Only God can save America’s Jews.

During my recent visit to the United States, a Jewish leader commented: “A year and a half ago [when COVID-19 hit] Jewish youth stopped doing anything Jewish, and they didn’t miss it. “


“And they didn’t miss it” may be the epitaph of American Jews. Last week, I objected to exaggerating the attackers’ threat to Israel. Hysteria locks Zionist conversation in political zones, partisan strife and paranoid tones that do not sway the guilty-Israelis-first while alienating the “I don’t care.”

Those five words, “And they didn’t miss it,” represent the real threat. It’s Juicide, Jewish suicide. Too many Jews ingest a slow-acting poison of wannabeism and not wannabeism – wanting to fit in and not wanting to stand out, wanting to be “normal” Americans and not wanting to be burdened by Judaism, Zionism, Israel, tradition.

It is true that we are all addicted to iPhones that individualize and isolate, a culture of leisure that pampers and distracts, and a lifestyle that allows and avoids.

Plus, our best and brightest absorb (and their dumb parents fund) a barrage of propaganda that starts in high school, if not earlier, and peaks on too many campuses. Universities offer the credentials students crave while denying religion and nationalism, demonizing Israel and the United States, and poking fun at Judaism and Zionism.

Have some American Jews replaced Judaism with liberalism? (credit: REUTERS)

It is self-defeating to reject the core values ​​that have made America work, much less sustained Jews for millennia while shaping our modern-day fledgling miracle, Israel.

The Jewish establishment often makes things worse. Much of the American Jewish experience involves tripping over guilt, provoking fear, or pointing the finger.

Too much American Judaism is sterile, stale, forced, apologetic and derivative, mimicking modern trends, trying to make our ancient ways look modern. And much of the American Jewish conversation is passive, about “being Jewish,” not “being Jewish,” with their Jewish identity as a dragging weight, not a catalyst to find meaning and improve the world. Even a lot tikkun olam Talk sounds bogus: How can you continue to follow the Democrats’ agenda so closely for decades?

Even a 10-day lightning-fast Birthright trip to Israel transforms many young Jews because Israeli Judaism is more natural, less defensive, more authentic. It throbs with energy as an ancient people return to their natural habitat in this new and old land.

The gallows humor of May 1967, before the Six Day War, prompted the Israelis to ask the last person to leave the country to “turn off the lights at Lod airport.” Today, many unorthodox American institutions will ask the last person to “turn off the computers.”

For two decades, I have argued that identity Zionism can drive Jewish journeys by Jews adrift. Israel’s many experiences prove it. Furthermore, living in the Jewish state provides so many deep, overlapping, mutually reinforcing and integrated Jewish ties, values, experiences and associations that it is the only place where non-religious Jews can truly thrive from generation to generation.

BUT ZIONISM and the condition of the people are one of the legs on which the Jewish quarter rests. There is a second stage, long neglected, especially in America: the often avoided three-letter word: God.

The Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859) taught that if you can’t see God everywhere, you can’t see God anywhere. That phrase pulverizes the American Judaism that I learned. Liberal Judaism was a part-time contingent utilitarian Judaism. It was impiety that failed. God appeared here and there: on Shabbat, in synagogues, on holidays, when He was useful.

But God couldn’t be everywhere, because our lifelong mission was to be normal, to dominate post-God American society. Our Judaism was intermittent Judaism, kippah in your pocket. We live the great gift of the Enlightenment of being Jewish at home and being a normal person on the street. God forbid you are too pious.

And God forbid you talk about God. Even Orthodox Jews rarely did that. Praying was more like singing drinking songs, not launching first spiritual services to our Constant Maker and Companion.

I keep reading new proposals to revive American Judaism: Learn! Pray! To meditate! The best approach is simple but profound: Bring God back into your life – full time, not part time; everywhere, not here and there.

I write “bring God back” because my friend, the late Rabbi Ron Aigen, used to point out that when he was leading a pre-bar mitzvah retreat for 12-year-olds at his fairly traditional reconstructionist synagogue in Montreal, children often mentioned God. as central. to their Judaism, while the parents did not. Then he saw most young people come out of that belief, when the true pursuit of an adult involves growing in it.

LATELY, YOUR challenges with your God and your people are similar. You cannot feel guilty in a relationship with either of them. And you can’t keep turning them off and on; they become like disposable cigarette lighters, doomed to run out of gas. True relationships, with God, his people, with each other, have remarkable and constantly renewable sources of energy.

Part-time Judaism is not sustainable, meaningful, or transferable. But if you accept the whole pig, so to speak, you can’t be intimidated by that relationship either (which brings us back to the conversation of the alienated of Israel).

Once you fully wrap yourself in any of the bonds, you cannot escape, you do not wish to flee, you would miss it. You would find ways to connect, even in confinement, because it is fundamental to your identity; it is the blood that circulates, not the clothes that are constantly changed. In short, it’s about doing, living, and being a full-time and deep Jew, rather than just being a Jew.

This defensive focus on surviving doesn’t help. Let us teach to prosper as pious and people-loving Jews; that’s what we’ve always been.

The Kotzker Rebbe also taught: “When you say ‘I will,’ this is bad; when you say “I want to”, this is neither here nor there. But when you say ‘I am’, this is good. “

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: ​​Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky, was recently published by Hachette’s PublicAffairs.

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