I know that many of you who live abroad must be wondering why there seem to be so many former Israelis in your home towns. In fact, it’s a major problem. With all our success at attracting immigrants, nearly as many Jewish Israelis leave this country permanently every year as arrive here to stay. One reason is that those who leave recognize that ‘Israeliness’ is an empty value system that leaves them groping for ‘meaning’ in their lives. And they have had a resentment for Judaism ingrained in them that often does not allow religion to be the answer.
For those who have never heard the term, Israeliness is a way of describing what many of the country’s founders tried to substitute for Judaism. There was (and is) a belief among many on the left of the religious spectrum that Judaism was a religion for the exile, that once people came here they no longer needed it. Therefore, they tried to substitute a value system I (and I did not coin the term) refer to as ‘Israeliness.’ This is one of the reasons – probably the biggest one – that much of the religious establishment in Europe did everything in its power to keep its youth away from Zionism at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. They saw that the left-wing Zionists were as interested in separating Jews from their religion as they were in reuniting Jews with the Land of Israel.