The Conspiracy

On (Re-)Building the Proud Diaspora Jew

A woodcutting of Napoleon’s emancipation of the Jews from 1806. | CC via Wikimedia Commons

Growing up in my sheltered, American, religious Zionist, Orthodox bubble, I was told that there were two options for me, especially in light of the Holocaust: I could live in Israel, or I could live in America. The term “Diaspora Jew,” or the idea that there could exist a group of Jews outside of Israel and America, was completely foreign to me until I began meeting non-Orthodox Jews and saw that there was a Judaism that existed outside of America and Israel.

And that Judaism was lively, vibrant, and proud.

In America, much of the narrative around European Jewry seems to be in relation to the Holocaust, and is now focusing on the waves of anti-Semitism in France that need to be addressed in a serious way. And, yet, in spite of this anti-Semitism, immigration to Israel is not — and should not — be the only answer.

When I attended the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America this past November, I attended a panel on the state of European Jewry today. The panel focused primarily on the problems and the anti-Semitism facing European Jews, but did not make any mention of the ways in which these problems can be solved. The only solution that was proposed was one already in place: move to Israel. In essence, the solution to European Jewry was to dissolve European Jewry.

This seems to be the default response of American Jews to anti-Semitism: move to Israel. And this, to me, is deeply troubling: it’s not only that I (and I am checking my privilege here as someone who has had to endure comparatively little anti-Semitism) feel comfortable in my Diaspora Jewry, but also that I want to fundamentally believe that I, as a Jew, can live a full and meaningful Jewish life outside of Israel.

Which is why when I study European Jewry, I want to hear not only about how it is failing, but also how it is thriving, and the ways that I, as an American Jew in a place of privilege, can work to help them combat anti-Semitism so that all Diaspora Jews can continue being Diaspora Jews.

What I, as a young American Jew, need from my Jewish leadership is not just the Pew Report (a document so over-discussed that I feel bad bringing it up yet again) waved in my face as evidence of the need to save Diaspora Jewry, but constructive ways to strengthen Diaspora communities in the face of anti-Semitism so that Jews in Europe can continue fighting anti-Semitism and working to create a vibrant Jewish life.

When the first, almost autonomic response to any anti-Semitism is encouragement to move to Israel, I am saddened—not because I don’t see the value in Israel as a national Jewish home, but because it works to erase the valuable historical narratives of those who have worked so hard in the past to create a vibrant Jewish life in Europe (and anywhere else where Jews must contend with anti-Semitism) and who continue working to ensure that a vibrant Jewish life continues there.

The larger issue at play here is that we American Jews have painted a picture of European Jewry as inherently oppressed and negative — and my friend and colleague Jonathan Katz has done a great job of working to refute that image in his pieces about life as a Jew in England. We American Jews need to re-imagine our conceptions of fellow Diaspora Jews in Europe right now and work to give them the support and help they need so we can continue the proud, vibrant tradition of Diaspora Jewry. Our default answer to anti-Semitism should not be running away to Israel, but rather working to ensure that our fellow Diaspora Jews have the help and support they need.

Supporting Israel is important — but equally important is supporting Diaspora Jews. And we young Zionist Jews cannot forget that.


Amram Altzman is a student at List College.

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