IT used to be that the enterprise known as Zionism was pretty much a one-way street — Jews from Europe, Asia, America and elsewhere packing up and heading off to Israel to build the Jewish state.
Nearly seven decades after Israel was founded, Zionism is now a two-way thoroughfare.
For a whole range of reasons, Israelis are heading the other way, leaving their country of origin for what they perceive to be greener pastures.
Especially in the US.
According to the Israeli-American Council, a relatively new organization dedicated to building bridges between these expatriate Israelis and their native country — as well as their American Jewish brethren — there may be as many as 500,000-800,000 Israelis and “Israeli-Americans” living in the US today.
When one considers that the American Jewish Yearbook estimates the US Jewish population at five to six-and-a-half million (depending on how “Jewish” is defined), the community’s Israeli component may be an amazing 10%, or even higher.
The IAC fears that this substantial population is largely unconnected to the general American Jewish community, as well as to Israel itself, and its goal is to build and maintain bridges between them.
Sagi Balasha, the IAC’s Chief Executive Officer, told the Intermountain Jewish News in an online interview last week that the organization “works to create a community among the estimated 500,000 and 800,000 Israelis and Israeli-Americans, respectively, living in the United States, many of whom tend to be uninvolved in the organized Jewish American community.
“Connecting our community to Israel is a pillar of our mission, especially given their inherent love for the State of Israel, and the community’s great potential to be a strategic asset to the State of Israel.”
A foundational premise of the IAC, Balasha says, is to be non-judgmental.
This contrasts with the traditional view of ardent Zionists who often referred to Israelis who left Israel as yordim, “those who go down” from Israel, based on the Hebrew word for descent, yerida, the opposite of aliyah, to “rise.”
“We do not encourage Israelis to move away from Israel,” Balasha explains, “and we support a number of opportunities for Israeli-Americans to go to Israel.
“The fact however is that over half a million Israeli expats and their children live in the United States, and today make up a substantial percentage of the Jewish community in America.”