Sunday 28 September 2008

Numbers that Count

Each year, just prior to the Jewish New Year, the Israeli government publishes its latest population statistics. This year's numbers were published last week and make for some interesting reading.

There are currently 7.3 million people living in the State of Israel, a growth of approximately 1.6% over the previous year. Of these, 5.5 million are Jews and 1.5 million are Arabs. The remaining 300,000 are mostly foreign workers. The statistics are sliced and diced in almost every way, highlighting the number of men versus women (women rule), the number of young and old, the number of marriages and divorces and almost anything else that one may wish to know. For me, there are two or three statistics which stick out above all else.

Firstly, whereas the number of Jews in the diaspora is shrinking, Israel is the only country in the world where the number of Jews continues to grow. Although it is true that many Jews from the diaspora are choosing to make their homes in Israel, the number of new immigrants to Israel during 2007 was less than 20,000 which neither accounts entirely for the increase of the number of Jews in Israel, nor the decrease of the number of Jews in the diaspora. So one can only concluded that the increase in Israel, whilst greatly assisted by immigration, has a lot to do with natural growth. Equally, one is forced to conclude that the decrease in the diaspora is largely driven by assimilation. These numbers serve to reinforce the famous prediction of Zeev Jabotinsky who proclaimed "Liquidate the diaspora before the diaspora liquidates you". Thankfully there were sufficient followers and believers who were prepared to commit themselves to ensure continued Jewish existence by moving to the Land of Israel. I have no doubt that these actions have served to strengthen and secure the future of the Jewish nation.

Along the same lines, a second statistic that caught my attention was the fact that Israel's Jewish population represents just more than 40% of the world's Jews. Although Israel does not quite yet have a majority of the Jews in the world, it does now have the largest Jewish population after it surpassed the number of Jews in the USA a year or two ago. This gap has now grown further since the number of Jews in the USA has fallen whilst the Israeli population continues to grow. It seems inevitable that Israel will soon house a majority of the world's Jews if the current trends continue.

The third fact which really caught my attention was the one that 3.8 million of Israel's citizens were born in the country. For most countries, it is obvious that most of its citizens should have been born there. For Israel, however, a country that started out life 60 years ago with a Jewish population of 646,000 and a total population of 806,000, this is a big achievement. Most of the early population growth was down to immigration in the same way that much of Israel's early years relied heavily on the active support of diaspora Jews. The balance has now shifted to the point where the Jews of the diaspora are relying more on Israel. This is not to say that Israel does not benefit from donations made to key institutions by wealthy diaspora Jews and from the large number of Jews who are tourists in Israel each year. It is, however, increasingly the case that Israel provides the support to the Jews outside of Israel, be it financial, emotional, religious or security support. As is evidenced by the numbers, the Jewish diaspora will be increasingly dependent upon Israel as the population gap continues to grow.

What is particularly interesting for me is the life expectancy of children born in Israel in 2007. For women this is 83 years old and for men 79 years old. This adds the quality aspect to the quantity. Not only are there more and more Jews living in Israel, it appears as though they have a quality of life that affords them the privilege to live a long life as well.

Having been fortunate enough to be born during the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, I have always come to regard Israel as a natural and integral part of the Jewish world. It would be hard for me to think of the world without the existence of Israel. Even so, it is not difficult for me and others like me to understand what may have happened to the Jewish world in the absence of a Jewish State.

We have a great deal to be thankful to Jabotinsky and his colleagues about. Not only did they accurately predicted the damage that assimilation could cause to the Jewish population, but they were prepared to take up the fight to ensure that there would be a Jewish state to provide a solution to this problem.

Happy New Year.

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