Thursday, March 23, 2023

Rabbi Paul Bloom (“American Jewish Leadership Failure or Antisemitism and Aliyah?” December 15, 2022) argues that, in response to increasing antisemitism in America, America’s Jewish leadership should “encourage the movement of Torah, Talmud and talent to a new destination, Israel, the start-up nation.” Rabbi Bloom’s argument suffers from two critical flaws: (1) it is overly simplistic and fails to recognize the complexity of this issue, and (2) it indulges in problematic victim blaming.

To argue that the only solution to rising antisemitism in America is aliyah to Israel is like arguing that the only way to cure an infection in a pinky finger is to amputate the entire arm. Sure, mass American aliyah would nominally cure the problem of antisemitism in America, but at what cost? And what would be the unintended consequences of such an action? What about the enormous numbers of the American Jewish population who are unable or unwilling to move to Israel? What about the irreparable damage to critical Jewish institutions on which countless people who do not intend to make aliyah rely? And what about the role of the Modern Orthodox presence in America as the landing pad for former members of the Reform and Conservative movements and other baalei teshuva?

In addition, Rabbi Bloom dismisses all other potential remedies to American antisemitism with nary a second thought. Further, he fails to acknowledge, or even consider, the myriad ways in which the United States is fundamentally different than Europe. And while there are no guarantees in history, and the United States could of course theoretically head the way of Germany’s Weimar Republic, I wouldn’t bet on that happening any time soon, and Rabbi Bloom’s insinuations to the contrary seem to represent the views of a careless amateur historian.

Second, it is wholly inappropriate and frankly offensive when, instead of offering words of comfort and chizuk to his former friends and neighbors in North America, Rabbi Bloom blames us for our own predicament. By arguing that our experience of antisemitism is the result of our failure to move to Israel, he implies that we are getting our just desserts and that, had we done what we were supposed to do and made aliyah, we would not be in this situation. If this is a speech intended to persuade me to make aliyah, then I say thanks but no thanks. This is roughly the equivalent of saying that rocket attacks on the residents of Sderot are, while lamentable, the inevitable consequence of their living too close to Gaza when they should really be living in the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria.

In sum, I, and I suspect many of my American Jewish neighbors, do not appreciate being lectured about our ideological failings during this difficult period in American Jewish life. If all that Rabbi Bloom can offer is shallow recriminations and victim blaming, then perhaps it would be better if he said nothing at all.

Steven Starr
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