Bond between diaspora Jews and Israel is loosening

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I suppose I go on trips abroad more often these days than I used to, now that a greater part of my time is devoted to raising funds for worthy projects in Jerusalem. It gives me more of a view of the relationship between us and "them," the Jews of the diaspora.

Usually my trips are short, but recently my wife, Tamar, and I traveled for more than two weeks to cities in the United States and Canada. I met many more younger people than I had before. Unfortunately, many of my old friends have passed away. The people I meet now are middle-aged. They are the ones who come to the meetings of the Jerusalem Foundation or, in this particular case, the Jewish National Fund. I had a chance to get acquainted with this younger generation, and I am worried about what moves them.

In years gone by, the Jewish people abroad were mainly moved by two things: the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. The strong impact of both these events is fading out.

When you speak to this younger generation, to the leaders of their communities, they of course know about the Holocaust, about Israel and about Jerusalem, but it's not with the same strength of feeling that existed a few years ago.

Their attitude is much more businesslike and pragmatic. What interests them is if you can come to them with practical, clearly defined purposes. I am of course concerned not only with their sentiments but with fund-raising. So, for instance, in Vancouver, after we had gone with some of the major donors on a boat and had a great time, we had a large meeting with one topic — the Jerusalem Botanical Garden. I wanted to give them details about its size, its design and who helped create it.

Somehow, this made an impression, more than the general slogans that we had used all these years. We had an evening with singing in the local theater, and every seat was taken. Various details added to the festivities: the fact that the mayor came and made a speech, that it was Jerusalem Day and that this year, it happened to fall on my birthday.

So it worked out, and I was extremely well received. Nevertheless, I came home concerned, and even somewhat bewildered, because I saw that the old warm feeling wasn't as intimate and immediate as it had been.

This detachment worries me, in view of the stupid statements heard here in Israel, sometimes even from members of the government, that we don't need any more American money. Also, tens of thousands of Israelis travel abroad every year on vacation, so people start asking how much do the Israelis themselves contribute. They get the impression that Israel is a flourishing country, so why do they need to be involved?

But the sad truth is that Israel isn't nearly as rich as it sometimes seems to those looking from afar, who may think we live beyond our means. The problems here are many and great. We need the help of our Jewish brothers and sisters abroad more than ever: Our tasks have grown more complicated, more challenging and less obvious.

Generally, I think the trend is toward a weaker relationship with the Jewish community abroad. Feelings aren't as strong. Nowadays, only a quarter of the tourists who come here are Jewish. Not long ago, it was half.

The fact that we have also become much more critical, particularly of our government, and publicly put down everything without taking note of the achievements here, adds to this feeling of Jews abroad asking, "Why should we help them? Look how they view their own government."

This unrestrained criticism is part of a worldwide malaise. The same thing happens, to some extent, in England and the United States, but this is one American trend that's clearly too early for us to follow. We still have major security problems, though it looks to the outside world as though the war is over. Here we know better.

For one, we know how deep is the internal strife over the Golan. There is also the ongoing challenge of absorbing a large number of immigrants. But these themes don't make an impression abroad. The news reports focus more on prosperity than problems.

We must do everything in our power to strengthen feelings of Jewish solidarity in general and the special kinship with Israel in particular, when only 50 years separate us and the Holocaust, and just 47 come between us and the birth of our state. It's much too early for any Jew to forget.