Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Road to Assimilation

Every American Jewish establishment leader is aware that the rate of intermarriage among American Jews is at 50%. Every second Jews that gets married opts to marry out of the tribe. They accept that assimilation is widespread and that the Jewish people is disappearing as a distinctive entity in the United States. Even as they frantically try to keep Jews Jewish, apathy and indifference remain and more Jews are lost. Despite billions of dollars spent on bringing Jewish teenagers to Israel for free on Birthright, most Jews are disconnected from Israel. Jewish organizations invest tons of money into new Holocaust Museums even as young Jews suffer from Holocaust fatigue and overload. Why is it that the brightest leaders and thinkers of the Jewish establishment cannot find a way to sustain the newest generation of Jews?

The simple reason is because these people who are completely alienated from Torah and Jewish values have nothing to offer young Jews. Their ideology is completely bankrupt, with not a shred of spirituality or meaning. Bagels and lox provide no answers for a Jew seeking truth. The "Judaism" that these Jewish establishment leaders are peddling is a mixture of Holocaust victim syndrome, lame Jewish jokes and cultural quirks, knishes and kugel, with some watered down Zionism, cemented by getting Jewish teens drunk on the beaches of Tel-Aviv.

The modern zeitgeist is one of bringing people closer, of breaking down walls and barriers. The new world is one without tribal identity or religious affiliation. In such a world, one need only be a good person. What reason does this "Judaism" give to young Jews for setting up false obstacles and differences between themselves and the rest of society? These youth are given no positive reason to be Jewish, and a myriad of reasons why they should simply be human beings. The "Judaism" that they are taught is emptiness and vanity, devoid of G-d and His commandments, empty of commitment and devotion, without any holiness or reverence. The establishment leaders emphasize the "Jewish" qualities which we share with the larger society: democracy, tolerance, pluralism, etc. Little do they realize that what these assimilation-bent Jews need is to know what makes us different than, not the same as, everyone else. If being Jewish is only about being a good person, why not marry a nice Catholic or Chinese or Greek girl?

The essence of Judaism is that G-d publicly revealed Himself before the entire nation of Israel at Mount Sinai and made an eternal covenant with us. He became our G-d and we became His nation. At Sinai, G-d gave us His plan for life, the Torah, which contains His commandments. These commandments have been the mainstay and foundation of Jewish life for thousands of years. When the situation seemed hopeless, when the desperate Jew in Spain or in Russia was ready to break, it was G-d's promise to Israel that gave him strength. Living in terrible conditions, in the ghettos of Europe or the mellahs of Morocco, the Jew clung fiercely to his G-d and to his faith, with complete trust in G-d's revelation at Sinai and believing fully in the coming of the Redemption.

When Jews keep the Torah, they can overcome Crusades and Inquisitions, pogroms and Auschwitz. When they stray from G-d's Torah, they are left without a basis and are lost. It is time for the Jewish leaders to admit that "cultural Judaism" is a dead end. We have tried to raise a generation on nostalgia, Holocaust guilt and Seinfeld and have found that this is a path to assimilation and spiritual destruction. Without a solid foundation in Judaism, forget about getting Jews excited about Israel. The Jewish pride and identity that these leaders so hope to instill in young Jews must have a basis in Jewish belief, values, ritual and practice.

A whole generation of Jews have been robbed of their heritage. Tragically, they are completely ignorant of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of the countless millions of Jews who have preceded them. It is time to return the core of Judaism to what it always was- the Torah and mitzvot. Otherwise, we march down the road to assimilation singing and dancing to the tunes of Fiddler on the Roof.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shoah or Sinai?


The mass murder of one third of world Jewry was one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history, an event which almost completely wiped out Jewish life in Eastern Europe. It is an event which has no parallels in history, and stands alone in infamy by its sheer scope, the depth of hatred and the level of horror and barbarity perpetuated by man with the help of modern technology. In the aftermath of the carnage of the Holocaust, survivors arrived on the shores of America and the Holy Land determined to rebuild the life that was callously snuffed out. In defiance, the Jewish state arose, its rallying cry, "Never Again!". The vow was that never again would Jewish blood be cheap, that Jews suffer in silence, that they should be powerless to defend themselves.

As the years progressed, many Jews lost their connection to Judaism, yet the raw emotions aroused by the Holocaust stirred their hearts and feelings. For Israelis, surrounded by a sea of hostile nations determined on destroying the Jewish state, the specter of the Holocaust hovers in their minds. The State of Israel, according to many, is the insurance policy of the Jewish people in case of another Holocaust. For American Jews, the suffering and pain of their Europeans forebearers colours their identity. They are even on the look-out for signs of impending disaster, of anti-semitism, resolving never again to be caught off guard.

