The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Any attempt to change this frustrating situation requires a fresh approach to the issue. We must first create a connection for young Jews – not born out of fear, but out of cultural pride and religious significance. We need to attract Jews to Israel not by highlighting its superficial attractions, nor by fixating on our people’s history as victims, but by broadcasting clearly why the Western Wall, the Kinneret, Masada and even the beaches of Tel Aviv have intrinsic meaning for young Jews today.
For Israel to remain core to Jewish identity, young adults must discover what it is inside of them that makes Israel their birthright and why that matters. Central to this is developing a fundamental relationship with Jewish traditions and history.
In order to help young Jews connect to both their Jewish heritage and Israel, we must look ahead rather than look back. We must be prepared to rethink Israel and its so-called Jewishness with today’s Jews in mind.
It is our responsibility not to force the romantic vision of the country – or the often Holocaust-driven vision of it – upon them, but to open the doors for this generation to build its own connection through pride, confidence, and their appreciation for the freedom that has embraced them. We must arm them with knowledge and inspire them with the curiosity to want to build their own intimate connection to the Holy Land.
This call to impassion Jews about Israel is not directed only at outreach professionals like myself, but is indeed the responsibility all Jewish educators – rabbis and teachers, as well as parents and grandparents and, of course, the State of Israel itself. We must build those vital connections, or we will soon face a society of American Jews with a Promised Land that holds little promise for our young people.
About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald is director of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
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