Wednesday, December 07, 2011

// // 12 comments

Offending American Jews

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

The Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has traditionally been mildly anti-religious.  They’re not partial to helping orthodox, and particularly not partial to helping ultra-orthodox Jews immigrant to Israel.

This is one reason why their campaigns of the past have been relatively unsuccessful…removing the religious angle and the economic and freedom angles that drove immigration from Russia, the average secular American Jew doesn’t have much drive to make a life in Israel. 

Recently the Ministry perked up and noticed that economic conditions in Israel are pretty ok (thank G-d) while the opposite is true in the U.S.  So they thought, what a great time to draw back some of the many Israeli’s living abroad. “In April 2008, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption estimated that 700,000 Israelis were living abroad, of those, 450,000 were living in the US and Canada.”  That’s about 10% of the population of Israel abroad with about 6% in the U.S. 

Russian immigration to Israel has demonstrated the value of bringing those with skills into the country, and Western immigration has show the value of bringing those with skills and some resources (meaning they don’t arrive and need years of government support to survive).

So bringing back Israeli ex-patriots is a win-win-win, people who know the language and culture of Israel, have gained valuable skills overseas, and have some resources from having succeeded overseas.

Off the Ministry went and created a series of ads, video and billboard, targeted at areas of Israeli concentration in the U.S… which are often close by other Jewish concentrated areas.  Meaning some non-Israeli Jews took notice of the ads too…and boy did those Jews get upset!

Now I pity the poor ad designers in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in Israel who are scratching their heads going “what happened?  why is everyone so angry at us?”

Here’s what they tried to say in their ads: Dear Israeli, the longer you stay in the U.S., the more likely your children will assimilate and lose their Israeli and Jewish culture.

Here’s what the American non-Israeli Jews heard: Dear Jew, if you stay in the U.S. as a secular Jew your children are likely to assimilate and stop being Jews.

At which point every American commentator who happens to be Jewish went nuts on the Israeli Prime Minister accusing him of…what?  Undermining the emotional basis for their lives in the U.S.?

There’s a sad story here.  If you’re a secular Jew who wants to guarantee (as much as anyone can) your grandchildren will be Jewish you honestly have only two choices.

1. Move to Israel and raise your children there.  That way you and they can be a non-observant Jew yet still be surrounded by Jews and some level of enforcement of Jewish culture.

2. Become Orthodox Jewish, meaning religiously observant. 

The Ministry’s attempts to get ex-patriot Israeli’s to return have been almost completely unsuccessful in the past, maxing out at tens per year at most.  They may actually have been the most effective ever with the current campaign given the amount of attention it’s gotten.

Regardless, this message hurt because however you interpret it, it’s true.

12 comments:

Finrod said...

Finally some good analysis on this issue. The American Jews who are upset about these ads and forced Bibi to cancel the campaign are in DENIAL. The fact is that there is over a 50% assimilation rate in the US and like you said there are really only 2 options for secular Jews.

As I said before, if you're against this, you are either in denial, or like The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg (who compared some Israeli rabbis to Iranian mullahs and had the CHUTZPAH to claim that intermarriage may be an "opportunity") are part of the problem. ::sigh::

Zvika said...

Both sides are wrong here. The ads are true - assimilation in the US is high and the children of Israelis very often don't have a clue about Judaism. But I think it was a really bad PR idea even if it was not directed at American Jews.

The ad about Yom HaZikaron was extremely arrogant and I for one can see why Goldberg was upset. American Jews definitely know what Yom HaZikaron is. I went to a Charedi elementary school in the US and even they marked the day. Even non-religious Jews know what it is about and often they know more about that day than they know about Shavuot, Purim or our fast days.

The ad about Christmas vs. Chanukah was spot on and I think it rung a bell about assimilation which is why people were upset. The daddy vs Abba one was kind of ridiculous - don't expect that an American born Israeli is going to call their parents by Imma and Abba unless their parents tell them to. But I digress.

The point here is that Jews will react - sometimes viscerally - to an ad campaign that is even loosely connected to them. American Jews do give quite a bit of money to Israel. Ad campaigns that have total disregard for the diaspora is a good way to end monetary donations and government aid - all it takes is pissing off a few prominent lobbyists and all the funding can be cut (not that it wouldn't be a good thing because it would jump-start the economy). The Israeli government should have found a better way to spin it so that they could promote the return of Israelis and also promote Aliyah.

Just my two cents

Akiva said...

Israeli secularists and government officials are amazingly clueless about diaspora Jews. Even more so about diaspora religious Jews.

Susan B said...

You're way off base. You don't have to be Orthodox to raise kids who have a strong Jewish sense of self. There are many non-Orthodox Jews who identify strongly as Jews, and pass Judaism on to their children.

