Problem and answer
University and college classes have resumed.
On campuses across North America our children will make new friends, explore new pathways and likely test the ideas and values that formed their cocoon of comfort and security in our homes.
And of course, many of them will encounter for the first time and some will confront an entirely new cadre of social activists - aggressive, confrontational - for whom the most important cause in this vast planet of urgent and pressing causes is “liberating the Palestinians from their Israeli chains.”
Most of our children will withstand these first anti-Israel encounters, disgusted by both the anti-democratic methods and the mistruths that the activists pass off ignorantly and/or fraudulently as ideals.
But some may not.
Some may get caught up in the self-asserting excitement of standing up for what appears to them to be right and true.
British educator, lecturer Rabbi Yehudah Rubinstein wrote about this phenomenon in a recent edition of The Jerusalem Report. His observations were disquieting. Although based entirely upon experiences dealing with young Jews in Europe and the United States, they merit sharing.
“I have discovered that identification with Israel often depends on the age of your audience. The older they are, the more likely they are to still be on Israel’s side.” (My emphasis)
There is hardly anything new in this general proposition. But with the inclusion of the tiny modifier “still”, Rabbi Rubinstein adeptly steers us to the main point he intends to make. And he becomes quite specific.
“It would seem that the age of Zionism in the United States is roughly 40 years and up. Those below that age – especially teenagers and students – are less likely to side with Israel and more and more likely to become its critics and opponents.
“Generation after generation of Europeans have been fed on a steady diet of Israel demonization since the ’70s. Many of those graduated and went on to become the journalists, editors, politicians and opinion makers of society. The result: Israel lost Europe.
“The same thing is happening in exactly the same way now all over America.”
The situation Rabbi Rubinstein depicts in the United States is probably not the same in Canada. For many reasons, some of which relate to the impact of the diverse, still well attended system of Jewish education in Canada, Israel has not lost Canada.
But Rabbi Rubinstein’s real blow to the stomach is what he writes next.
“When I first started working on campus in the UK all those years ago, I saw my job as defending Jews and the State of Israel to the non-Jewish world. The anti-Israelness hiding anti-Jewishness was all too obvious. By the time I left Britain in 2011, I found myself primarily defending Jews and the State of Israel to the Jewish world. (My emphasis)
“Over the last few years, I have told members of AIPAC and many other communal leaders that if American Jews do not wake up very soon and learn the lessons of fights lost on the front lines of European universities and colleges, there will be no battle left here to win. We will have lost the war.”
Rabbi Rubinstein is not an alarmist. He is, though, sounding a serious alarm.
Thankfully, key policy makers and thinkers within the Jewish world share Rabbi Rubinstein’s concern.
The Jerusalem-based Jewish People’s Policy Institute (JPPI), (See From the Editor’s Desk, Aug. 23) has responded quite directly to Rabbi Rubinstein’s cri de coeur.
In its recently published 2011 - 2012 Annual Assessment (of the state of the Jewish people), the JPPI deals head-on with this very subject. In one of the central essays of the assessment entitled Creating Jewish Meaning in the United States and Europe: Emerging Adults, Cultural Creativity, and the Jewish Future in the U.S. and Europe, the institute analyses the scope of the problem and offers a wide, multi-faceted, integrated set of sweeping, out-of-the-box, original recommendations to begin to deal with it.
“If Israel and the Jewish world are so interdependent, Israel should make every effort to become more attractive as a focal point; and if reciprocity is important, we need to find ways for the Diaspora to have more of an impact on Israel’s policies that may affect world Jewry. This is not a new problem, but it bears a fresh look.”
The JPPI provides that fresh look.
The essay is must reading for everyone concerned for the Jewish future - community planners, lay and professional leaders, philanthropists, rabbis, congregants, educators, parents, husbands, wives, grandparents, nieces, nephews, neighbours and friends. Everyone.