Sending love from Jerusalem. We Israelis are emerging from Corona-quarantine, step-by-step. Many older folks fear another breakout. Some of us are trying to save our businesses or our jobs, while a few others are recuperating from this disease or mourning 285 Israeli Corona-deaths.
But most of us flipped a switch. People like me are still coping with their government officially declaring what others already knew: we’re non-essential. Most Israelis seem to have decided that Covid-19 spreads via the chin or the neck because that’s where most masks now sit. Social distancing now trusts an unscientific age-old formula: the more you like the person – or need the person’s assistance – the less you fear their germs.
In emerging from our isolation’s predictable self-absorption, more and more Israelis are increasingly worried about you, our fellow Jews. Obviously, Covid-19 isn’t a Jewish problem – it’s global. And America’s riots are an American scourge, not a Jewish one. But our minds are open, our hearts expansive. Worrying about Jews doesn’t stop us from worrying about everyone else too. In fact, it focuses us, humanizing often abstract issues, providing a more familiar entry point for reacting to overwhelming phenomena.
Just as reporters zero in on anomalous, or outrageous, Corona-deaths, because readers rarely cry over statistics, Jews zero in on the Jewish dimension. Mourning the early epicenter of disease in Jewish New Rochelle, doesn’t numb us to the African-American death rate being three-times the American death rate. In fact, it sensitizes us: personalizing the Jewish story makes it easier to relate to other communities’ suffering.
So we want to help.
Most sweepingly, we’re proud that little Israel has been a leader in the race to offer what could be our greatest universal contribution – scientific input into taming this virus.
As our scientists target the plague, our activists and educators are addressing the problem’s Jewish dimensions. Little Israel can’t help jumpstart the global economy. But we can provide stop-gap funding to the hardest-hit Jewish communities. We can mobilize resources to continue educating Jews and nurturing Jewish identity. We can use this moment to shore up Israelis’ sense of responsibility to the Jewish people. And we can reassure Jews, substantively and symbolically, that belonging to this remarkable people means that no matter what’s going on in this crazy world, you’re Never Alone.
More practically, we’re blessed that even as the Prime Minister has been too busy attacking the courts and the police to court Jews abroad and police our all-important relationships, others have stepped in. The Jewish Agency’s chairman Isaac Herzog has been eloquent and empathetic in his words while being bold and constructive in his actions. Among other initiatives, the Jewish Agency has floated the Covid-19 Loan Fund for Communities in Crisis.
The Diaspora Affairs Minister, Omer Yankelevich, has just begun – but as a Cambridge-educated, secular-born, ultra-Orthodox lawyer and mother of five, her identity juggling act can complete with any of us in the multi-dimensional identity juggling Olympics – and could be a nice icebreaker with Jews from left to right, religiously and politically. Hopefully, such rich messiness will push us all beyond stereotypes, inspiring illuminating I-thou encounters about who we are and who we can be that keep our eternal, global network, thriving.
Therefore, during this enforced quiet-time, while continuing our usual personal and organizational peoplehood contacts, we should take a Deep Dive into understanding who we are and why we are so interconnected. This enforced global shutdown is an opportunity to read, study, discuss – virtually — the key Zionist Ideas that make us a people and keep us talking, working, growing together. Together, we can brainstorm improvised responses to this crisis and better long-term strategies for keeping us in conversation – and in sync – wherever possible.
We also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage post-army Israelis in conversations about Zionism and Jewish peoplehood, while training them to be bridge-builders to the Diaspora. The economic contraction sidelined many Israeli twenty-somethings. They have time on their hands this summer. Meanwhile, the entire short-term Israel experience and tourism infrastructure remains frozen.
It’s a perfect match. Why not use our superstar tour educators and trip providers to arrange intensive ten-day Birthright-type programs for Israelis, to reconnect with their homeland, while learning about Jewish peoplehood in leadership-training courses? All we need is some visionary philanthropists to make this happen. The market sits there waiting, along with the content providers.
Finally, let’s deploy 50 top Israeli tour guides and educators, who have lost their client base temporarily, in Diaspora communities. It could be by Zoom, or in person, as Corona permits. Jews in the most populous 30 communities could experience living links to the homeland, encountering powerful reminders that “we are one” is not a one-way street, and it’s not just words. It’s a mutual way of life that has kept the Jewish people together, while caring about others too, for millennia.
In Egypt and at Sinai, we learned: we are one. Under David and Solomon, Devora and the Maccabees, we showed we are one. In Talmudic days and Medieval times, during Golden Ages and Holocausts, we chose to stay one. And the Zionist Revolution maintains us as one.
For decades, Diaspora Jews stood by Israel during wartime. Now, Israelis are honored to return the favor, saying, “we care” — whether you are sick in bed, Zooming endlessly, protesting angrily but peacefully, sweeping up your trashed store, or stuck at home, despairing amid the surrounding chaos.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,he is the author of ten books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .
Copyright © 2020 Prof Gil Troy, All rights reserved.
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