There's a fellow who has been writing me recently to convince me, I suppose, of his opinion. His thesis is that American Jews should be donating to worthy causes near home and in their own communities, while Israel should wean itself of its dependence on them.
It's a compelling argument, and I can see his point. Except he's missing most of the picture.
The national budget weaving its way through the Knesset these days is for almost $64billion. I've spent the past half hour or so Googling to find how much American Jews give annually to Israeli philanthropic causes (investing, supporting one's children who are in Israel, maintaining an apartment here and so on, don't count as philanthropy). Or for that matter, all Jews outside Israel. I'm somewhat out of my depth, and short of spare time, so I haven't found the number. But by all accounts I have found, it lies somewhere between 1-5% of the total. Probably closer to the lower sum.
Which means at least 95% of the financial cost of having a Jewish State is covered by the people who live in it. (Not to mention other types of cost, such as defending it). This is as it should be: states and their citizens are meant to cover their costs. But it does raise a different question: if the entire effort of having a Jewish State and 95% of its cost is borne by the 45% of the Jews who live in it, in what way do the others participate? Not by coming here often, alas: something like 80% of America's Jews have never been here, not even once.
I agree with my correspondent that philanthropy, or what used to be called "check-book Zionism", is not the best way for America's Jews to participate in the most important Jewish effort of the past 2,000 years. Investing here, coming often, owning an apartment and spending time here most years, sending each child to study one year at one of our fine universities or yeshivas – all these and many other options are preferable to the check-book variant of Zionism. But they're also all more time consuming, more of an effort, and probably costlier in an immediate way, though eventually they give far better returns.
Philanthropy is a time honored tradition in Judaism. If a majority of America's Jews have decided to marginalize themselves from the Zionist project, I wouldn't try to break one of the most important bonds they still do have (if they do). They need the connection.