Thursday, January 3, 2008

Israel's 'non-Jewish Jews'

In Israel, the "non-Jewish Jews," as some Israelis call them, are everywhere. They drive buses, teach university classes, patrol in army jeeps and follow the latest Israeli reality TV shows as avidly as their Jewish counterparts.

For these people -- mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jews according to Israeli law -- the question of where they fit into the Jewish state remains unanswered nearly two decades after they began coming to Israel.

At an estimated 320,000 people and with their ranks growing due to childbirth, the question is growing ever more acute.

"They are not going to be religious but want to be part of what is called the Jewish secular population," said Asher Cohen, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, who has written a book on the subject.

"Thousands are being born here, and they are no longer immigrants," he said. "They are raised just like their secular neighbors, and these children want to know why they are not Jewish because their mother is not Jewish. The problem is just getting worse."
This story raises serious questions about identity and affiliation that reminds me of the plight of half-Jews. Tough not mentioned in this article from this week's Jewish Journal, the disenfranchisement of this population of Israelis has had more negative consequences than simply a sense of outsiderness. Remember the case of those Israeli neo-Nazis?

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