When you read a dramatic headline, do you ever stop to think about the reality behind it? We have become accustomed to screaming headlines every few months informing us about the “rift with American Jewry” or that “American Jews are furious with Israel.” The subject of their anger is usually connected with the Women of the Wall or with conversion issues.
Well, last week I was invited to participate in an event with thousands of American Jews who were not at all angry. I met hundreds of high-schoolers and their mothers at a private girls’ school who belong to the Modern Orthodox sector. Most of the girls will come to study in Israel for their gap year and a sizable number will make Aliya.
I spoke at an event with Rachel Freier, the first haredi female judge in the US who belongs to the Bobov Hasidic sect. She told me about her children who live in Israel and that she was planning to fly to Israel to be in Meron for Lag Ba’Omer, as she does every year.
In Philadelphia, I was invited to one community that numbers hundreds of families, whose members span the spectrum of religious observance from secular to ultra-Orthodox, who are Americans and Israelis. Almost ten different prayer services are held under one roof, which not only serves as a synagogue but also as a community center that hosts lectures and cultural events. In Israel, these Jews would certainly have split up into ten different communities, and some of they may not even have joined a community.
The Orthodox Union organized a mega-event of Torah learning at Citi Field in New York which attracted thousands of men and women, Israelis and Americans, young and old, who thronged to the baseball park, turning it for one day into a giant Bet Midrash.
Obviously, the people who attended these events do not represent or reflect the entire spectrum of American Jewry. In fact, most American Jews do not identify as either Orthodox or Reform. The younger generation of Jews are mostly unaffiliated and apathetic, and do not pay their membership dues to any synagogue at all. But one gets a sense of proportion after having participated in these events. We should be aware that whenever the spokesperson of the Reform movement in America issues a press release about the latest “crisis” we should not assume that this crisis is felt equally by the entire spectrum of American Jewry.
When we are told that “American Jews are disappointed” it is equally true to say that “American Jews are relieved.” This visit taught me that making unequivocal statements about American Jewry as a single entity is about as accurate as saying something unequivocal about Israeli Jews and assuming that it applies to all of us.