Broadening the picture - beyond America: Conclusions

by Steve Israel


We have now looked at one community - that of the former Soviet Union - in some detail, and at five others, the United Kingdom, Yemen, France, India and Germany, in more general terms. In all of them, we have noted the the important role played by both the Zionist movement and the State of Israel.

In three of them - the communities of Yemen, Russia and India - we have seen how Israel has played a dominant role which has changed the direction and make up of the community decisively. We could add to this list many other communities, which have been either completely (Ethiopia) or almost completely (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco etc.) obliterated as a Diaspora community, the community continuing in one way or another to exist really only in Israel and in the latter cases, also in France.

In a different way, France itself has been largely changed by the rise of Zionism which was a dominant factor in the decision of hundreds of thousands of North African Jews to flee the Arab lands where Jewish life had become increasingly difficult after Israel's independence, and to move to France.

In more general terms, even the more affluent among the Western communities have been a source of Aliyah to Israel. Some 70,000 Jews from the United States, 30,000 Jews from France and 25,000 Jews from the United Kingdom have made Aliyah since 1948. The nature of that Aliyah from these countries has also changed to a certain extent in the last few years. We observed in the case of France that many of the recent "olim" (immigrants) are religiously orthodox in their Judaism. The same could be said for many of the immigrants from the English-speaking world as a whole.

A community such as that of the United Kingdom, which has certainly been deeply touched by the existence of Israel, has nevertheless continued to exist on its own terms with its own central institutions which are not specifically Zionist. Here, especially in recent years, Zionism and Israel have been seen as important props for the development of a local Jewish identity, but have not been given an ultimate value in the shaping of that identity. This tends to be the case in the large English-speaking Diaspora centres of the West, very much including the United States, South Africa and Australia.

Of the communities examined, Germany to a large extent stands alone, a victim of special circumstances, influenced by Israel, but an Israel which holds itself aloof, up to a point.

One relatively recent trend is the relocation of many Israelis to other lands; these "yordim" often display a certain ambivalence towards the local Jewish community, some of them finding a role in Jewish education (especially as Hebrew language teachers) while many, at least in the first generation, have chosen to retain an identity based on Israel rather than linking up to the local community (seeing themselves as Israelis rather than Diaspora Jews). Sizeable additions have been made to the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany among the communities that we have explored. It remains to be seen whether this pattern of a certain aloofness on the part of the ex-Israelis towards the local Jewish communities will change and dissipate with the need to educate the second and third generations.

We have touched on a dilemma in Israel/Zionist education. To a large extent, Israel and Zionism perceive themselves as responsible for the Jewish world and have therefore aimed to assume a central educational and cultural role throughout the Jewish world, primarily in the case of weaker communities. However, traditional Zionist ideology negates the idea of the survival of Diaspora commmunities, out of a double-stranded belief that the communities cannot continue to exist in the long term (a practical consideration), and that they should not continue to exist even if it were possible (an ideological consideration). There is, therefore, a controversy as to the advisability of investing in communities that could certainly use the educational and cultural resources of Israel but which exhibit a perhaps "too healthy" will to continue to exist on their own terms. Russia and India are both examples of this trend.

In conclusion, it should be stated that in recent years there are thinkers in the Zionist world and in Israel who are looking anew at this particular question and are re-examining the traditional Zionist assumptions regarding Israel's role in the Jewish world.

It is clear that throughout the Jewish world, Diaspora Jewish communities have been substantially influenced in different ways by the Zionist movement and the existence of the State of Israel.

  •  There is no Jewish community that has not been touched by the existence of Israel. Each community has been influenced in a different way.
  •  Models of diaspora Jewish life have changed. Whole communities have disintegrated.
  •  Relationships between the different diaspora communities and Zionism and the State of Israel have changed and evolved. They continue to do so.




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30 May 2005 / 21 Iyar 5765 0