Tag: Zionism

Judaism from A to Z—”Diaspora”

Judaism from A  to Z—”Diaspora”

Diaspora identifies any place outside of the land of Israel where Jews live. The term derived from the Greek διασπείρω diaspeiro (“scatter”). The first diaspora began with the biblical exile to Babylon in the sixth century BCE. Even so the exile was followed by the return, under Ezra and Nehemiah, many Jews remained in Persia and Babylonia and a Jewish colony was soon established at Elephantine in Egypt, too. By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews could already to be found throughout the Roman and Parthian empires. Despite deportations there was no general exile of “Palestinian Jews“ in 70, though Christian propagandists alleged one as “evidence” that Israel had been rejected by God.

By definition many Jews live in the ‘Diaspora’ today. Some refer to this still as ‘Exile’ (‘Galut’) but, if the possibility exists to go to Israel, and one does not take it, staying voluntarily in another country, one cannot really claim to be in exile any more. There are still unfortunately some Jews whose circumstances do not allow them to move freely, and these are still ‘captives’ to some extent. There are also many Israelis who have left the country to seek their living and luck elsewhere.

Those who emigrate to Israel are described as ‘making Aliyah’ — ‘going up to Israel’ — in the same way as one ‘goes up’ to the capital city of a country — and are ‘Olim’; those who leave long-term or permanently to live elsewhere are therefore sometimes described as ‘making Yeridah’ and are ‘Yordim’ — ‘those who go down’.

When the State of Israel was established in 1948, many Israelis expected Jewish communities in the Diaspora to relocate en-masse to their homeland in Israel. When they didn’t this posed a challenge to the Israeli-Diaspora relationship, but not all Jews are Zionists (and not all Zionists — those who believe that Israel is the homeland for all Jews — are Jewish. Some Christians share these values, often for theological reasons of their own! )

In his book, State of Israel, Diaspora, and Jewish Continuity: Essays on the “Ever-Dying People”, philosopher Simon Rawidowicz creates a wonderful bridge for both Jewish communities to support another: “Two that are One,” however, must not be understood as a one-sided obligation; each must mutually recognise the other. The Diaspora of Israel must build the State of Israel with all its strength, even more than it has in the past seventy years, and the State must recognize the Diaspora as of equal value, and an equally responsible co-builder and co-creator of all Jewish life.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

(Source: Rabbi Walter Rothschild, Norman Solomon, Rabbi Josh Weinberg)

My Chanicha Patrizia

Our Parashat Matot Masei, which brings the Children of Israel to the plains of Moab on the border of the Land of Israel, deals with the nexus between two of the founding stories of Judaism. The story of peoplehood frames the Jewish People as a family and a tribe bound together by a shared history and destiny in mutual responsibility. The story of nationhood views the People of Israel as a community that is associated with a specific land, Zion, from which it was exiled and to which it ever seeks to return.

In the second half of our Torah portion, the tribes are informed of the borders of their future dwelling, while the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe chose to remain beyond those borders; on the east of the Jordan river. Thus, we see that even before the Jews entered the land, life beyond Israel’s borders was already a reality accepted and validated by the Torah. However, such a “proto-diaspora,” was not freed from its own obligations to the rest of the Tribes of Israel.

Indeed, in the first half, Moses challenges the two and half tribes: “Shall your brothers go to war while you dwell here?” (Numbers 32:6). However, the tribes assure Moses that they will join their sisters and brothers to conquer the Land of Kana’an, only returning when all of the people are settled.

Thus, the roots of Diaspora Judaism are long and deep; so too are the expectations of the Jewish People from Jews beyond Israel’s borders to contribute to the unity and wellbeing of the people within the Land of Israel, while Israel itself is the beating heart for all, keeping all Jews connected—close by or far away. This obligation has taken many forms in different times and contexts over centuries. This is highlighted in this very moment while we discuss the egalitarian extension of the Western Wall Plaza and the conversion bill.

On the one hand, multiple missions of solidarity especially from the Progressive Diaspora Communities, millions of Rand, Euros and Dollars of financial assistance and broad mobilisation on social media have all embodied our commitment to Israel. On the other hand the on-going diminishing and out-casting of the non-orthodox communities in Israel have left severe marks on our Jewish souls.

Progressive Jews in South Africa, and all over the world have continually shown their unbroken solidarity with Israel. The security and well-being of our sisters and brothers in Israel are without a question part of our “DNA“, and no group or organisation in Israel or outside of Israel has the right to challenge or even cut this bond we have.

Patrizia (in the picture right) is one of my former chanichot at Netzer. She visited Israel for the first time when we had an exchange programme with Noar Telem (Netzer Israel) in 2014. Last year she made Aliyah after her Netzer-Shnat year, and today she serves as a lone soldier in the IDF. I could not be prouder of her, because she lives the values and ideals we teach in Netzer and the Progressive movement. And it is for her and all other Progressive Jews that we stand and fight for a more pluralistic Jewish Israel. Patrizia, as any other Jew, deserves a Jewish home and place that reflects their, our, values and traditions, too. Moses, in our Torah reading, challenges the diaspora to stand on the side of Israel. Today, we challenge Israel to stand on our side.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Josh Gottesman/Gidi Grinstein)


To be a Zionist is to wrestle with, but not to give up on Israel.

This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “6 Day War“ in 1967. As a Progressive Jew and Zionist, I have mixed feeling about this anniversary. Not because of what happened in 1967, I think what happened was necessary and important for the Jewish state, but since then, I feel as though the Jewish visions and values unmatched and transgressed. As a Zionist, I see that the present-day Israel has not yet achieved what – to my understanding – Herzl had envisioned for the Jewish state. As a Progressive Zionist, I believe Zionism also needs to progress and continue to create dreams worthy to be followed.

Israel is important to me – that’s why I am not giving up on it:

  • As a Progressive Jew, I am committed to the modern State of Israel as a reflection of God’s unbroken and eternal covenant with the Jewish people. And I continue to promote the values and visions of our prophets in regard to a democratic and pluralistic foundation of the State of Israel as it is written down in  the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, I see the pain any war and any tragedy has caused, and for me, human dignity can’t be limited by borders, religion or belonging to an ethnic group.
  • As a Jews living in the Diaspora I stand, without question, with Israel when it is under attack, or when people try to undermine its mere existence. I know that the Jewish state would do the same for me, being my stronghold, when I am in need or (even worse) in danger.
  • As a Progressive Jews in the Diaspora, I have a vital interest in the Jewish state which also reflects my way of being Jewish, and I will continue to stand for our progressive values and to raise my voice when pluralism and our sisters and brothers of the Progressive communities in Israel are under attack. The Kotel also belongs to us, as any other holy and historic site in Israel does.
  • Jerusalem is important to me, too. As much as I believe that God’s presence is not limited to one single place, and that anyone can find God wherever one seeks God, I not only recognise Jerusalem’s historical importance for the Jewish people, but also understand her as the geographic and spiritual centre of our Jewish identity.

Yes, Israel is important to me.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell