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Is Israel Good Enough for Your Charity

Several days ago, Mother in Israel asked her readers to compare American and Israeli parenting styles. In response, someone mentioned Israelis’ lack of social graces, which has led one reader to make the following comment.

…let’s look at the effects of this aspect of Israeli culture. When tourists return from Israel with a bad taste in their mouth, will they return as often? At all? Will they tell their friends that they simply must go to Israel? Will those of us that are Jewish reach as deeply into our pockets when asked for money for Israel?

When you are asked for a contribution for Israel, and the first thing that pops into your mind is seeing an old man shoved aside by EVERYONE trying to board a bus. Or the many drivers that see by your rental car that you are a tourist and then gladly run you off the road, how does that affect your thought process? Every year North American Jews give millions of dollars to Israel, and yet it is difficult to see that Israelis appreciate it at all.

I think that it also makes it more difficult to defend Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. I still and will continue to donate money to Israeli causes, through the UJA, JNF and other avenues. I still and will continue to defend Israel as best as I can with the knowledge I have. My husband, as a professor on a campus with a very active anti-Israel movement, does so even more. But I am sure that there are others that maybe don’t donate as much or as often as they used to and maybe don’t speak up for Israel as strongly as they used to in part because of the interactions they have had with Israelis.

Nothing annoys Israelis more than the argument “it’s hard to donate to Israel when Israelis are so …” Every day, Israelis invest their sweat, blood, and tears into building this amazing country. So you can imagine how we feel when Jews from abroad tell us we are not good enough for their charity dollars or vacation budgets.

Truth is, Israel is not a charity case. It is a crucial component of contemporary Diaspora Jewish identity. A friend recently related his mother’s memories of growing up in Boston during 1930s and 1940s. While other immigrant kids had a sense of geographic belonging and could brag about the way things had been done in Italy, Ireland, or Greece, Jewish children experienced “a  deep level shame at not being able to point to a country (and not simply an area of land) on the map and say ‘that’s where my people is from.’”

Israel’s role in shaping Jewish identity was reaffirmed by a recent Brandeis study, which has shown that a single Birthright trip to the country can lower a person’s chances of intermarriage by almost one half. Over the past decade, the Israel government together with North American philanthropists has invested close to half a billion dollars in Birthright trips.

Israel appreciates all types of Diaspora solidarity. But as Shimon Peres has aptly put, the best gift one can give Israel is coming to live here.

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