Looking at Zion

A Jewish Perspective on Israel-Diaspora relationship: 235 members of Jewish communities around the globe answered a questionnaire, which asked them to articulate their thoughts and feelings towards Israel

Neer Korn

Neer Korn, Social researcher & director of The Korn Group, Sydney, Australia

“I sometimes consider the time Israel’s politicians make available to meet with groups of visiting diaspora Jews on various program, something they do out of a sense of respect and duty.”

The Interviewee  Neer Korn, Social researcher & director of The Korn Group, resides in Sydney, Australia. I was in born in Haifa, Israel in 1966. After a few years in the USA I spent my primary school years back in Haifa (with a one year sojourn in Beer-Sheva). Living in Haifa in the 70s there was tremendous freedom to roam and explore unimpeded. 

In your opinion, what importance, if any, does the existence of a Jewish state have to you personally and to Jewish people in general?

“On a personal level Israel is central to my identity having spent 8 of my first 11 years living there and my extended family being there. It is foremost in my thought and feel at home wandering its streets and observing the people. For the Jewish people Israel is the anchor. Today it would be difficult to imagine Jewish existence without the state of Israel.”

Do you feel committed in some way to defend the future existence of Israel?

“If the question is an existential one than I would be willing to serve in any capacity to ensure the continued viability of Israel.”

Do you affiliate yourself with a specific confessional division in Judaism? What is your view regarding the dominance of the Orthodox division in Israel religious establishment?

“My affiliation is traditional with limited observance. One way of describing it perhaps is that I am a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. Within the structure of a modern state I find the dominance of Orthodoxy somewhat problematic. Imposing the will and practices of any single group on the population is against the grain of what is in essence a pluralistic society.”

Do you feel morally responsible for Israel’s actions (such as its management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)?

“Not being a citizen of Israel, but merely a passport holder, I am not responsible for Israel’s decisions. More profoundly, perhaps, not living in the country, not having served in the army and not participating in daily life, I do not feel entitled to be responsible for Israel’s actions. Having said that, I do have opinions about Israel’s policies and governments at various times but I am able to view these within their greater context. One way I look at it is that I would not wish upon myself the responsibility of ensuring Israel’s survival.”

In your opinion, what is the main thing Israelis fail to understand about the reality of being Jewish outside of Israel?

“That being Jewish and maintaining a Jewish identity is passive for those living in Israel. The nature of the country and make-up of the population ensures a Jewish identity. Living in the diaspora requires an active pursuit of Jewish community and identity. I am not convinced Israelis appreciate this.”

How would you describe Israel’s policy (formally and in practice) regarding its relationship with the Diaspora?

“I am not sure that I know enough to comment on this. From what I have observed Israel takes it’s role as being central to the diaspora seriously. I sometimes consider the time Israel’s politicians make available to meet with groups of visiting diaspora Jews on various program, something they do out of a sense of respect and duty. So there is an acknowledgement that all Jews, including those in the diaspora have some ownership and stake in Israel.”

In your opinion, does Israel have an obligation to defend and help Jewish communities in need?

“Without doubt this is a central ethos of the Jewish state. Much of the diaspora’s comfort is in knowing that should circumstances change and their environment become adverse, there is always Israel to fall back on. Israel’s obligation is heightened because it can act. It has the resources and tools to rescue or assist Jewish communities in need, as it has done in Ethiopia and the former Yugoslavia for example.”

Have you ever been to Israel? if you have, can you summarize your impression from the Israeli reality?

“It is easy to idealize Israel from afar. Indeed, as a tourist one is able to even do so up close, from the comfort of hotel rooms, buses and tourist destinations. The reality is often frustrating and saddening. Many Israelis find life a struggle and the disparity between rich and poor is pronounced. While these problems are present in most western democracies I, as many others do, wish that Israel will do better to ensure the well being of all citizens.

“Reflecting on Israeli society compared to Australian society I often note the great passion that exists in Israel. It’s people are vocal and active whereas Australians tend to be more subdued and polite. More than anything it is the sheer energy & vibrancy of Israelis that always impresses me. There is nothing that can be found anywhere in the world that one does not see in Israel. That such a young state with few physical resources continues to achieve so much is a source of great pride.”

Can you tell us a bit about the Jewish community in your hometown? Is it organized? Are there community activities?

“Sydney, Australia is a vibrant, active and committed Jewish community. It is well organised and pluralistic with many and varied institutions and many of its members actively involved. Overall it exists within a culture of acceptance, tolerance and freedom. There are no barriers to practicing as a Jew in Australia and no institutional or cultural barriers. As with most diaspora communities it does face a slow demise with younger members opting out. It faces a conundrum in that it’s members are largely traditional and expect their children to maintain a similar level of observance. It does so by relying on its Jewish days schools and organisations more than on practices in the home, which is not a sustainable means of achieving continuity in the long run.”

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