By Larry Gordon
Viewing the map of the United States last week, it looked like the state of Florida was shaped very similarly to the state of Israel. That does not mean that if you are denied entry to Israel these days that Florida is an ample substitute. Florida has never been a replacement for Israel in any way; yet, it has successfully managed to live side by side with Israel and the Jewish people for more than half a century.
For the last two years, the Five Towns Jewish Times has been distributed throughout south Florida, and while I suspect (though I may be mistaken) that most Orthodox Jewish communities function with a consciousness about what is going on in New York, that may not be the case here. Communities in south Florida have successfully created their own independent identity. But while they are no longer defined necessarily by what is going on in New York, inordinate numbers of people who have moved down here are originally from New York. And that was the fact long before we were introduced to the de Blasio fiasco that brought New York to its knees.
This thought process comes to the fore because I’m writing these words from Boca Raton. On Rosh Chodesh Shevat, I davened at the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), which has become a magnet for New Yorkers looking to transplant themselves to a friendly and warmer climate. BRS is a booming makom Torah led by the dynamic spiritual leader Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. On Monday in shul I met his father-in-law, Lawrence resident Dr. Robert Bruckstein. So you see, in one way or another we are connected.
A few things about New York, Israel, and Florida: For those of you who studied or spent time in Israel, you have certainly noticed or perhaps even participated in a unique intensity that just might be part of the Mideast DNA. Florida is not just different but might even be the polar opposite. Things are calm and laidback here, the opposite of intense, whatever that is.
One of the outstanding aspects about Florida is the leadership. And that can be said about the spiritual leadership as well as political leaders. Here in Boca, Rabbi Goldberg is leading an outstanding growing community. Over in Bal Harbour, Rabbi Shalom Ber Lipsker continues to build after decades of making the community he serves one of the most proactive and important Jewish communities in the country.
From a political perspective, Florida’s key leaders are stars of the Republican Party. From Governor Ron DeSantis to Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, these are visionaries providing outstanding leadership.
Contrast that with New York, where incompetence and failed policies best distinguish our political leaders. And that, in a nutshell, is why people are fleeing New York for Florida. It is difficult to argue with that, because it makes a lot of sense. And, of course, the weather is better in Florida.
In And Out Of Israel
A few weeks ago, I asked my contact at the Israeli Government Press Office to assist me in gaining permission to enter Israel for work purposes. I gave him a date a few weeks from then, and his response to me was that it does not make any sense to apply or attempt to adhere to requirements at the time because everything will definitely change over the course of the upcoming weeks.
Lo and behold, he was right on target. Today, the matter of entry into Israel looks almost nothing similar to the way it did a few weeks ago.
Over these few weeks and with the onset of the widespread Omicron variant of the virus—and its less serious nature—pressure has been mounting on the government of Israel to view requests from Jewish people to enter the country differently than from other people.
That does not mean special treatment for Jews at the expense of others. It is between difficult and impossible to deny that no matter how much you insist that everyone be treated the same way it is no big secret that most of the world views Jews and Israel a bit differently. Let’s make that significantly differently. So why shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same on occasion?
I know, and you may know as well, of people who missed grandchildren’s births, bar and bat mitzvahs, and weddings. Others were denied entry for relatives’ funerals. While it was deemed necessary at the time, no greater damage would have been done if the criteria for entry to the country were loosened or at least more sensitive.
If Israel is going to keep on fighting to be recognized as the Jewish state, then when push comes to shove, we will have to act like a Jewish state. That essentially means a state composed of and for the Jewish people. Being a Jewish state should mean that in some situations Jews are treated differently—OK, better—than others. That does not mean that we are discriminating or not affording others equal opportunity. Rather, the reality is that there is an inherent and automatic attachment between Jews and Israel—whether or not you have ever traveled to Israel. All Jews, by virtue of their Jewish status, are entitled to automatic citizenship in the state of Israel—that is, the Jewish state.
That being so, Israeli leadership does not have to fear having a policy for entry into the country for Jews. People like former MK Dov Lipman of Yad L’Olim, former UN Ambassador Danny Dannon, now head of World Likud, and Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai are aggressively advocating for an entry policy for Jews that is more sensitive and understanding to the relationship between the Jewish people and Israel.
Leaders here in the U.S. have been advocating for much the same thing. Of late they have been saying that serious damage is being done to the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel. The editor of The Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz, wrote in an editorial last week that Israel cannot just view American Jews “as a wallet.” Jews have a connection to Israel whether they make aliyah or not, he wrote.
Of course, we need to be mindful of the need to keep public health as our number-one consideration. But a blanket policy that shuts down a country—Israel or any other country—has been proven unworkable. Hopefully, we are moving in a better direction that will effectively restore the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel.
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