OTHER VOICES

Jewish expats

Posted Dec. 11, 2011, at 6:21 p.m.

Many U.S. Jews, spurred on by a group of prominent American Jewish media pundits, were apparently upset by an Israeli campaign to encourage Israeli expats living in American to return home.

Admittedly, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry campaign, which resorts to blatant scare tactics, is aggressive.

In one short video, Israelis living in the U.S. are warned against the potential danger of cultural and religious assimilation that could result from raising children in America.

One ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a hanukkia and Skypeing with their grand-daughter, who lives in America. The grandparents’ faces are transfixed with sorrow when their precious granddaughter refers to the holiday being celebrated in Israel as “Christmas.”

Yet the sad fact is that for Israelis, in particular second-generation Israelis born in America, rates of assimilation are worryingly high. Recent studies by Dr. Lilach Lev-Ari, head of the Sociology Department at Oranim College and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, have shown conclusively that these second generation Israelis — like the little girl Skypeing with her Israeli grandparents — tend to define themselves as Americans and do not identify with American Jewry or with Israelis.

The fragility of Israeli identity in a Diaspora setting — the target of the ministry campaign — seems not to be fully appreciated by U.S. Jewry. Unfortunately, even among U.S. Jews, who have developed a multitude of creative ways of maintaining Jewish continuity in a super-liberal, multicultural environment have nevertheless been assimilating at high rates for some time now. Israel is, after all, the only place where the Jewish population is actually growing.

Whatever the method, reaching out to Israeli expats is an honorable endeavor that mustn’t be discontinued because of an unfortunate misunderstanding.

The Jerusalem Post (Dec. 8)

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