From the Hill to the Mount
by Gad Nahshon
The following is Rabbi Hirsch's approach to an old issue: 'Babylon and Jerusalem.' He wrote in his book:
"Among other initiatives, we established the first official movement contacts with the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. In an article in the Jerusalem Post of December 31, 1969, I rejected the predominant American Jewish view known as the Babylon-Jerusalem hypothesis. The common perception at the time was that America was analogous to ancient Babylon, a great independent center whose wealth, status, influence, vitality and creativity would be a source of support and stimulus to the center in Jerusalem. I dismissed the "two-foci" approach, namely that the two centers of world Jewry - Israel and America - were of equal status and importance. Instead, I wrote that "Israel is the 'Broadway' of the Jewish people - the major stage for the enactment of the Jewish drama, and at best the American stage is the setting for the 'road show.'" In a public lecture given around the same time, I described the relationship thus: "Israel is Broadway; America is off-Broadway."
The article was reproduced and disseminated to the entire rabbinical and lay leadership of the American Reform movement. I received numerous critical letters objecting to my deprecation of American Jewry. I countered that no slur was intended. I was merely projecting the reality as I saw it, a reality with which eventually American Jewry would come to terms over the next generation or so. Once both American and Israel Jewry recognized the centrality of Israel, then the desired action would follow. The article proposed what in effect, thirty years later, became known as the Birthright program: a project to send vast numbers of Diaspora Jewish youth to Israel. Excerpts of what I wrote:
What is required is a radical new approach to Diaspora Jewish education, the creation of new institutions, either independent or related to existing institutions, that will serve as academic centers of high standard for tens of thousands of Jewish youth from abroad, one that will provide opportunities for enriched experiences in Jewish living. The same resources that American Jews have made available to build housing for new immigrants to Israel or for Israeli academic institutions, should be made available to preserve and intensify the Jewishness of their own sons and daughters. And the consequences for aliyah and the establishment of closer ties between the two communities are manifest. The Jews of America must learn to relate the Israel as an integral part of their life. And the Jews of Israel must so order the priorities of the State that it becomes a great campus of Jewish life and learning, serving the needs of the entire Jewish people.
The article that was so criticized by my American colleagues was read enthusiastically by Louis Pincus and Leon Dulzin, Chairman and Treasurer respectively of the Jewish Agency - World Zionist Organization. They asked my counsel as to how best to strengthen the Zionist movements in American and reinforce the ties between American Jewry and Israel. I predicted that the Diaspora Zionist movements would continue the slide to ineffectiveness and that the synagogue movements would become the principal framework for Jewish identity. Therefore, it was essential to draw closer to the synagogue movements that represented the preservative forces of Jewish life for the future.
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