A bungled Aliyah

by Maskil on September 20, 2007

Should we be surprised about the recent reports of involvement in neo-Nazi activities amongst a very small minority of youth from the FSU? Shocked, perhaps, but not surprised; it has become increasingly apparent that this neo-Nazi aberration reflects an even more widespread feeling of alienation amongst youth from the FSU.

Why shocked but not surprised? Immigration on the scale of that from the FSU in the 90s is bound to lead to perceptions of second class citizenship on the part of those who find integration into the new society difficult, for a variety of reasons. Where, as in this case, the Jewish “credentials” of almost a third of those immigrants is also questioned by segments of society, at least some of the results were predictable.

When the call to free Soviet Jewry began to be raised in the late 60s, they had already been living under Soviet tyranny for over 50 years; 70 years by the time large-scale immigration began. After a Biblical three score and ten years without any real form of Jewish exposure or infrastructure, did we really expect everyone to step off the aircraft at Ben Gurion airport clutching their mother’s Ketubah?

So, the question remains, what are we to do with those Jewish enough for Nuremberg, but not Jewish enough for Hechal Shlomo? What do we need to do in order to ensure that a situation such as this does not arise again?

Firstly, we need to recognise that the entire Zionist edifice must bear some blame for the situation, including the WZO/Jewish Agency, government agencies and the rabbinate (yes, the rabbinate is not part of the Zionist structures, but it should support them). Absorbing immigrants is (or should be) on of Israel’s core competencies, with no room for those who are not “singing from the same hymn-sheet”.

Regarding the rabbinate, we need a Zionist rabbinate, rather than a non- or even anti-Zionist one. This Zionist rabbinate needs to come up with an approach to conversion that does not require the candidate to adopt forms of Judaism that are not acceptable even to the majority of the Jewish public who were born Jewish.

If that’s not achievable, we need to widen the separation between Church and State, while at the same time adopting a more pluralistic approach to the various streams of Judaism, with total equality and recognition given to the major streams (Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform), especially with regard to conversion.

We also need to call on all streams of Judaism to adopt the approach that anyone with one Jewish parent (whether mother or father) should be considered Jewish, i.e. accept the principle of Jewish patrilineal descent. We already know which of these streams are likely to heed the call.

Most of all, we need to reach out to those who haven’t already been totally alienated, who still see themselves as belonging in some way to Israel and the Jewish people. The immigrants and strangers in our midst cannot simply be allowed to sink or swim. Everyone, classmates, teachers, neighbours, fellow IDF members and bureaucrats could play a positive role here.

Much of the discussion on this issue has centred on proposals for changes to the Law of Return. This to me is something of a red herring. The problem is not with this magnificent piece of legislation (Israel’s very raison d’être) but with the dichotomy between our admiration for Soviet Jewry’s struggle to regain their Jewish heritage, and our failure to meet them at least half way.

This is something we need to get right, this time and next time (if there is a next time). Those who cry out for Aliyah as the life blood of Israel, but at the same time reject the Jewish identity of these and other marginal Jews need to remember that the situation is probably far worse in the remaining shrinking pools of potential immigrants, e.g. in the US, where the rate of intermarriage is said to be greater than 50%.

Neo-Nazi and related activities simply cannot be permitted within the borders of Israel, and the full force of the law needs to be directed against those implicated. We cannot, however, tar the entire wave of immigration with the same brush. Unless this crackdown on neo-Nazi activity is coupled with a much greater effort to integrate immigrants, especially the marginalised youth, the next wave of Aliyah will be an even greater disaster for the country and for the individuals who take part.

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