Not long ago, I moved to Boston after living my whole life in Israel. Apart from the technical and social challenges such a move involves, I found myself thinking a lot about my Judaism, what defines me as a Jew and how am I supposed to act now that I don’t live in Israel anymore.

Trying to analyze my life in Israel, my definition as a Jew derives from the fact that I was born in Israel to a Jewish family. During the time I was living in Israel, I had no obligation nor need to practice Judaism.

I have a close friend that lives in Israel to this day, who literally does no Jewish Mitzvah. He never went to the synagogue, didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, eats Treif, and basically does nothing to practice Judaism. Still, if you ask him to his religion, he will answer proudly that he is a Jew. It is definitely a major part of his identity.

Personally, I have felt and still feel an urge to do more Jewish activities since I moved. I light Shabbat candles, I want to participate in services and I’m looking for Jewish gatherings in the area where I live. I even started going to weekly torah portion lessons. At first, it felt really weird. I am Jewish, I lived in Israel, I served in the IDF. Why should I not feel like a Jew?

I think that the answer lies in the day-to-day life. While in Israel, the society is Jewish in its being, in the Diaspora you are what you do. For example, in the Chagim (Jewish holidays) in Israel you get a day off while in the Diaspora, the Chag is just like any other day. At home, Friday afternoon and evening has a meaning even if you do not have a Shabbat dinner with your family. Here in Boston, you have to create this Friday afternoon atmosphere or else you won’t have it.   

The difference is in the presence of Judaism. When you live in Israel, you don’t have to practice anything to feel Jewish. The fact that you are located in Israel and part of its society already gives you the benefit of feeling like a Jew. This is why my friend feels like a Jew even though he does not act like one. The Jewish atmosphere already exists without him having to practice it. In the Diaspora on the other hand, if you don’t practice it, nothing differs you from being like any other person in that country. Nothing makes you Jewish but your own deeds.  

This is the reason why sometimes it is hard for Jews from both ends to understand each other. The Jews in Israel do not feel the obligation to practice Judaism while the ones abroad definitely do feel the need to. This gap can sometimes cause tension and misunderstanding and should be bridged on a personal level. The more Israelis get to know their Jewish fellows in the States, in France or anywhere else (and vice versa) the more united the Jewish people will be.

Can help bridge this gap?

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