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Sep 22, 2014

Is this the last generation that cares about Israel?

a guest post by Dr. Harold Goldmeier
            The latest effort among Jewish organizations to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora, especially the U. S., is to financially support education, camping, and high school programs. Israel defines Jewish identity today. It is not Judaism, culture, Seinfeld, or bagels. Programs lacking a component bringing Jewish youth to Israel are worthless efforts. Israel is the lynchpin in Jewish identity.
            A small number will make aliyah.  Some will join the army, or enroll in Israeli colleges and yeshivot. Others will return with negative views reinforced. Most will have a love affair with the country and her people that lasts a lifetime. The hope is they will pass it on to their children, and not be the last generation of Jews.
            I teach international students in Tel Aviv for a semester or two. Their courses are for college credits. Zionism and Middle East Politics courses address foreign powers, social movements, the “look” of Middle East nations and Zionism in the 21st century. The following gathers from classes, student papers, and an opinion poll the students take.
            They are the generation decimated by intermarriage and secularism. Some come from homes active in Jewish community affairs, more than a few from mixed marriages, and some raised in another religion. Few know much about Judaism, culture, or news about Israel. One student told us about 15,000 kids in his high school, and he knew the three Jews.
            These students, novitiates in so many ways, are the quintessence of young Diaspora Jews: social media and pop music freaks, social liberals, political centrists, open-minded, and challenging. They are in Israel, while thousands of their contemporaries are off to Europe and semesters at sea. They develop a shared affinity for Israel. Some decide to remain. They take to the spiritual essence of Jerusalem appreciating its magnetism for Jews and Israel. Tel Aviv’s bustling culture, the sweetness of the Negev, the friendliness and gruffness of the Israeli people, eliciting from one, he never felt “so Jewish.”
             Turn-offs include the possibility of Jews interminably ruling over Palestinians, poor Jews living in tents, and hungry, abused Jewish children. They are shocked by rampant racism of young Israelis to Arabs, and Charedim brimming with endemic hateful distemper. One girl recounts visiting her ultra-Orthodox uncle being told, “Jews who smoke on Shabbos should be stoned to death.”
            Religious rule, they agree, creates intolerance for diversity, and a threat to democracy. God worshiping Jews hating the State, collaborating in violence against non-religious Jews, and rejecting values of modern society, are political issues they want to explore. The Law of Return has been turned on its head becoming an exclusionary device punishing Jews for not converting with the right Rabbi, or being born to the wrong mother.
            Students give no credence or quarter to people opposing the survivability of Israel. It angers them. They are disappointed by the lack of earnestness characterizing all peace negotiators. The students oppose a Palestinian state until there is a demonstrated commitment to end violence and accept Israel’s legitimacy.
            Israelis are kidding themselves believing Palestinians have no sense of nationalism, no desire for self-rule, and self-determination. It is delusional believing they prefer living as citizens of Israel, and will accept Jordan in place of the West Bank for their homeland. The students laugh at proposals to pay Palestinians to live in other countries. More likely, Israelis will move to New York or L.A. if Arabs offer Jews millions per family to emigrate. More than ten percent of the population is already yordim (emigrants).
            An agreement will ultimately make a long lasting peace more likely, but doubt a Palestinian state will help reduce Muslim anger at and terrorism in Western nations. There is near unanimity that Israel’s policies of “land for peace” and “prisoners for peace” are immoral practices as pre-negotiation tools.
             They expect Israel to enact more harsh and cruel military responses in crushing Palestinian quest for self-determination. Expect more prisoners and creeping settlement expansion. The BDS movement will gain more traction, and Israel will become increasingly isolated. The West Bank will more resemble the Chinese repression of Tibet and Russia’s violence against Chechnya, than U.S. rule over Puerto Rico.  Paraphrasing one student, more containment, greater repression, offers to soothe Palestinian angst with sweet-talks about economic development and infrastructure investment, are no substitute for a legitimate government.
            Kibbutzniks are heroes, remnants of idealistic Zionism, and early defenders against Arab marauders and armies.  Settlers are viewed as people taking advantage of low cost housing and ideological religious fanatics. “Price Taggers” are unfettered delinquent racists; hate crime vandals, emboldened by rightwing farceurs, reminding Palestinians the plan is to drive non-Jews out.
             An Australian student spent time with West Bank Palestinian farmers and Jewish activists. She wrote a lengthy account of her impressions and experiences concluding, “It's another world over the green line, a racial disharmony that is tarnishing Israel's image and destroying hopes for peace, a world, beach going tel avivians (sic) would, understandably, want to forget or be naive about.” 

            This young woman told us many times how great being in Israel is for
her. She loves the country, and hopes for peace. She is no wailing keener condemning Israel.
             Students traveled to Sderot.  One young woman from Texas “with my good friend…from Belgium” writes, “The city and its people are very strong…. The fact that we are together – two jews (sic) from opposite sides of the world – is an amazing accomplishment that goes to show how the Jewish people have progressed and survived throughout time and history. Even when our enemies try to destroy us, we always come together and persevere.”
                Their age, culture, and education practically demand the students fulfill the picture image written by Professor Ruth Scurr of French revolutionaries; i.e., they give “passionate witness to the grievances of the poor and virtues of the meek or oppressed betrayed by history….” These young students who choose to come to Israel, are prescient minds sometimes designing simplistic conceptualizations, but full of trenchant moral insights. They embody the dissonance of Israel and Diaspora, of the left and right, of students with a worldview and commitment to the Jewish people. They personify Shel Silverstein’s poem,
“I will not play at tug o’war. I’d rather play at hug o’war, Where everyone hugs Instead of tugs, where everyone giggles And rolls on the rug, Where everyone kisses, And everyone grins, And everyone cuddles, And everyone wins,” but never at the expense of the continuing existence of the Jewish State.  

Dr. Goldmeier was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard, worked for four Governors, and recently sold his business in Chicago. He is a business management consultant, teaches international university students American Jewish University Aardvark Gap Year Program in Tel Aviv, writes a column in The Jerusalem Post, Seeking Alpha, Life in Israel, Arutz Sheva, and is a public speaker.




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