Marching orders

Marching orders

Don’t miss the fabulous floats, marvelous marching bands, and special celebrity guests.” That is what the advertisement says because, it is hoped, attractions such as these will bring Jews out onto the streets of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Sunday, June 5, for the annual Salute to Israel Day Parade.

Keeping the faith: One religious perspective on issues of the day What a tragedy. It takes “fabulous floats, marvelous marching bands, and special celebrity guests” to bring Jews out to demonstrate their support for the State of Israel.

It is an even more spectacular tragedy this year, when a perceived U.S policy shift (there has not been any such shift, but that is for another column) is coupled with other events to put Israel’s security in serious jeopardy. These events include the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah; the unrest in the Arab world (especially Syria); the likely destabilization of the Egyptian border; and the ever-growing threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

Regardless of whether a person approves of the current Israeli government and its approach to peace or its handling of religious matters, or whatever one’s issue is, Israel is the Jewish state – not “a” Jewish state, but “the” Jewish state, the only Jewish state – and we in the diaspora share in the responsibility for its well-being.

This is an obligation of ours and it goes back to the days of the 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, even before the conquest of Canaan, which marked the onset of the obligation.

We see the birth of the diaspora in Chapter 32 of Numbers. Virtually on the eve of Israel’s crossing over to the west bank of the Jordan to claim its rightful inheritance, at the very moment that Israel needs to be united, Moses divides Israel by creating the diaspora. With God’s obvious approval, if not under His direction, Moses grants the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe the right to live outside the Land.

There can be only one explanation for such a remarkable event: The diaspora was created to benefit Israel.

This is made clear in Deuteronomy 3:18-20, when Moses recalls the moment he approved the request of the two-and-a-half tribes to live outside the Land of Israel:

“And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The Lord your God has given you this land to possess it; you shall pass over armed before your brothers the People Israel, all who are fit for the war.…[And there you shall remain] until they also possess the Land which the Lord your God has given them beyond the Jordan. And then shall you return every man to his possession, which I [in this case clearly referring to God] have given you.”

Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe may have thought that living outside the Land was their idea, but Moses says it was all part of God’s plan. This means that the right of Jews to live outside Israel exists only for those who actively assist the people inside Israel to live securely. For those of us who are not active in assisting our brethren in Israel to live securely, that right never existed in the first place and we sin against God every moment we live anywhere but Israel.

The Torah, however, is only stating the obvious. Israel can only survive if all the Jews support it, not just those who live within its borders.

In country after country today, there is a clear desire to see Israel humiliated. Its very existence is challenged. The likely General Assembly debate this fall regarding the creation of a Palestinian Arab state is meant in main part to force Israel into the status of rogue, a state that violates international law and thus is no longer deserving of legitimacy.

Only the United States thus far has stood firmly in Israel’s corner, although there are many today who will argue this is no longer true. It is our task to keep the United States firmly in that corner.

Politicians count heads, especially at election time. It is because of election results in years past that American Jews were able to wield considerable political clout.

The numbers, however, have been working against us for many years and they have not improved lately. We are only about 6.5 million people out of over 308 million – just a tad over 2 percent of the population. This is a drop of a half-percent since 2000 and, given our below-zero population growth, this number will continue to shrink even as the overall U.S. population continues to expand.

It was never about how many Jews there are in the United States. It has always been about how many Jews show up on Election Day and what percentage of the vote total belongs to them. For years, the percentage was significant enough to enable the “Jewish vote” to be the “swing vote” in many a race.

Analyses of recent elections, however, show that this is changing, to our detriment.

For one thing, our declining numbers means there are fewer of us available to vote. As it is, Jewish participation has been shrinking, even without the population decline.

For another, surveys show that younger Jews are as disenchanted with the American political scene as their non-Jewish peers. They thus are less likely to vote than their parents.

Along with the decline is the recognition that the Jewish vote, which was never monolithic, is becoming ever more fragmented.

Because politicians count heads on Election Day, any diminution of the Jewish vote is a dangerous trend. There are many issues on the communal agenda that must be addressed – locally, at the state level, and nationally. They run the gamut from social service programs to continued support for the State of Israel.

And that brings us back to the Salute to Israel parade. In truth, most politicians will ignore a huge turnout. They expect nothing less. It will not prove anything to them about how American Jews feel about Israel’s security.

A poor turnout, on the other hand, is a “man bites dog” headline, especially in the wake of recent events. They will notice a poor turnout – and they will regard it more broadly than simply a statement about our support for Israel. They will see it as a sign that the surveys and analyses are correct, and the Jewish vote is becoming insignificant on the national scene.

“All Israel,” the Talmud tells us, “is responsible one for another.”

June 5 is the one chance we get each year to collectively demonstrate that we take that responsibility seriously. We should not need floats or anything else to bring us to Fifth Avenue.

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