Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jews, Israel and the Generation Gap

In the Jewish community there is nothing more consensus-building (if you agree) or divisive (if you don't) than Israel. Fundraising and community building are programmed around Israel. Jews identify Israel as central to their Jewishness and are seen as representing Israel by everyone else. Yet no subject in the Jewish community raises hackles the way Israel. No subject wrecks family dinners, starts synagogue quarrels or sours friendships like Israel.

I think there is a silver lining and have written about it here.

Yet, some of these fault lines can be anticipated. There are some opinions that are associated reliably with certain groups:
1) "We need a Jewish state as an insurance policy in case anti-Semitism erupts in the U.S."
2) "We should only air our differences among Jews. We should not expose our divisions to outsiders." 
3) "I'm Jewish and I'm American."

I hear the first two the whole time from people who are the same age as the State of Israel, or older. People in the 60s and up. I have never head someone under 40 make that argument.
In my experience #3 is meaningless to young adults today. Younger Jews do not fear anti-Semitism, they do not see Israel as a safe haven in the event of an unthinkable breakdown of American society. They see no border between Americanness and Jewishness. They take it for granted that they are full Americans and they are as Jewish as they want to be.

(My guess is that this probably does not apply in more traditional communities. These Jews maintain a deliberate separateness from mainstream America and are more connected in a variety of ways to Israeli life.)

If any of my readers has more generation gap distinctions regarding Jews and Israel, would you post them in the comments section. Thanks.

Since it doesn't look like Israel is dropping out of the headlines any time soon, and Jews will continue to be associated with Israel, it is likely that younger Jews will develop a new relationship to Israel. One that is not based on an experience of anti-Semitism or the even more distant Holocaust.

I'm hopeful that many - perhaps a new mainstream - will develop an understanding of Israel that harmonizes their Jewish soul and their human spirit.


  1. Do you really think Jews are so safe? What do you think the Anti-Defamation League exists for? Have you ever heard of Matt Hale? Wite Supremacists? You're living in never-never land and you're wrong. Thank God for Israel.

  2. Cantor Michael DavisDecember 22, 2010

    The ADL does not exist to fight "anti-semitism". That's not its function and whatever expressions of hate that are directed against Jews are taken care of by other orgs. You might want to watch the excellent documentary "Defamation" on what the ADL is really about.

    I don't see Jews in America fearful of any of what you mention. Whatever anti-semitism that might exist is so miniscule as to not warrant mention. I'd have that discussion after we've addressed mainstream Islamophobia, gay-bashing, government harassment of minors and adults whose parents are undocumented immigrants to name but three current problems that Americans face.

    And, should this improbable scenario emerge, do you think Israel will be a safe haven? Do you see Jews moving there? Do you see Israel - as an exclusive, Jewish state - surviving without U.S. support?

    When has an independent Jewish state ever saved Jewish communities outside Israel? I think you are confusing the feeling that Israel gives you with the reality.