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or those who think intermarriage is only the scourge of chutz l’Aretz, criticizing an interfaith wedding in Israel is also a reason to be called a racist

 

In the midst of all the hype over Israel’s upcoming municipal elections, the public’s attention was momentarily distracted last week by a Jewish-Muslim celebrity wedding that raised a small tempest. But the fact that that storm passed so quickly, with local politics reinstated at the top of the public agenda, is a sad indicator of a certain deterioration in Israeli society across the board.

The central characters in the drama were Lucy Aharish, a TV news anchorwoman of the Muslim faith, and her bridegroom, Tzachi Halevi, a Jewish actor from Petach Tikvah (whose swarthy looks have landed him roles as a Muslim, including Muammar Gaddafi in an upcoming film). There was no token conversion here, just civil ceremony intermarriage. In Israel, intermarriage still has some shock value, and even some secular public personalities voiced their protest. (Likud MK Oren Hazan, for example, slammed the couple’s interfaith wedding and called for an end to Jewish assimilation, but then tweeted, “I’m not accusing Lucy Aharish of seducing a Jewish soul in order to hurt our nation. On the contrary, she’s welcome to convert” — only to be answered by Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson, who tweeted that Hazan’s remarks revealed the “dark, racist, and embarrassing face of the ruling Likud party.”)

There were those who attacked the new couple, but after all, they are merely a product of their secular upbringing. In any case, assimilation is no longer much of an issue. People are much more interested in who will be the next mayor in their town and whether they’re going to have clean streets, or whether Bibi is going call for early elections, or he’s just playing on the nerves of his coalition partners.

Assimilation? Sure, it’s painful enough that intermarriage is on the rise, even in Israel. But don’t we care enough to make it a matter of public discourse, to ask why this is happening and what we can do about it? It seems as if we’ve become resigned to this fate and have no remedy to suggest.

It could be that there really is nothing to be done, judging by the virulent reaction to the few protests that were raised. Suddenly, all the who’s who in our Holy Land were coming out in defense of the newlyweds. An entire volunteer army from Israel’s left-wing media and academia joined the ferocious assault against the few public figures who had the chutzpah to suggest that the bridegroom ought to think of the Jewish People and not saw off another branch from the tree.

I thought of former prime minister Golda Meir, who — anti-religious though she was —declared in her time that any Jew who married a gentile woman was joining the six million who were exterminated in the Holocaust. How right she was, and how things have changed today, as a deluge of curses, accusations, and insults rained down on anyone who talked about preserving the exclusiveness of the Jewish People. Racist, benighted denizen of the Dark Ages, disgusting misogynist, and so on… and that means that assimilation has overtaken us here in Israel. It’s no longer just an American nightmare.

Even in the breeding grounds of far-left socialism, 40 or 50 years ago such an act was considered a betrayal of the Jewish nation, as faint echoes of Torah tradition still whispered in the hearts of the most ardent secularists. They still remembered what a tragedy it was in the Polish or Russian shtetl when one of their own left and shut the door behind him. But in a secular environment, such feelings can’t be transmitted to the next generation. No argument against intermarriage can hold water for long if it isn’t anchored in the Torah and in Torah living.

What can be done now to stem the tide? On the face of it, it seems the answer is nothing. The mass yeridah from Eretz Yisrael is indicative of a concomitant yeridah from the centrality of Jewish identity. There is no reason why the secular youth of Israel shouldn’t follow the same path as the liberal Jewish youth of America — straight over the cliff. With the rising number of young people who abandon a Jewish nation in favor of the secular Israeli nation, large numbers of Israelis leave the country with the conscious intention of assimilating among the gentiles. Today, though, one no longer has to leave in order to intermarry.

I remember the Israeli yordim I knew during my sojourn in Brazil in the 1960s. Those young Jews were embittered against Israel and had left in search of a better life. Yet, when the Six Day War broke out and they received draft notices ordering them to appear for army service, they didn’t hesitate to fly back to their homeland. They didn’t ask themselves what for — their Jewish identity was still awake enough to compel them to answer the call. Despite their hostility and anger, an invisible boundary held them to their people.

But it appears that a significant portion of today’s Israeli youth is dangerously close to crossing that boundary. How many Israelis now residing in Berlin would fly back home to rejoin their army units if called?

If our people are rushing like lemmings over the cliff of assimilation, how are we supposed to stop them? It seems that all we can do is batten down the hatches and strengthen our own communities. The future of Am Yisrael will stem only from those who remain faithful.

But perhaps this is indeed the counsel of the yetzer, seeking to make us give up, to put us to sleep. But maybe it’s not so bleak after all. A recent survey conducted in Europe indicated an actual decrease in hostility toward the State of Israel. Whether that’s due to hasbarah efforts or perhaps the beginnings of prophetic fulfillment, it’s an indication that the tide can turn. And so we must ask ourselves, if such deeply rooted anti-Semitic feelings can be transformed, is it possible to reawaken Jewish identity among our alienated youth around the world?

The first thing we need to make it happen is to care. To sigh in despair and then go to sleep won’t make it happen. But to make it happen, we need to develop a rescue plan, employing every means available. And, we must feel the urgency. We need to let the tragedy that is taking place touch us deep in our souls, and make up our minds that it isn’t too late.

Meanwhile, to those who prefer to sleep, good night.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 731)