The General Assembly of Jewish Federations in North America met this week in Los Angeles. But as is often the case with such gatherings, the one item that makes a headline usually has something to do with an Israeli saying something silly.
The latest victim of hoof-in-mouth disease was Jewish Agency chair Zeev Bielski, who managed to raise hackles by saying that "one day the penny will drop for American Jews, and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the United States due to assimilation and intermarriage."
Bielski's merely doing his job when he goes to the G.A. and promotes aliyah. But like most Israelis, what he doesn't know about Diaspora life could fill an encyclopedia.
In publicly refuting Bielski, American Jewish Committee head David Harris was on target when said that American Jews "aren't disappearing anytime soon." This is not because we have solved the problem of assimilation; we have not. And the lack of a solution, or more to the point, the failure of the organized community to fully embrace the idea of providing affordable day-school education, synagogue memberships and Jewish summer-camp programs for all, regardless of income, is laying the foundation for a severe demographic decline in the coming decades.
But to jump from that to hyperbole about Jews having no future in the United States is nonsensical. Indeed, what may well occur is that the process of assimilation may help create a smaller American Jewry that will be more connected to religion and Israel. There will be economic and political consequences from this, of course, but that's not the same thing as saying Jews will simply not exist.
Yet the main point Bielski just doesn't get is that America is the exception to the rule that governed every other place where Jews have lived in the last 2,000 years. Jews here simply do not face the same kind of existential threats that we do elsewhere. The basic truths about the lack of a future for our brethren in Europe that Zionism sought to point out may be as on-target today as they were when Theodor Herzl wrote The Jewish State. But America is not Europe, and anyone in Israel who doesn't understand that crucial fact ought not to be trusted with the responsibility of leading the apparatus of modern Zionism.