(By Daniel Greenberg)One of the interesting topics these last couple of years has been the decline of Zionism among the younger generations of Jews. Some say Jews are turning against Israel, yet for the most part the support for Israel is widespread. The main problem is that Israel is simply not a priority. Perhaps the more interesting aspect of this, however, is not the decline itself but the surprise of older Jews. Aging Zionists see their world crumbling around them, with Diaspora Jews departing from the Jewish community, Israelis emigrating for good, and pro-Israel Jews distancing themselves from Zionism. What happened?
A politically fashionable argument is that Israel’s policies that have mainstream support have become too right-wing and have left everyone else behind. Yet when one removes the pillars of partisanship the argument crumbles. J Street is a dead end. Indeed, the convenient refrain is merely an excuse for our problem: Jews no longer strongly identify as Jews.
Jews everywhere tend to either adopt their national identities or become citizens of the world. It hardly matters, because these Jews are adopting more than the ideas that make their countries great. One can easily embrace the ideas of the American Constitution or Israeli independence and remain a Jew, but when a Jew is primarily an American, an Israeli, or a citizen of the world, this begs the question: what remains of that person’s bond with our people? Sure, Tikkun Olam is in Hebrew, but other than that there is little distinctively Hebrew about it. This, then, is what happened, and why Jewish identity is weak.Education
Put simply, modern Jewish culture has succeeded in being neither modern nor Jewish. Israel, the emblem of Jewish expression, has yet to surpass America in offering liberty to Jews. Many of us are realizing that Jewish education is the key. And the key, with a few exceptions, has been either lost or thrown away after being painstakingly passed down for countless generations.
This is why far too few children are the wise son of the Passover seder, and far too many refer to Jews and Israel as “them,” assuming they ask about Israel at all and would be at the seder in the first place. A generation from now, how many will say “I am half-Jewish,” or admit, “My grandmother was Jewish,” or declare, “I am a Jew and therefore not anti-Semitic, and the Jews in the Middle East have no rights and should be subjugated.” Without the concepts and joys of Jewish education and traditions, Jews will have weak identities and thus will be ignorant and useless at best and detached and counterproductive at worst. How long do we honestly think this can last? What is the half-life of Jewish identity?
The ideas that older Jews have taken for granted must be transmitted to future generation, and marketed towards them. Some proudly say that Zionism does not need to be rebranded. This couldn’t be more wrong. Zionists lost control of their brand decades ago, and anti-Zionism is a staple of education, everywhere. If older Jews want to keep on defending Zionism, that’s great. But terms like “Zionism” and “anti-Semitism” are passé and will not win the day.
Yes, hasbara is not only decades old, but the concept itself is lacking. We must teach our youth to view the world as Jews who know their history and their rights. Without Jewish education, the reality is there will be few Jews, and 1948 will be a Pyrrhic victory rather than the rejuvenation of our nation. We need more than anti-anti-Zionism, but we also need more than the anti-anti-Semitism of Zionism absent a love of Zion. In the face of delegitimization, our solution is as deceivingly obvious as our problem: we need legitimacy. We need a thriving Jewish people with strong Jewish identities. We need a fuller Jewish movement, tikkun ha’am that will unite us in guarding our identity and our rights. Let’s call it Israelism. I am an Israelist.
Daniel Greenberg is a second-year law student at the Pepperdine University School of Law.