Zionist calls on world Jewry to forge new ties with Israel

Even though he may not be around to celebrate Israel's 100th anniversary, Zionist visionary Avraham Infeld said he still worries about what lies ahead for the Jews.

And when he says Jews, he's not just talking about his compatriots in Israel.

During a speech to an audience of several hundred at San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel last month, Infeld shared his fears about the growing division between Jews of the diaspora and Jews in Israel.

The South African-born Orthodox Jew is the director of the Melitz Institute for Jewish and Zionist Education in Jerusalem. He also consults and lectures extensively in the United States on Zionist issues.

His talk was part of a daylong symposium sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and other Jewish agencies to commemorate Israel's 50th birthday.

"What do Jews in Israel and Jews in the diaspora do together [anymore]?" Infeld asked the crowd.

Historically, Jews worldwide have struggled together for the survival of Israel. They also fought to free imprisoned Jews in the former Soviet Union. They chased Nazi war criminals and rescued Jews in Ethiopia. But there are few remaining Jewish refugees to save, and Israelis and diaspora Jews have far fewer crusades to unite them, Infeld said.

"It's like a couple who have lived together for 30 years with children. Then, the children leave and they look at one another and say, `What are you doing in my bed? Who are you?'

"That's what I'm afraid it's going to be like" in another 50 years, he said. "We haven't revealed ourselves to each other. That's what marriage is about — intimacy."

Infeld said many Israelis cannot understand why American Jews do not widely observe Yom HaZikaron, Israel's memorial day, while Israeli soldiers have died for the homeland of all Jews.

"They lost their lives for the state. What kind of Jews are you?"

If mutual understanding is lacking between Israelis and American Jews, Infeld said, part of the problem is the lack of a common first language. Few Jews in the diaspora speak conversational Hebrew and English is a second language to most Israelis. As a result, the experiences often get lost in translation.

"If you want to know where we're going to be in 50 years' time, you've got to learn Hebrew so we can talk about it."

Infeld added that too many American Jews do not view Israel as vital to Jewish life.

Nevertheless, Infeld said he is confident that a more egalitarian Israel will come to pass before its centennial.

He joked about his distaste for Israeli drivers, hot weather and the monotonous desert, but "I love Israel. It's the only one we've got.

"We have [our] problems. But remember," he added, "there are 6 million Jews who would love to have those problems."

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.