Lose our children, lose our future
Tuesday 15th Jul 2003
Our failure to convey Israel's historical narrative
and its political case to young Jews in the Diaspora is a looming disaster.
Countless high school, college and university students feel uncertain and even
ashamed of being identified with a country constantly demonized as oppressive
and denying elementary human rights to Palestinians.
Of course there are
pro-Israel student activists and Hillel organizations trying valiantly to turn
the tide. But a vast majority of Jewish youth are abysmally ignorant, frequently
indifferent, and highly susceptible to the prevailing climate of hostility
toward the Jewish state.
Growing to maturity in a Diaspora Jewish
community today certainly poses much tougher challenges than those faced by
previous generations. Not only do many young Jews encounter a constant torrent
of anti Semitism and hostility against Israel, they are also that much further
removed from the Holocaust and the struggle for Jewish statehood.
Accords also had a destabilizing impact.
Jews, who always shared a
passionate belief in the justice of the Israeli case for Eretz Israel, were
suddenly told that Palestinian Arabs had an equal claim to the land. In some
cases post-Zionist educators and publicists went to the length of implying
Israel had been born in sin. And all the while Arabs in every capital promoted
their case with intensified fanaticism, riding the image of persecuted
I encountered these trends in all the Jewish communities I
visited this past year and am convinced that if they are not reversed we face a
potentially enormous crisis. If Jewish youngsters continue to be drawn to
anti-Zionist chic and distance themselves from Israel, they will lose a central
pillar of their Jewish identity and many will even wallow in Jewish self-hatred.
The problem is particularly acute with the unaffiliated, who represent
the vast majority of high school, college and university students. But with even
Zionist educators and leaders lacking communication skills, it also encompasses
youth movements and even impacts on Diaspora youth in Israel.
ago I addressed about 100 Zionist youth who were spending a year in Jerusalem to
train as leaders. I was stunned at what they had to say:
One South African
told me that on his return he would not remain silent about IDF oppression and
abuse of Palestinian human rights. Another insisted that suicide bombers were an
understandable response to Israeli atrocities and persecution. Yet another, who
had no doubt imbibed post-modernist hemlock, argued that in the conflict with
the Palestinians concepts of good and evil were relative.
Most of the
other participants disagreed. But it was disconcerting that such venomous
falsehoods aired at a Zionist seminar in Jerusalem raised no eyebrows and failed
to generate passionate indignation.
Beyond the deeply committed
religious Zionist youth frameworks there are no predictable patterns.
Ultimately, a youth's outlook depends upon the home he or she comes from and the
ability and motivation of educators to effectively convey the complex Israeli
narrative to impressionable youngsters. The message must relate to a Jewish
democracy, a haven for the Jewish people that struggles to survive in a
relentlessly hostile Arab environment.
Our greatest priority, therefore,
should be to provide funds to create new cadres of Zionist educators capable of
communicating the message and highlighting the link between Eretz Israel and the
Jewish people. In this, the moral case for Israel must be seen as paramount.
There are many schemes designed to bring young people to Israel. But few
are geared to teach youth leaders and teachers how to tell the story of Israel
One dominant program that is consistently praised is
birthright israel. Yet for all its obvious benefits I remain highly ambivalent
about a quick-fix scheme requiring an outlay of $2,000 per youngster for a
10-day visit to Israel. It would of course be crass to criticize a privately
funded program that brings young people to Israel. But birthright is now largely
funded by public bodies, including the Israeli government, and this entitles us
to review and prioritize how these funds should be spent.
It is in this
spirit that I assert that absolute priority should be directed toward the
creation of a leadership cadre. This should be done by developing programs and
bringing Diaspora youth leaders, counselors and teachers to Israel to attend
seminars on how to promote the Israel narrative for a period of 6-12 months, not
When they return to their communities the newly trained
participants would be expected to render (at least) part-time communal service
in the fields of Zionist education and youth work.
We must face up to
the fact that if we lose our children we lose our future. Should we fail to
reverse current trends, the next generation of Diaspora Jewry will increasingly
succumb to assimilation in an often hostile anti-Israel environment and drift
further away from the Jewish people. Other than a few haredi enclaves, the
Diaspora will then simply wither away.
As the minister responsible for
Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky must place this issue at the top of his
The writer is senior
vice president of the World Jewish Congress firstname.lastname@example.org
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