American Jews must stop living in exile

I spent a lot of my time over the past several years explaining to friends, family and strangers why I made aliyah and why I encourage others to do the same. Usually my well-rehearsed elevator pitch on the richness of Jewish life in our homeland is accepted warmly by American Jews who are quick to recount to me their trips to Israel and affection for the country. But what I don’t mention — for the vast majority of interlocutors would either disagree, take offense or both — is that not only did I move to Israel because I believe in Jewish life here, but because I do not believe in Jewish life in America.
I’m an ardent believer in shlilat hagalut, the negation of the exile, or “the Diaspora” as most TJP readers prefer to call it. This concept, one in which most of my fellow Israelis themselves do not believe, is that life in exile is unsustainable, hypocritical and and irresponsible. It’s not a popular opinion, but it’s key component of my Zionism.
Before I explain the multiple reasons that I am against Jewish life in America — for there are many — it’s important to say that my beliefs in no way diminish the respect that I have for my community, friends and family who feel differently and who have every intention of living proud Jewish lives in the United States. The following reasons that I believe in shlilat hagalut are shared not out of animus but out of love.
First, Jewish life is religiously and culturally designed to be lived in the land of Israel. Our festivals reflect the seasonal progression of Levantine agricultural life, synagogues worldwide are built to face Jerusalem, and many of our commandments can be fulfilled only in Israel. Rav Kook, the founder of modern Religious Zionism, said, “A Jew cannot be as faithful to his ideas, feelings, and imagination in the exile as he can in the Land of Israel.”
In fact the thousands of Texan Jews who have never questioned their identities as Americans have themselves prayed to make aliyah every time they’ve participated in services. “Sound the great shofar for our freedom,” we say during the Amidah prayer, “raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You Lord, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.” And every year at the Seder we pray to be swiftly returned to our land, to be “Next year in Jerusalem.”
In the past these prayers were the expression of our people’s yearning to see our commonwealth reestablished, to be free once more. Now, in an era in which the State of Israel exists, with its arms stretching outward to the Jews of the world, ready to accept us with love and with thousands of shekels in cash on arrival at the airport, these prayers are said in vain. These pleas to be brought back to our homeland are completely void of meaning, for the American Jews who utter them have no real intention of carrying them out.
Second, Jewish life in the exile is dangerous. One of the most beloved pastimes of the nations of the world is to torment us, to expel us from our homes, to take advantage of our minds and then kill us for the fun of it. And America, with its synagogue shootings, swastika graffiti, and daily harassment, is no different from Europe, the cursed continent of our past. For though its crimes are fewer and certainly less fatal, the principle remains the same: In the exile, we depend on others for our rights and safety. Only in Israel do Jews take arms in our protection, only here are we the guarantors of our destinies.
Third, Jewish life in the exile is unsustainable. According to sound data, the majority of American Jews, who lack significant knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish literature and practice, are marrying goyim and raising their children to be either “half Jewish” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) or not Jewish at all. The only group of American Jews that is actually growing is the ultra-Orthodox population. But living such an insulated life, one in which women are second-class citizens, men don’t participate in the workforce, math and science are taboo, and intellectualism is seen as an enemy, is no way to preserve our people.
Last, aliyah is a responsibility. In Israel we sacrifice for the sake of our people, we fight on land, in the air and on the sea against the enemies of our people so that every Jew in the world can live without fear. And why is it that Israelis are the ones burdened with securing the Jewish future? Because they had the misfortune of not being born in America, the golden medina? Because their grandparents chose our people and Zionism over American materialistic opportunism?
Make no mistake — there are millions of Jews in America and around the world who live Jewish lives, at day schools and youth groups and college campuses, who are more committed to our people than the average Israeli may ever be. My love for our people was fostered at Levine Academy and Shearith Israel, at Camp Ramah and in BBYO and AIPAC. These communities are strong and they love our heritage and our God.
And I am in fact grateful for the 2000 years we spent in exile, for it transformed the Jewish people. The humanism and the ethics that we developed as a hunted minority have helped shape our people’s modern value system. Our experience in the exile is our greatest weapon in the fight against the elements of nationalistic chauvinism and anti-Arab racism that are spreading throughout Israeli society.
But the fact of the matter is that the next chapter of the Jewish story is being written where it all began, in the land from which we came. The problems are our problems, the triumphs our triumphs! To those Jews who care deeply about living Jewish lives, who see themselves first and foremost as Jews — the time has come to return home. To “go forth from the land of your birthplace to the land that God will show us.” To a land of milk and honey, a land that is ours.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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