Sunday, May 10, 2009

Am I Crazy?

It seems I'm having "the aliyah conversation" with more and more people lately. Sometimes, I remark that this must be what was going on in thousands of Jewish homes in Russia beginning in the 1880s:

"Maybe it's not that bad. Our people have been here for so long. Maybe we should we stay and ride out the persecution."

"We've been saving for years and can only afford one steerage-class steamship ticket. Should we send our oldest child first?"

"How can I leave my elderly mother?"

"We don't speak any English. How will we put food on the table?"

I may be having the aliyah conversation with 10 families at a time, but, at the same time, so many others, the vast majority, are unable to imagine a future anywhere but here in America.

Here's something a lot of America Jews have forgotten. We are an immigrant people. There are millions of Jews in America today whose grandparents or great-grandparents were immigrants to this country not much more than 100 years ago. And yet, we have a bad case of generational amnesia.

We forget that, since the Exodus from Egypt, we have been a people on the move. God commanded that we move 42 times in the 40 years we wandered in the desert. At some time in history, we have lived in virtually every county on the face of the earth. And we were expelled from a goodly number of them. Sometimes more than once.

Why, then, do American Jews persist in thinking that they are here to stay, despite world events, despite the ever-increasing call to return Home? I am among a small group of people who can hear the call... and it is getting louder. Sometimes, I think I'm crazy.

But I know I'm not.

In this week's Baltimore Jewish Times, there are three articles that point to the diminished influence of Jewish life in Baltimore. The cover story is about opening one of the JCC buildings on Shabbat so the non-Shabbat observers (and non-Jews) who belong to the JCC can exercise on Saturdays. There is also a story about a local Jewish nursing home dropping its Jewish affiliation and phasing out its kosher food service. A third story is about the 90 year-old Baltimore Hebrew University merging with Towson University, a large, secular university.

I see in these stories, which all hit in the same issue, yet more evidence that the American Jewish experience is coming to a close.

There is more evidence, much more compelling evidence, all around us, but many people are oblivious to it. Books are being published about how we are living in a time of biblical prophecies coming true. The economic crisis. the chaos in world politics, the existence of a new Amalek/Haman/Hitler on the world scene. Watching as God really has begun gathering the exiles from the four corners of the earth. It all adds up to the conclusion that we are in a new era.

In 2004, on the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America, a colleague asked me to participate in a discussion on what Jewish life will be like in America in 350 years. I declined to participate because, as I told her, there will be no Jewish life in America in 350 years. I have only become more certain of that statement in the past five years. I'm not even sure there will be Jewish life in America in the next three years.

No. I'm not crazy.

Just awake.

And paying attention.