Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
4,000 Israelis living in America gathered this week in Florida for a meeting of the Israeli American Council. Here is what I said there:
“I met here an Israeli woman who has been living in Los Angeles for 30 years. She gave me two wise messages. The first was: ‘Bisli and Bamba (Israeli snacks) are not enough.’ It’s impossible to base your identity in the Diaspora on memories of Israeli food. I educated my children with this gastronomical emphasis, she said, but this is a hollow, brittle, and fragile identity. We must educate our children with something deeper in order to build a richer identity. Her second message was: ‘The Holocaust is not enough.’ We tend to base our identity on hatred towards us and anti-Semitic tragedies, the Iranian threat, missiles, rockets, pogroms, BDS… Externally, we certainly need to address all these threats, that’s clear, but our identity needs, first of all, to be based on the positive and to be filled with personally relevant content.
I told her that as an Israeli emissary in America for the Mizrachi movement, I am embarrassed to hear over and over that Israelis assimilate at a faster rate than other segments of the Jewish population. Everyone says we have to fight assimilation but, in my opinion, we need to frame the matter differently. Assimilation is the final step. We need to begin a hundred steps earlier, to instruct the next generation regarding what is wonderful and good, to build an identity so vibrant and proud and attractive that it will be clear that we want it to continue.
For this, a valiant and persistent effort is necessary, as enunciated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: ‘Don’t be a spectator; be a player.’ Don’t just sit on the sidelines and deliver instructions, advice, and criticism to everybody else. Go down personally onto the field and take part in the game because you’re a member of the team that’s playing. Take responsibility for the final score. And once you are a player instead of a spectator, you will be able to make other spectators – that is, uninvolved Jews – into players, too, which is the main job of every one of us today.”