Embracing Israelis Abroad

by Rabbi Benji Levy

A version of this op-ed was first published in Ynetnews on 20 December 2019.

If not for President Trump’s speech, it is doubtful that the average Israeli would have heard about the annual conference of the Israel American Council (IAC) which I was privileged to take part in last week in Florida.

With nearly 4,000 people at the flagship event of an organization that works to create an American community “with Israel in its heart and Israeliness in its spirit,” I had the honor to discuss the growing involvement of the State of Israel in this arena. I witnessed thousands of people who represent the community of Israelis in the US, who see themselves as part of Israeli society even when they are far from its borders. It is crucial that we, as Israelis, recognize them in that same way.

Until only a few years ago, some still allowed themselves to call our near million brothers and sisters who moved away from Israel “the fallout of weaklings,” a well-known characterization by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. They found it difficult to understand why the tune of “Ein Li Eretz Acheret” (“I Have No Other Country”), by Ehud Manor, is not playing in these emigrants’ ears as they were leaving the home for which our ancestors longed so many years.

But globalization landed on Israel’s shores, and the Hebrew word “yerida” (literally meaning “descent”) has been replaced by the word “relocation” uttered with an Israeli accent.  The decision to emigrate from Israel has become less extraordinary. This group of Israelis living outside of Israel has grown without us taking much notice or making an effort to maintain a relationship with them.

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