Keep Dreaming: Creating a virtual Iron Dome

Jewish history isn’t what it used to be. Israel advocacy can’t be either.

Iron Dome battery. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Iron Dome battery.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Jewish history isn’t what it used to be. Talk to a sampling of next-generation Jews and you’ll discover that the Holocaust is “something we have to prevent from happening in Darfur” and that the Six Day War is “the beginning of the occupation.”
They may be right, but they are also wrong. In the 70- plus years since the one and the 45 years since the other, the former has been universalized and the latter demythicized to the point where those under 35 and those over 65 no longer speak of these events in the same language.
A case in point: a recent study by Cohen and Kelman found that a full 80 percent of the latter but less than 50% of the former would consider Israel’s destruction to be a personal tragedy. The younger cohort is also less emotionally attached to, less engaged with and less likely to be supportive of the Jewish state.
That presents those of us living in it with a profound challenge. Whether we believe in the centrality of Israel in Jewish life as a fundamental value or merely view Jews abroad as a strategic asset of the State of Israel, this distancing of young Jews is problematic.
With the barrage of rockets raining down on us from Gaza even as I write, it is excusable that we in Israel sometimes forget that there is another front line, far away, where diligence is also a necessity and to which supply lines must be assiduously maintained. The campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to life being waged against us around the world is also a threat to our survival, as is – perhaps to an even greater degree – the indifference within our ranks to whether or not that campaign succeeds.
For the most part, however, we are responding to these dangers with outdated defensive measures. We have yet to internalize that if Jewish history isn’t what it used to be, Israel advocacy can’t be either. In the expectation that Operation Pillar of Defense will have ended by the time this piece appears in print, it is time we direct our thoughts to what it might mean to create a virtual Iron Dome to safeguard our future interests abroad.
Here are a few of the elements and characteristics it would have to include.
Education. To promote advocacy without education makes no sense and will ultimately prove ineffectual for three reasons: (1) What we ultimately want from our young people is not that they become defenders of Israel but lovers of Zion. All the facts and figures in the world attesting to Israel’s right to protect its citizens are not going to foster the emotional attachment we seek. Learning about the ideals and achievements of the Zionist enterprise just might. (2) If our young people don’t care about Israel and if they don’t understand the need for a Jewish state, they are not going to make any effort to defend it. We have to go back to the basics. Israel education must become a community priority and the Zionist idea must be integral to the enterprise. (3) Even those who are inclined to defend Israel feel inadequate to the task, according to a study on campus advocacy conducted by Kopelowitz and Chesir-Teran released in September. And just as low-information voters are less likely to cast their ballots (a favorite theme of the last elections stateside), low-information sympathizers are less likely to advocate.Preemptive and proactive. Unlike the missile system protecting the residents of Israel, the virtual Iron Dome would not be triggered by an attack but would be permanently operational. Our young people will not connect to Israel if we reach out to them only when a siren is sounded by one sociologist or another. We need to invest in nurturing our young people so that we will not later need to invest in reaching out to bring them back.
Responsibility. Being part of the Jewish people demands accountability. Integral to who we are is the dictum that all Jews are responsible for one another. Our virtual Iron Dome would create a system of training and assigning volunteers for a variety of undertakings on behalf of the collective, giving Jews abroad the opportunity to do “reserve duty” on their own shores yet sharing the burden borne by their counterparts in Israel.Focus on the positive. Zionism has always been about fashioning an exemplary society, not only about creating a safe place for Jews to live in. In our virtual Iron Dome, young people will have the opportunity to reclaim the Zionist idea, and will be challenged to imagine the sort of Jewish state they would like to see develop.
From imagination to transformation. The virtual Iron Dome will facilitate opportunities for Jews from abroad to engage in making of Israel all that they would like to see it become. Doors will be opened and bridges built to allow them to become involved in the myriad grassroots efforts that have been launched in recent years by idealistic Israelis.
Hebrew. The operating manual for this Iron Dome will include instructions in Hebrew. We have become a people divided by the ignorance of our common tongue.
Language means identity, values, culture and familiarity.
We must revive it throughout the Diaspora.
“Work in progress.” This is the sign that we shall display prominently in our Iron Dome. There is cause for disenchantment and disillusionment in the realities of today’s Israel. It is impossible to come to know the country and deny that. It is equally impossible not to be inspired by all that we have achieved. I recently heard Ido Aharoni, our consul-general in New York, implore his audience not to judge Israel by its imperfections but rather by its efforts to right them. It is sound advice that fosters responsible optimism.
Inclusiveness. Our virtual Iron Dome will be large enough to include all who wish to come under its protection.
J Street will lead straight into it and AIPAC will lobby on its behalf. It will encompass as many different sorts of synagogues as there are Jews who would pray in them. It will make room for those who believe that Zionism is in crisis as well as those they accuse of causing that crisis. The entire Jewish people will be welcomed. Rockets fired into Israel are indiscriminate in terms of the casualties they cause. One people. One fate. Together forever.
OUR VIRTUAL dome, then, will celebrate Jewish peoplehood in the broadest of terms, but it will also remain adamant in its commitment to making Jewish statehood central to the Jewish experience. It will be erected to safeguard Israel, but also to shape it, out of the dual conviction that a secure Israel is essential to the wellbeing of Jewish life everywhere and that Jews everywhere have a stake in what our one Jewish state is going to become.
Finally, it will encourage all who enjoy its shelter to keep dreaming.
The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.