Here in Eretz Yisrael, Barukh HaShem, the number of Jews for whom the intimate encounter with God on Yom Kippur is important, rises every year. More and more formal and informal observances of the day are sprouting up over the length and breadth of the country. Communities and settlements that were doctrinally allergic to Judaism, know build synagogues, study Torah and reconnect with being Jewish. The papers claim that only 58% of Israeli Jews fast, but those numbers are (in my opinion) inaccurate. The real numbers are more like 70%. Either way, however, the rejudaization of the Holy Land is in full swing. It is, as many have noted, nothing less than a renaissance and Yom Kippur is a touchstone of that rebirth. The Jew's yearning for God, through Torah study and pure spirituality, is alive and well in Israel.
The state of the Exile is, sadly, much less promising.
After the fast, when I logged on to Facebook, I was really shocked and deeply saddened to see just how many of the American Jews with whom I am connected, were totally unaware (or didn't care) that today was Yom Kippur. When I was growing up, we spoke of Three Day a Year Jews. Then there were One Day a Year Jews. Now, it appears, there are many many No Day a Year Jews. I suppose it was inevitable. Through ignorance and intermarriage, acceptance in America and weakened identity, most American Jews will be gone within a generation. Or, they will have created for themselves a patina of attenuated Jewish affiliation that will not long last. The historian in me sees a parallel with the Graeco-Roman diaspora, which largely assimilated away during the First Century CE, when being Jewish ceased to be comfortable because the Jews of Eretz Yisrael kept rebelling against Rome, and Jews felt more comfortable in the academies of Greece than the synagogues of Jerusalem or Alexandria.
There are, of course, counter indications. Efforts at bringing alienated Jews back to Judaism are happily successful, and Orthodox Judaism rightfully prides itself in its achievements. The overall direction, though, is clear. The contrast with developments in Israel, only highlights that fact.
That does not mean that we should, God forbid, give up on any Jew in the Diaspora. However, it reinforces my conviction that any possibility of continued Jewish existence abroad is absolutely dependent upon the strengthening of Judaism in Israel. (Did I hear anyone say: כי מציון תצא תורה?)
One crucial way to do that is to create a credible Modern Orthodoxy in Eretz Yisrael, which will speak to intelligent secular Jews, and sensitively respond to men and women who can no longer relate to the religious koine of either the Religious Zionist or Haredi worlds.
Ultimately, as with our individual fates, so too the destiny of Jewish communities is in God's hands. However, we have a role in this as well.
The Book of Exodus (18, 13) recounts that: 'And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening.' The plain meaning of the verse is that Moses judged the people on the day after his father-in-law Jethro arrived at the Israelite encampment (as described in the previous verses). Rashi, however, asserts that the events described occurred 'on the morrow of Yom Kippur' (מחרת יום הכיפורים).
The Rav זצ"ל observed that, despite the textual difficulty, Rashi's comment contains a profound observation about the manner in which the Jew must go about his business. He must always feel, Rav Soloveitchik said, as if it were the day after Yom Kippur. The heightened spiritual awareness, the glow that remains from immersion in holiness that derives from one's encounter with God, must accompany oneself through the year.
In other words, in order to be Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur must transcend itself and infuse the other 354 days of the year. That lesson is both personal and national. On the personal level, as quotidian superficialities threaten to deaden our God-awareness, we need to hold on to the 'high' of Yom Kippur to prevent being dragged under, once again. One does that through ongoing actions like prayer and study, tzedakah and hesed; a carefully balancing of commandments between oneself and God and between oneself and one's fellow man or woman.
On a national level, that demands that all of us in Israel who were elevated by God's visit during these past ten days must work, through teaching and conduct, to intensify the trend back to Torah and to thereby save not only the Jews of Zion, but those abroad, as well.