July 18, 2024
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The Disconnect Between American and Israeli Jews

On a visit to America from the Lebanon border, I experienced tremendous support for Israel in the Diaspora. Whether at weddings, galas or Frisch’s “Shiriyah,” reminders and tefillot for our soldiers and families fighting in Israel were injected into every event. People who knew me or recognized me constantly came up to ask how I’m doing, commending me for being on the front lines.

Despite this support, I couldn’t help but perceive a noticeable disconnect between the Jewish community in America and those living in Israel, particularly in times like these when the true essence of Israelis is revealed. Only after settling and integrating into Israel did I grasp the frustration of the constant and practical impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It wasn’t until I found myself on the battlefield, hearing instructions and policies that prioritized my life above enemy civilians, that I could comprehend the injustice that I could ch’v give up my life due to international pressures—in my own home. Only once I served with parents did I get a glimpse of what it means to leave your kids, one whose baby barely recognized his own father after so much time away, the other whose son wouldn’t leave his mom because he was afraid she would leave just like his dad did.

Consequently, those outside of Israel have attempted to fill that gap of not being physically inside Israel, through actions like song, hearing from soldiers and victims families, and relief missions. But despite any amount of feeling and empathy that we try to inject into ourselves for the ones fighting through this, it falls short of truly comprehending the reality of being on the ground—these realities that can only be theorized and imagined from the outside. Additionally, recognizing that when a part of Am Yisrael suffers, we all suffer, the material and emotional support from outside of Israel has been tremendous and unwavering, because as a nation it’s up to all of us to contribute to a shared success. But oftentimes we’re limited in our ability to contribute by our jobs or colleges that don’t accommodate for war efforts, or basic logistical issues of being so far away.

Unfortunately, this disconnect from the national mission of Judaism is the harsh reality of galut. The Ramban writes (Vay 18:25) that when we were exiled from Israel, we were commanded to keep the mitzvot so that they will not be new to us when we return. However, this only applies to personal mitzvot, like tefillin and mezuzah, because we can not continue our national mission in the complete form, centered in Israel, when we are dispersed around the world.

When we’re not together as a complete nation, the best we can do is practice in our smaller pockets, as the Maharal writes in Netzach Yisrael. Coming together and doing good deeds during the war is indeed in line with the Gemara, which teaches that “charity and kindness bring great peace to the world…” (B.B. 10a), exactly what we are hoping for right now. Yet the impact goes beyond just altruism. The Gemara continues, “Great is charity in that it advances the redemption.” The significance is that our generosity becomes a catalyst for our collective success as a nation, a reward you can only wholeheartedly give towards when you are the direct beneficiary of that reward.

This significance is expressed in a note by Elkana Vizel, HY”D, a soldier who recently fell in Gaza, who wrote “… in the event that I have been taken captive, I demand that no deal for the release of a single terrorist be made for my release. Our resounding victory is more important than anything else, so please simply continue putting all of your effort into ensuring that our victory is as resounding as possible…” In the midst of war, the limits of how much we think we can give are broken, up to preferring to be captive to Hamas for the sake of our citizens. For Israelis facing the direct impact of surrounding and internal enemies, contributing isn’t a formality but an integral part of “war for their survival.” It is not necessarily an uplifting experience, but a routine, a necessity for the greater mission of our return and settlement of Israel.

Therefore, our giving, from assisting soldiers and their families, victims, farmers and all the rest, is indeed what needs to happen on a communal level. Additionally, it should awaken our personal responsibility of advancing our redemption in a more conscious way. When helping our soldiers wipe out terror by donating gear, it’s not so that we can wait for new terrorists to come and attack again. Settling with a physical presence is the best assurance to assure that our land, our home, is not recaptured by our enemies.

As the necessity for increased settlement gains prominence due to the war, the added participation from Diaspora Jewry highlights a lack of involvement in peacetime. While the urgency right now demands intensified efforts, it’s crucial to recognize that war is just one facet of our overarching mission. On my trip to America, I encountered a recurring call that, as American Jews, we need to continue to “support” and “stand with” Israel and keep them in our minds as long as the war is going on. This perspective limits us to having a distant-cousin relationship, implying that we don’t need to support as much when the war isn’t going on.

However, it’s essential to recognize that there’s no such thing as “American Jews” and “Israeli Jews”—we are all one people, simply “Jews.”

An inspiring illustration of this unity is my high school rabbi, who made aliyah a few years ago with his wife and four young kids. His wife shared once that they knew they had finally “made it” in Israel when their daughters brought home Israeli friends who didn’t speak a word of English, and were able to just have a normal play date. Despite challenges from making aliyah as parents, their children now integrate successfully, feeling comfortable and confident in any environment. This is how we become united not just on a material level, but a personal level as well, a much deeper unity and connection.

Our contribution to our national mission during wartime is emphasized by those who commit when it gets difficult. Our collective dedication is what keeps us going, with each individual drawing inspiration from someone else. Families and communities look up to the soldiers who are willing to sacrifice for the nation, and the soldiers look back to the families to maintain success in their absence. What inspires me most are my Shana Alef students coming from America, who may not know who Hamas or Hezbollah is or why we are even at war, yet instinctively understood that they can’t abandon the ship, holding up the yeshiva and thus the community when many of the veterans of the yeshiva left to go fight.

I can tell you firsthand that there are not many things that affirm Israelis’ efforts more than olim. Those who want to take the same rockets they do, eat the same shawarma they do, and both stand resilient but also dance and celebrate as they do. It resonates with Hashem’s promise to Rachel, assuring her that “there is reward for your labor, says Hashem, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.” (Jer. 31:15) Just as the safe return of a soldier from Gaza is the reward for donating a helmet, those who come back from exile are the reward to those who built this thriving country, offering a beautiful homeland to come back to. Once we do come back, and bring the strength of the individual aspects of Judaism from Chutz La’Aretz, with the national aspect that exists in Israel, we can become a strong, united nation, focusing on Torah and mitzvot. And from there may we attain peace, and ultimately redemption, for which we’ve given so much.


Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF and is currently a madrich at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He can be reached at [email protected]

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