The Carmel fire disaster has raised questions regarding the Israel-Diaspora relationship. While many American Jews choose to support Israel in this time of need through donations and e-mails of encouragement and caring, others have raised tough questions: “Israel is a rich and wealthy country, why should we support it?” “We have fires across the USA every year, what makes the fire in Israel so different?”
It would be simple to reply with the basic facts: This fire has been the most devastating fire in Israeli history. This fire has burned more than half of the Carmel Park, one of only three big parks in tiny Israel, which is 70 percent desert. One could also point out the huge security budget Israel has to maintain. Yet these questions go deeper.
Both challenge automatic support of Israel and raise the question: Why do we support Israel? For me as a shaliach (an emissary), this raises the opposite question — Why should Israel support the Jewish Diaspora? Reading this question might make some of you wonder, is Israel supporting us? How?
Israel supports American Jewry in what seems to be the most critical battle of all — the battle to maintain a Jewish identity, a Jewish life and a thriving Jewish community.
Silently but consistently we see a decrease in the number of Jewish people who are affiliated and involved in Jewish life across America. Young American Jews seem to become less and less connected to their Jewish identity. Israel’s support of the Diaspora is based on the finding that a strong positive feeling towards Israel correlates to a strong urge to maintain Jewish life.
Israel’s government, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America, has initiated the Birthright project, enabling Jewish young adults who have never visited Israel the opportunity to travel to Israel for 10 days free of charge. Amazingly, more than half of the participants report this trip as a life-changing experience, waking the Jewish spark within them, resulting in a stronger connection to Judaism and Jewish life.
One of the basic values of Judaism is the value of arvut hadadit — mutual responsibility, the responsibility of any Jewish person to care for other Jewish people. Arvut hadadit means it is not a matter of charity or good will; it is a matter of responsibility, of being accountable for one another. It means that caring for the people of Israel, who have suffered from this disastrous fire, is our responsibility. It means caring for a thriving Jewish life in the Diaspora is Israel’s responsibility.
Does this mean we should care only for Israel? No, it does not! The addition of LEAF — the Local Emergency Assistance Fund — to this year’s Federation campaign is a great example of arvut hadadit that does not refer to Israel.
Should we then ignore Israel and care only about local needs? No, Israel is the largest center of Jewish life in the world today. Per the value of arvut hadadit we are responsible for Israel. It is not a question of who is richer; caring is not only about money.
Caring for Israel could be supporting Israel advocacy. It could be giving a hand as a volunteer in organizing the Israel Festival, scheduled for May 15, 2011. Showing that you care could be joining me in honoring the memory of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first and only astronaut, as a symbol of U.S.-Israel friendship, on Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. in the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
There are many ways to care; there are many ways to support. The basic value of arvut hadadit is what really counts. We, the people of Israel (no matter where we live), are responsible for each other — “Kol Israel arevim ze la ze.”
Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s shaliach (Israeli emissary) and director of the Israel Center.
To help victims of the Carmel Forest fire and assist in long-term recovery efforts, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona has sent $10,000 — an allocation of $6,000, along with nearly $4,000 from donors — via the Jewish Federations of North America, which works with partners in Israel. Donations will help programs dedicated to social service assistance, trauma relief and rebuilding physical infrastructure. The funds will also aid economic development through the creation of a One-Stop Employment Center. JFSA will continue to take donations for the fire disaster fund. Call 577-9393 or go to jewishtucson.org to donate.