has sought to bring Jews to the Jewish homeland, and as a man who had spent years in a Soviet prison because of his commitment to Israel, he’s entitled to believe that there’s no future for Jews and Judaism outside the Jewish state.
He seems to think, like others do, that all of Diaspora Jewry is at risk. (Rejecting the Diaspora has an honourable place in the history of Zionism.) They say that though anti-Semitism may not be the immediate danger in North America, assimilation is. The debate over demography reflects it: how many “Jewish” Jews are there really in the United States and Canada and other countries, whether or not currently vulnerable to attacks by either/or or both/and Islamism and Neo-Nazism?
Ironically, at least in the vocabulary of Muslim extremists and their European fellow-travellers, it’s Israel – the haven for Jews – that’s the “justification” of their terrorism against the Jews. And some Jews have bought into it. They seem to believe that if only there hadn’t been a Jewish state, Jews would live in peace and prosperity everywhere. (They’ve “forgotten” the Holocaust.) Unless they’re ultra-Orthodox, they’re likely to imply that without Israel Jews could assimilate more rapidly into the cultures among which they live. The “new anti-Semitism” has got to them.
Not that Israel is safe and its future secure, but despite the bad neighbourhood in which it finds itself, Jews and Judaism are more likely to survive in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Europe may build impressive museums of the kind just opened in Warsaw, but Jewish experts will have to come from abroad to devise and run them – as has indeed happened there – for there aren’t enough left on home turf.
Had I accepted Sharansky’s allegedly profound analysis I could have been accused of seeking some kind of justification for our recent very personal decision to move full-time to Jerusalem. But in fact I’m not persuaded by any predictions about the demise of the Diaspora. My Judaism assumes that, as important as Israel is for Judaism, its existence should in no way be based or hoped for on the disappearance of Jewish communities elsewhere. I believe that Judaism isn’t circular with one focal point, but elliptic with the dual centres of Israel and the Diaspora.
Many of my friends, even in countries affected such as Sweden, seem to share this view and, therefore, intend to stay put. But also they, I assume, have reason to be worried, nay alarmed, by what happened in Paris this week, and fearful of what might happen on their own doorstep.
Jerusalem 10.1.15 (Motza’ei Shabbat)
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By Rabbi Dow Marmur.