Published May 2020
The Jewish Litmus Test
There’s a story that comes out of Russia which may be fiction but it does express a truth about Jewish life. The secret police in the old Soviet Union knocked upon the door of a Russian Jew. They accused him of corresponding with a foreign agent named Rabinovitz in Israel. The Jew laughed and explained that he had been writing letters to his brother Hayyim Rabinovitz who happened to live in Tel Aviv. The Russian policeman then said: “But don’t you know that you’re not supposed to be in contact with anyone abroad?” The Jew answered with a shrug and said: “You don’t understand. I am abroad and he is at home.”
Wherever we may live America or elsewhere may be our home but Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. Israel is not paradise and it has its problems; but it is the center of Jewish experience in the modern world. Even more than that: what the State of Israel has achieved in humanitarian and rescue efforts, in the arts and sciences, in the resurrection of the Jewish spirit, in building up barren wastelands and settling cities, in its advances in education and medicine, in the establishment of a democratic government, and in preserving Jews and Judaism entitles it to a moral claim on our lives.
Israel’s welfare and existence deserve the highest priority in the life of every Jew. Indeed, personal loyalty to Israel today, even as in the past, is one of the litmus tests of Jewishness. To the extent that we personally are willing to give to Israel, to lend to Israel, to invest in Israel, to speak up for Israel, to visit Israel — to exactly that same extent do we feel our Jewishness.
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD