Every time I refer to Jewish observance in America as ersatz, someone takes issue with it. So let me explain further.
I don’t mean to suggest that Jewish observance in America, or anywhere outside of Israel, is completely valueless. But neither is it the ultimate Jewish expression.
Can a person feel close to Hashem in chutz l’aretz? Can s/he do mitzvot? Can s/he make Jewish choices? Of course.
But if one imagines that because the neighborhood is Jewish, the grocery store is kosher, the shul is nearby, the friends are Orthodox, the school teaches Torah and the mikvah is within walking distance on Friday nights, that the lifestyle is completely kosher, therein lies the problem.
If one thinks Judaism is comprised of Torah observance and loving Hashem, life in an intensely Jewish neighborhood in America can seem complete.
But if you understand that you are part of Am Yisrael which has a mission that can only be realized in Eretz Yisrael, all your brachot and tefillot and Torah learning in chutz l’aretz is simply not enough. It’s not nothing, but it’s not premium Judaism either.
And if you think you live in an American community that has “everything you need to be fully Jewish”, you’re missing something pretty fundamental. In that sense, mitzvah observance outside the Land of Israel is ersatz. It’s artificial. It’s outside its natural habitat. And it’s terribly misleading.
Every bentching, every Shemonei Esrei, every parsha leads us to the mitzvah of returning to Israel. So, either you mean it and put yourself on an aliyah track (no matter how long it takes), or you don’t mean it, and you live an ersatz Judaism in chutz l’aretz, convincing yourself all the time of what a good Jew you are.