(photo credit: haggadah.com)
Passover, the time of Exodus, always reinforces my thoughts on the connection between us and our fellow Jews in the Diaspora.
The ever-loosening connection between American Jews, especially younger ones, and the State of Israel and Zionism is being gradually given more focus in the public discourse and the Jewish and Israeli media. A perfect example is the article by Jewish-American journalist Peter Beinart, published last year, but which still resonates, titled: “The Failure of the Jewish-American Establishment.” The article, which shines a more pessimistic light over this connection, has been widely debated.
Add to that the studies and surveys pointing to the weakening Jewish identity and connection to Israel of Diaspora youth and a growing problem of assimilation, and we, as Israelis and Jews, have great cause for concern.
As Israelis, we tend to push these important issues aside due to the
pressing problems we deal with every day in this region. But in fact,
preserving the Jewish people’s connection to us is key to our continued
existence here. It is therefore important to address these matters
before it is too late.
When prodded, under the mantle of detachment and alienation, many young
people actually crave a connection to their Jewish roots.
Most of them have vague knowledge of Judaism and Israel and they are
curious and are willing to learn. Over the last decade, we were able to
find many of them through Taglit-Birthright, which has brought hundreds
of thousands of young Jews closer to their heritage and to Israel.
Young people who come here for the first time, describe the educational
trip as the most significant Jewish experience of their lives.
They start to feel something here, and when they return home, many
continue to learn and connect with Judaism in different ways. A study
conducted by Brandeis University found that Taglit-Birthright
participants were more likely to marry a Jewish spouse than those who
did not participate in the project. Many participants (30% more than
nonparticipants) see “great importance” in giving their children a
Our relationship with Jewish communities in the Diaspora is critical to
the perseverance of the Jewish people, and data shows that there is
indeed an effect. Another value of this relationship is to Israel’s
support. It is clear that the younger generation is now leading public
opinion, since a large part of pro-Israel advocacy is done online. This
is a dynamic world, intelligent and witty, which young people navigate
better. Advocacy has always been and always will be in the field.
One of the critical arenas of our pro-Israel advocacy struggle is on
campuses across Europe and the US, where there is a pro-Palestinian
penchant. In recent years, through projects that familiarize young Jews
with this country, we were able to motivate seemingly indifferent Jewish
students to become more vocal on Israel.
Taglit-Birthright visitors meet and connect with young soldiers on a
personal level, they are taken around the country and meet people from
various backgrounds. When they return to their campuses, they relate to
Israel and feel a desire to defend the country and explain its
positions. They effectively become our voice around the world.
The trip gives young Jews the tools necessary to be active on behalf of Israel.
I was happy to hear that the government recently approved a decision to
more than double its investment in the Birthright program over the next
three years, allowing more than 51,000 participants to visit annually by
2013. So one out of every two young Jews will be able to visit Israel.
Indeed we must make every effort to reach more and more young people,
bringing them to Israel, so they can deepen their connection to their
Jewish identity and to later become our ambassadors overseas. If we do
not take responsibility for the Jewish people, we will be left without
our strategic assets.The writer is a Kadima MK.