The demise of young American Jews’ interest in Israel is a myth, Malcolm
Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
As the executive vice
chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations,
Hoenlein is in the country as part of the umbrella organization’s yearly mission
to consult with Israel’s leading political, social and religious figures. He sat
down with the Post in his suite at the Inbal hotel to discuss the future of
American Jewry and the challenges facing the organizations popularly known as
the “Jewish establishment.”
Ever since sociologists Steven Cohen and Ari
Kelman published a study in 2007 indicating that half of American Jews under 35
would not consider the State of Israel’s destruction a personal tragedy, many
involved in Israel advocacy have lamented the death of interest in the Jewish
However, Hoenlein believes such speculations are “absolutely
“Young American Jews care very much about Israel,” he said. “I
think that one of the huge problems we have is ignorance... and [that] you don’t
have a rallying cause – like we had with Soviet Jews, Syrian Jews and Ethiopian
Jews – for people to manifest their interest.”
There are “fundamental
changes” taking place in the “affiliation of American Jews,” he continued. There
are indeed many young Jews who are disinterested, but “that was always
Still, he stressed, “it’s not disaffection.
tremendous ignorance, and I think that is a critical factor. Part of the problem
is education, especially educating youth. We neglect our youth in the community
and in the general population.”
Many of the organizations of the past “do
not attract the young generation, but they are creating new vehicles and new
approaches” to try and stay relevant, he explained.
He said the
Conference of Presidents was working to develop curricula, as well as to do
“much more online” and through social media.
Despite his sunny outlook on
the ability of organized Jewry to reengage the younger generation, Hoenlein
seemed a bit more pessimistic when it came to the American Jewish community’s
security in the face of Islamic terrorism.
Violence against Jews is going
to rise, he said, even though the level of anti-Semitism among the general
populace in America has not risen.
“In America, people took security for
granted,” he noted.
“We can’t anymore. We’ve had attacks against Jewish
institutions, [and] we’ve had many more planned attacks.”
At the end of
the day, he said, terror threats, BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions)
campaigns and other threats on a global scale will require Jewish organizations
to coordinate internationally like never before.