Last week, during the Shoah (Holocaust) memorial service in Poland, Major General Benny Ganz, Chief of the General Staff of the IDF, proclaimed that “we have never been stronger”. The Jewish People is in a position of unprecedented prosperity and security. However, paradoxically, our vulnerability is also at a historic high.
One of the great conundrums of Zionism is the tension between Israel’s vision and the resilience of the Jewish People. A secret of Jewish survival, security and prosperity over centuries of exile has been its geographic spread among nations, cultures and languages. Zionism negated all and any Diaspora (Golah), as well as Diasporic existence (Galutiyut), and Its forbearers called for mass-repatriation to the Land of Israel and for the development of an independent Jewish polity.
Initially, few responded to this call. In 1948, upon the establishment of the State of Israel and in the aftermath of the Shoah, only five percent of world Jews lived in Zion. As Israel grew and prospered over the following decades, entire Diasporas were dismantled, and millions of Jews repatriated . Soon Israel will cross a symbolic threshold, when more than half of world Jews will be Israelis. Thus, nowadays, eighty percent of the Jewish People are concentrated in Israel and in the USA, and this percentage continues to grow. Therefore, as Israel brings together the majority of world Jews in one physical location and within the same political and cultural environment, it erodes a foundation of Jewish longevity.
Zionism’s adaptability has been the secret of its success and power. While its essence – realizing the right of the Jewish People to self-determination in its own land and polity – has been unchanged, its manifestations evolve including with regard to securing the existence and prosperity of the Jewish People and its web of communities.
Thus, Zionism has been grudgingly responding to its own paradox of power and vulnerability. Taglit Birthright, which aimed to strengthen Diaspora Jewish communities, was the harbinger. Israel’s growing recognition of the existence of a vibrant Diaspora of Israelis is another important step. Furthermore, in recent years, the Aliyah emissaries of the Jewish Agency have grown to become education and Israel envoys.
The nine-day period between the Shoah memorial day, Remembrance Day and the celebrations of Israel’s independence is a time of national reflection. Many in Israel view the Holocaust as the epitome of the ills of the Diaspora, and regard Israel as the remedy for its maladies. Thus, they call upon all Jews to come to Zion. However, Israel’s remarkable achievements should lead to a different conclusion. At this point, a vibrant Diaspora, alongside a secure and prosperous Israel, is becoming a Zionist imperative.
Gidi Grinstein is the founder of the Re’ut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.