Why must “diaspora” be a term rooted in pain? Rabbi Alissa Wise argues for a redefining of diaspora, in which one’s spiritual and physical home can remain undivided by the fragmented politics and policies of Israel.
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וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֙יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ׃
“Behold, I am with you and I guard you wherever you go.”
There may be something to be gained from thinking about diaspora not merely as comparative social or historical phenomenon, not even only as a predicament shared by many people or peoples who otherwise have little else in common, but as a positive resource in the necessary rethinking of models of polity in the current erosion and questioning of the modern nation-state system and ideal.
-Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin, in Powers of Diaspora
It is imperative that we as American Jews reimagine our relationship to the idea of diaspora, primarily by turning it from a word that induces shame into a source of meaning, purpose, and inspiration.
Now, in the 21st century, as more and more Jews are alienated from Israel because of the discriminatory Israeli policies against non-Jewish citizens, the brutal military occupation over Palestinians for over 50 years, and the general rightward direction of Israeli politics in partnership with the Trump administration, we owe it to Jews seeking to live Jewish lives to allow them to thrive where they are. Israel is far from the lives that many American Jews want to live–not just geographically, but morally and culturally. We can allow the spiritual lessons of exile to break our hearts and deepen our empathy for those torn apart from families, homes and countries of origin, to connect us deeply to other peoples who long for the comfort and safety of home.
For too long we have encouraged American Jews to divide their souls from their bodies–with a focus on Israel as spiritual home and America as physical. We owe it to those living Jewish lives in America today to allow their souls and bodies to be rooted here. From that rootedness, I believe and trust that the fruits that blossom will be endlessly enriching.
Rabbi Alissa Wise is Deputy Director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and co-founder of the JVP Rabbinical Council.