For many Jews, Judaism is synonymous with Holocaust. The Holocaust occupies a significant amount of curriculum in the Jewish schools. For those with little or no formal Jewish education, their first Jewish emotion is often a visit to the Holocaust museum. At every Jewish event that they attend, whether it be the occasional "temple" service, bar mitzvah or celebration, the Holocaust is mentioned and commemorated. A new (and frightening) practice has arisen where bar mitzvah boys are paired up with a child murdered in the Holocaust who did not have a chance to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

The transformation of Judaism into a cult of the Holocaust should repulse and shock every observant Jew. It is a recipe for disillusionment and assimilation, as Judaism becomes something negative, a burden of anti-semitism and tragedy. The Holocaust provides no reason for an unconnected Jew to remain Jewish, to marry a Jew and lead a Jewish life, besides possibly guilt. The Holocaust tells us nothing about Judaism, about the beauty and depth of it's spiritual teachings, or the profoundness of its moral legacy.

Similar to their American brethren, many Israelis believe that the State of Israel exists only because of the Holocaust. Every single foreign delegate is taken to Yad VaShem to bear witness to the destruction of the Jews of Europe, the subtle message being that this is Israel's alternative to fighting. It is in this climate that the dictator of Iran, as well as many educated and sophisticated Arabs, deny the Holocaust with impunity, believing that without the Holocaust, the whole edifice upon which Zionism stands will collapse.

The memory of the six million holy Jews murdered in the Holocaust must be perpetuated and remembered. However, it must be stressed over and over again that Yad VaShem is not Israel and Auschwitz is not Judaism. There was a Judaism long before 1939, and that persecution and oppression need not be an integral part of our identity. The Jewish state exists not because of the Holocaust, but in spite of it.

The heart of Judaism is, and must always be, the public revelation of the divine at Sinai, and the eternal covenant between the Jewish people and G-d. Judaism lives and dies on the fact that G-d revealed Himself before millions of people at Mount Sinai and gave the people of Israel His Torah. It is G-d's instructions manual for life, a guide to live a life of goodness, blessing and meaning. Every single Jew is bound by its commandments and dictates, and must follow its precepts and teachings. By living by the Torah's laws, a Jew reaches holiness and G-dliness. It is this belief that kept Jews strong despite centuries of terrible conditions. When their situation could be alleviated by baptism, conversion or assimilation, they clung tightly to their Torah and to their G-d. This is what prevented the Jew from disappearing among the nations, because His G-d spoke to him from the fire and bound him to Him in an everlasting contract.

Our right to the Land of Israel comes from Sinai and not from Wansee. The same G-d who proclaimed to the Children of Israel, "I am the L-rd, your G-d", promised them Land of Israel. By His word, the Jewish people entered the land and conquered it, by His word they were exiled after rebelling against His commandments, and by His word they are returning to reclaim their stolen heritage. By basing Israel's right to exist on the Holocaust, we provide an opportunity for Ahmadinejad to ask rhetorically why the Germans shouldn't compensate the Jews by giving them land for which to build a state. If Israel is simply meant to be a haven for persecuted Jews, there is no reason why the Arabs should suffer for the crimes of Europeans. Israel draws its legitimacy from Sinai and the modern state is simply a continuation of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, and the Hasmonean dynasty, resumed after a 2000 year hiatus.

The focus of the State of Israel cannot simply be defiance to Hitler and the Final Solution. We must always remember the Holocaust and fight to prevent it from ever occurring again, yet it cannot be the focal point of the Jewish state. To silence our haters and critics, we must embrace our deep roots in the Land, and re-affirm our commitment to the values of Sinai. Yad VaShem should not be the first and only stop for visiting diplomats, but one of many that showcase the complexity of Jewish history, the highs and lows of our people. Diplomats should be taken to Jerusalem, the rebuild capital of the Jewish nation, about which our ancestors wept as they were led into captivity, vowing, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning!". They should be taken to Hebron, the home and burial place of our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They should visit Masada, where the brave Judean warriors took their own lives rather than be taken as slaves by the Romans. They should see the synagogue and yeshivot of the Old City, to demonstrate how Judaism has come home to its birthplace.

The legacy of Sinai must prompt us to be a Light unto the Nations, to fight for freedom and human rights and dignity. The Holocaust and its horrors can only be understood through the traditional framework of Judaism. Alone, it provides us nothing of value about Judaism, and gives us no sense of direction or meaning. Only by embracing Sinai can we hope to build a society based on morals, ethics and the values of holiness. It is Sinai that will re-energize the apathetic masses, that will re-invigorate the disconnected Jewish youth. The Torah, and not the Nuremberg Laws, will stop the tide of assimilation and spiritual oblivion. It is what will give us the courage to fight for our land, and the strength not to bend and apologize in the face of the haters. It is Sinai which is the core of authentic Judaism.