There is no end to those naysayers who argue with the concept that the Jewish people is indeed a people. For them that concept is an invention. Of course they would not dare to suggest that the Palestinian people is an invention. But they evidently belong to “the forces of progress” so they are allowed to say what they wish. I spoke about them to the hundreds of young people as well as some older ones who gathered together last week outside St. Petersburg, Russia, in the framework of the Limmud project to enjoy a Jewish educational experience. They came to hear about education, tradition, Kabbalah, language, identity. Even the family reminiscences of Gil Hovav, not exactly a Russian, gripped them (full disclosure: I was invited to lecture at Limmud).
According to Halakha (Jewish religious law) and even the Israeli Law of Return, several of the participants were not exactly Jewish, nor do they have the right to immigrate to Israel. Nevertheless, they were there because they feel Jewish; because Limmud is the framework, perhaps the only one, in which they can fully identify themselves as Jews. They spent good money in order to participate: registration opened two months before and within just a few days, all the available places had been filled. Hundreds objected vociferously and tried to bring pressure to bear in order to be able to participate. Because they feel Jewish and they want to share in the Jewish experience, they feel an attachment to the tradition and heritage of this people whose very existence the naysayers deny.
And thus Gil Hovav and Chaim Chesler, the founder and leader of Limmud, and the tycoon Matthew Bronfman (who is a major donor to the project and serves as Chairperson of its International Steering Committee) together with his wife Stacey, stood in line for their meals like everyone else, and they and many others, professors and students, listened almost with tears in their eyes to Shema Israel played by the Jewish, Russian and Israeli musician Leonid Ptashka. And anyone who tries to maintain that they are not part of the Jewish people – which lives, breathes and kicks – does not know what he is talking about. The haredim and the anti-Zionists say so and they cannot be allowed to get away with it.
Two conclusions: It is not as if everyone at Limmud is planning on emigrating to Israel tomorrow. But everyone who was there in St. Petersburg feels himself to be a Jew. The draconian rules for conversion in Israel have left them outside the fence. Even the Law of Return sometimes rejects them rather than drawing them in. In Israel, I must repeat once more, there is a minority that is damaging the Jewish people. We push them away rather than pull them toward us. There are still more Jews there outside even if they are from “mixed” families. The time has come to rip down the notice above our heads, “No Entry.”