How should we view the upcoming wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mezvinsky? Is the daughter of the royal family of American politics joining the Jewish people, or rather, will the children of yet another successful Jewish guy not be considered Jewish? It is no wonder that global media and Jewish websites are preoccupied with the wedding.
In terms of Jewish law, the situation is clear: Chelsea isn’t converting - the Jewish people is losing another member. Yet is there a difference in social and national terms? The upcoming wedding does not bother many American Jews, as well as quite a few Israelis. The opposite is true – it is a source of pride.
The story of mixed marriages and assimilation is not only a religious problem. Rather, it goes much beyond that. The case in question, just like the positive media attention it received, is an indication of the new era where large parts of the young generation of US Jews are no longer with us. Addressing mixed marriages as a religious-only question, which is of no interest to seculars, ignores a reality that threatens us all, both religious and seculars.
While the generation of Jewish parents in America viewed Israel as part of its Jewish essence and acted accordingly, many members of the young generation do not feel attachment to Israel. Some of them are preoccupied with building their careers and make do with contributing to the community around them. Even those who feel the desire to contribute do not view enlistment for Israel’s cause as a relevant objective. The super-national doctrine of “Tikkun Olam” is prevalent.
And so, many people donate to Africa or developed countries, while others express their Judaism by showing solidarity with the Palestinians and acting against Israel and its policy.
Former New Republic editor Peter Beinart recently wrote that not only are most young US Jews assimilating, even those who do not no longer feel a connection to the Jewish State. “Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists.”
The distress is first of all faced by US Jewry, its leaders, movements, streams, and communities. As long as the attachment to Israel was a unifying element, many could express themselves through it. Yet the cocktail of mixed marriages and declining attachment to Israel may serve as a catalyst for weakening the various communities and Jewish camps.
However, this is our problem too, here in Israel, and not only in terms of political and economic benefits, but mostly because of considerations of mutual responsibility. Despite the rejection of the Diaspora that stood at the basis of Zionism, we cannot ignore what goes on in our communities abroad, and especially in the largest Jewish community.
These are our brothers and we are their brothers, despite the geographic, cultural, political, and religious distance. At the current rate, within a generation or two we’ll mostly be left with members of the Orthodox and haredi communities.
So what can we do? There’s no doubt our ability as Israelis to intervene in this phenomenon and create substantial channels of communication is limited. In the post-modern world that sanctifies individual rights and freedoms, it’s hard to find arguments in favor of a national-religious collective that aims to preserve its uniqueness.
One possible direction is deepening the interpersonal ties between individuals and families in Israel and in the US. Some existing means can help us do that. The system of emissaries abroad, deepening the ongoing personal connection through the Taglit project, encouragement of youth exchanges, and so on.
Yet before discussing the solutions, we must recognize the changing reality and internalize the situation we face. Israel, as a Jewish State committed to the Jewish people, its heritage, and its future is the address for coping with the main challenge faced by the Jewish people at this time.
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