The Jerusalem Post news editor is on a trip to the United States to cover the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles.
Skydiving for Israel
Ever since my trip to the US started last week, almost every official I've spoken to from the Jewish Federations, UJC Israeli embassy and consulate, and Jewish Agency, has told me just how bad things are for Israel and the Jews on US university and college campuses.
Israel's Consul in New York, Aryeh Mekel, told me today that the situation on campuses is degrading into a debacle. Mekel's hasbarah chief David Saranga concurred, saying that up until two years ago the consulate had a four-person department to deal with the issue of anti-Israel activities on college campuses, but that due to budget cuts, that department has been scrapped.
I know some of the slack has been picked up by Hillel student unions across US campuses. I've already written about the Northwestern University Hillel chief whose mother won't let him visit Israel. So here's another story about how bad the situation on campuses is, and how, it seems, the Hillel student organizations are perhaps not the best outfit to deal with the problem.
Today, at a morning meeting with Jewish Agency brass at their NY headquarters, a lovely young lady got up to speak about the cool things Hillels were doing across US campuses to attract Jewish students to the organization and to get them connected to Israel. I won't name the young woman in question, but will just say she is involved in coordinating Hillel activities for the JA. I'm also not going to list the inane gimmicks and childish activities the organization uses to attract Jewish students. I do want to, however, focus on one of the activities, what for me was the coup de grace of her presentation: Jewish students are taken skydiving, and while they're in the air, they unfurl an Israeli flag and fly with it as they descend. Of course this is filmed and burned onto DVD.
Now I'm all for showing the "non-conflict" side of Israel to the world, and I'm all for reaching out to Jewish students in creative and funky ways, and I think this is a necessary, but insufficient element in involving Jewish students in the problems facing them as members of the Jewish community, which includes Israel. But what are we doing here people? Is this really the time for fun and games, for skydiving and T-shirts?
While our students are skydiving with Israeli flags, American and other anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students are on field trips to Bil'in and other places to protest the security fence in the West Bank. They spend several weeks every year facing down IDF soldiers and Border Police. They throw stones, organize rallies, write and print pamphlets, author blogs, post pictures of "Israeli brutality," upload pictures of their "brave confrontations" against Israel Occupation Forces protecting the construction of the Apartheid wall, and get arrested and deported. When they arrive back home to the US, and their studies, these students are invigorated, radicalized, and worshipped by others like them - and there are many like them at liberal universities - who have not yet made the "field trip."
As soon as they get back to campus they pick up where they left off at Bil'in, except that now they're not facing any Israeli Border Police on any campus, in no class, in no cafeteria, not in the hallways, in the dorms, nor on the Internet, and none at campus rallies. All this is happening on the ground while high above our brave Hillel skydivers are rapidly descending to the approaching ground.
I held my tongue at today's meeting because I didn't want to spoil the positive atmosphere there. The Jewish Agency truly does do a good job, and it manages to finance hundreds of important Jewish and Israel-related projects that are vital to maintaining the strong Israel-Diaspora connection; they bring thousands of young Jews to Israel through Masa and, together with Nefesh B'Nefesh, on birthright trips.
And JA chairman Ze'ev Bielsky is right when he says that a young Jew's heart and character are forever changed after a visit to Israel, even if that young Jew opts never to make aliya. He will end up being, to some degree, a defender of Israel wherever he chooses to live. I just wish Israeli and American organized Jewry wouldn't forget about those young Jews once they return to America, and to American campuses.
Surely there are more pressing matters at hand than skydiving.
The Jews of DC
My first face-to-face with organized American Jewry
Sunday evening in Chicago