Hoenlein: Demise of US Jews' faith in Israel a myth

Vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations tells 'Post' American Jewry still cares.

Malcolm Hoenlein 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Malcolm Hoenlein 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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 state.
However, Hoenlein believes such speculations are “absolutely bunk.”
“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 true.”
Still, he stressed, “it’s not disaffection.
There is 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.