These are two questions, somewhat related but really separate.
Living in Canada, I wondered why they did not address Jews in Canada as well. Why just the Jews of the United States?
Frankly, I am not sure how wise it is for any government to target citizens of another country to leave their country of residence to join them. Inviting them to visit is another matter. That seems to be fair play, and many countries do this.
As to the issue of "never living a fully Jewish life," I really do not know anyone anywhere who is living a fully Jewish life. If we take adhering to everything written in the Torah as the litmus test for FULLY JEWISH, no one can do this. Not in Israel, not in the United States, not even in Canada.
I will concede that it is possible to live more Jewishly in Israel than elsewhere. Almost everything that you have in Israel, you have in other parts of the world, but not in the same way. Israel is where Jewish history comes alive, where Shabbat is in the atmosphere, where Jewish celebrations and commemorations are part of the national affirmation.
However, it is also the place where contentiousness about Jewish matters is more intense, sometimes dangerously so.
The only good thing to come out of this ill-conceived campaign is that it has gotten people like you thinking. If you have no plan or desire to move to Israel, a visit would be nice. And, there is nothing wrong with showing how off the mark they were on the living fully Jewish matter by living as fully Jewish as you can.
You have asked the question that is at the center of a debate that has swept the Jewish community for the last week or so and before I answer, I need to make a disclaimer. Just as in all my answers on this website, I am a Conservative Rabbi, but I don't claim to answer for all Conservative Rabbis or Jews, just this one.
You ask if it was "wrong for the Israel ministry of absorption to launch a media campaign with the message that Jews living in the U.S. can never live a fully Jewish life?" I have to say that I don't think that this is what the ad campaign was about. I believe it would be more accurate to say that the ads send the message that Israeli's living in the America can never be truly at home. This is because American culture is not the same as Israel's and this fact represents a loss for Israelis living abroad.
Even though I believe this was the intention of the ads, it was clearly a campaign that was not thoughtful about the implications of the examples chosen and the secondary effect of suggesting that somehow American Judaism is not sufficiently Jewish. In that sense, I don't think the ministry was wrong, but rather they were insensitive more than anything else. To my mind this is the unfortunate result of an incredible set of circumstances.
Allow me to explain. The American Jewish communities outcry over these ads demonstrate that we American Jews care deeply about our distinctiveness as Jews in America and don't see ourselves as assimilated into American culture. The strong reaction also suggests that we American Jews care deeply about our relationships with our Israeli counterparts, and feel great pain at the suggestion that we are not somehow all together on issues such as the nature of our Jewish identities. To me both of these observations are promising for the future of both our American Jewish community and the relationships between American and Israeli Jews.
When I am not answering questions for Jewish Values Online, I work as the director of admissions for the Rabbinical and Cantorial Schools at the Jewish Theological Seminary. One of my jobs is to make a compelling case for why I think students should study at our school. When doing this, I am fully committed to never saying a negative word about one of the other schools available to our prospective students. I feel the best case is always made by touting the values of our program and letting our strengths do the talking. I believe firmly that the moment I make a suggestion about another institution all of my words become suspect. I think that Israel's Ministry of Absorption can learn a lot from this lesson. Had they launched a campaign that showed Israeli's all the wonderful things they were missing at home, they could have dodged this controversy, succeeded in making Israelis homesick, and maybe even convinced a few American Jews that Israel is the place for them.
YES, it was very wrong for the Israeli Ministry of Absorption to launch an ad campaign with the message that Jews in the US cannot live a fully Jewish life, and NO, it is not true. The American Jewish community is rich and vibrant in its diversity of expression. Rabbi Gerald Skolnik wrote an excellent article in the Dec. 8, 2011 issue of New York Jewish Week that addresses this question. (see http://www.thejewishweek.com/features/rabbis_world/thoughts_israeli_ad_campaign) As he points out, Judaism thrives across a wide spectrum of belief and practice, from Orthodox to Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative, Humanist and Jewish Renewal. Jewish organizations devoted to social justice work alongside Jewish cultural and arts organizations. Bookstore shelves groan under the weight of the myriad books devoted to topics related to Judaism, from Jewish-themed literature, to cookbooks, to Jewish history and philosophy. Jewish magazines and newspapers are published across the country. Of course we face challenges in the face of rising rates of intermarriage and the ongoing reality of living in a majority-Christian culture, with all that entails. But these challenges are often a catalyst for creativity and an impetus for American Jews to strengthen and deepen their ties to their faith and their community. The fact is, for the last 2500 years of the Jewish Diaspora, there has been hand-wringing about assimilation and intermarriage tolling the death-knell to Judaism. Yet, over that same 2500 years, Judaism has grown, developed, adapted to changing times and circumstances, and continued in all its many forms and facets.
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