If kids of Reform Jews, for instance, didn't identify as Jewish, then Reform Judaism would have died out within a generation of its creation. Instead, it is going strong, and remains the largest denomination in North America.

Anonymous said...

susnan b,

Yeah but reform Judaism is NOT Judaism! It's idolatry, denial of G-d and his commandements as they were given to us at Mt Sinai. It's a plastic gold coloured Rolex!

Anonymous said...

Zvika, if Jews in America wants to donate to Israel, that's great for them, but please let them not use their donations as a stick to dictate Israeli policy. Israeli Jews donate a whole lot more to Israel via our taxes, our efforts and our blood. Not only that we are the insurance policy for every Jew in the world. And we would much, much rather that all the American Jews come and join us than write a check once a year, feeling that they are now our paymasters.

As for US government "aid", it is mainly loans conditioned on being spent in America, in other words it creates jobs for Americans, stymies the Israeli military industry, and is used as a tool for America to dicate Israeli foreign policy.

Let the American government keep its "aid" and let the American Jews make aliya. And let both of them stop telling us what to do. As Begin told Carter, we would rather eat bread and margarine than be a banana republic. If only we had such a leader today.

josh said...

Incredible that this is in the news during parshat Vayishlach. Yaakov was worried about returning to Eretz Yisrael. He shouldn't have because he was a tzadik and had faith in Hashem, but nonetheless, he felt there was a chance that he had waited a bit too long in his personal galut and did not run fast enough to his redemption.

I think the ads were awesome and from an advertising perspective a massive success. These days, most companies spend hundreds of thousands of $$$ on ad campaigns and dream of the big one that goes viral. Misrad Haklita scored right on with this one. The publicity generated is priceless. Sofa Landver is standing 100% behind this 'return home' campaign and should be blessed for taking the heat and not playing weak politician against the criticism and the ynet hate with their new 'pro-emigration' campaign "lehager or l'hishaer".

American Jews giving to Israel is one of their zchuts. If they give that up, they are merely hastening their assimilation.

Akiva said...

Susan B - It's a wonderful thing there are Reform Jews who are raising their children with a strong Jewish identity! But the assimilation rate among Reform Jews is over 70% and the number of people who identify as "Jews" in the US falling every generation. (Sources on the rates also note birth rates among Reform Jews tend to be low as well.)

So it may be possible, but success on that path is becoming...rare.

Zvika said...

Anonymous, you missed my point. The point was that the ad campaign was a horrible PR idea and the government should have considered the fact that Jews will react to ads directed at Israels - they are Jews after all. I was annoyed with the campaign and I also live in Israel, so please get off your soapbox.

The monetary aid is a side point. However, you do need to consider that Israel does trade and have close relations with the US (overall, I can't say that about the current administration). Ticking off lobbyists who have certain sway with the US lawmakers who are responsible for that trade via treaties, joint ventures, etc., is not a good idea.

I agree that the money does stymie our military (and by extension, the economy as well). However, you seem very resentful of anyone outside Israel and it shows in your post. Yes, US Jews should come. Yes, the US should not push us around. But arrogance and treating Jews who live outside Israel as being somehow less Jewish is not the way.

You want Aliyah? I would write a series of novels about the things that need to be done before we can even dream of promoting Aliyah successfully.

josh said...

Zvika, our geulah is fast approaching. Sometimes, you have to throw 'PR' out the window to get Jews home ASAP.

Tali said...

Susan B,

I also know many Jews who aren't Orthodox and care very much about Jewish identity and Jewish continuity.

However, a huge reason why Reform is still around in such numbers is due to:

A: Enlarging the definition of who is a Jew. According to Jewish law, you are only Jewish if your mother is. Reform Judaism decided to go against this law and consider the children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jewish.

B: Extremely lax standards in conversion. Reform rabbis often convert anyone for any reason, even if the "convert" has no intention of any commitment and merely wants to appease their Jewish in-laws' well-meaning albeit superficial demands.

Some Reform converts are sincere, and they eventually progress into Orthodox Judaism (with a new kosher conversion).

Tali said...

Regarding intermarriage & Israel:

It ain't true anymore.

Intermarriage is LESS likely in Israel. But secular Jews can no longer come here completely confident that their children will marry Jews. 60% of the Russian aliyah wasn't Jewish. My husband and I are already involved in situation in which a secular Israeli family member is seriously dating a Russian girl and we have no clue whether she is Jewish. And we are stuck with the same issues as Americans: When do we bring this up? How do we bring it up in a way that is sensitive and tactful? And so on. Plus how some Arabs here are preying on teenage and pre-teen Jewish girls and even married women who are going through a hard time and vulnerable to what looks like a rescuer. There are also many couples here made up of a Jewish Israeli man and a Thai or Philippina tourist or worker.

Bottom line? There is no protection against intermarriage without a firm connection to God and Torah values.

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