Judaism is not a Religion and Israel is not a War Zone

100 years ago, our grandparents who made the trek as youngsters from Russia to America were unable to complete an elementary school education and lived most of their lives in poverty and with limited choices.

My Grandma Tzippy lived as a widowed seamstress in the sweatshops of New York. Marcia’s Grandpa Al (also a widower at a young age) made his way as a peddler in small town Georgia.

Our parents also had limited choices. They came of age during depression and world war and during a time when many doors were shut to Jews in America. Elite colleges, the corporate ladder, country clubs, and neighborhoods were restricted. Holding onto Shabbat, holidays and kosher food came at the cost of restricting your job choices and your livelihood.

What a contrast to today.

Our Newton kids attend some of the world’s best schools, are recruited for the best colleges and graduate schools and have the ability to contribute to American society at all levels.

If they want, they have a glide path to the (overly derided) 1% while soaking in Jewish culture, spirituality, and religious life to their heart’s content.

The ability for a Jewish American to fulfill their human and Jewish aspirations is unprecedented in our past 2000-year history.

In 2015 and 2016, we will have managed to attend 20 Jewish weddings, and the array of accomplishments of the couples is astonishing. Graduates of the world’s finest universities, having studied and volunteered abroad, having graduate training in law, medicine, the sciences, business, public policy, many of them are building careers at the leading edge of world society as bankers, entrepreneurs, academicians, public policy experts, social workers etc..., while at the same time picking a spot on the Jewish life spectrum that they felt the most meaningful for them.

America has lived up to its mythological status to European Jewry as the goldeneh medinah (the wealthy land full of opportunity).

What is fascinating is the number of our Newton kids who have stepped off of this Jewish-American gravy train to cast their lot with Israel. And most for non-religious reasons.

Urban Israel is attracting them to study, build careers, express themselves artistically, develop their skills in the army, all while going back to some of their grandparents’ struggles – unfamiliar language, outsiders to the culture and experience of their neighbors, no self-help networks of families and schoolmates.

The society that Israel built seems as compelling to them as the one their parents built in America.

In Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa they find personal safety and personal meaning. For the most part, they do not come for the Rabbis, the synagogues, or the holy sites, but for the vibe of living within a Jewish people.

I suspect that for most of them, if Israel was in a war zone like Syria or Iraq or if Judaism only meant practicing a religion (and not living as part of a people) they would not be here.

But they see something that the world at large can’t see – an opportunity-filled, high quality of life that ranks high on the happiness and longevity scale (with the option of coming back to America, if that turns out to be the better path in the long run).