The Solution is Under Your Jewish Nose

The following is an extension of my post on Yom Yerushalayim and subsequent thoughts on misdirected efforts to support the Jewish people and Israel.

There are two issues that American Jews in particular seemed very concerned about:

a) Intermarriage: Why aren’t Jews marrying other Jews?

b) Support for Israel: Particularly, why aren’t today’s college students and other young people not more active in advocacy?

The thousands of high-school and college-aged children I saw literally dancing in the streets today were expressing their Jewish pride.  In an American society where Jews are thankfully accepted in all arenas (the most recent obvious example is the nomination of Elena Kagan as U.S. Supreme Court justice), you’re not singled out too much for being Jewish if you don’t want to be.  If you want to ditch the old customs and eat, sing, dance, play, and pretty much do everything else but pray just like everyone else, you can.  And then, where is the harm in intermarrying?  If a Jew’s life is just like that of a non-Jew’s, then refusing to marry a non-Jew is just racism.  But, if a Jew has a distinctly different identity, has different values and folkways, then marrying a non-Jew will not work well.

It’s no surprise either, that if a young person does not have a strong Jewish identity, he or she will not feel a strong need to defend and protect a Jewish State.  The college campus is the place that attracts strong academic discourse and a strong penchant for beer and free food.  Why isn’t it enough to host a hookah night with all-you-can-eat pita and hummous and to hand out packets about how a careful reading of U.N. Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank and Gaza?  Or how about hosting an event at an exclusive nightclub with beautiful people spit out factoids like “In 2000 the Palestinian Arabs were offered 97% of the land they claim to be fighting for and rejected the offer”?  Most people smart enough to get into college are smart enough to recognize a gimmick.  This does not get to the core reason of why a young person should bother, amid all the other responsibilities and activities vying for their attention, to care about being Jewish or about Israel.  For some familiarity and habit may be enough.  Many others need to feel it in their kishkes.  Yet another Israel advocacy organization (I can think of at least 20 right now) will not fill the void.

Great, you say.  Pouring a lot of money into Israel fairs doesn’t work.  So what can be done?!?  To all the generous donors who earnestly want to help Israel and the Jewish people, I recommend the following:  Ask yourself, why do you care about being Jewish?  Why do you care about Israel?  Is it really (respectively) for the chicken soup and awesome beaches?  Is that what cutting your check is out to defend?  Jewish continuity for its own sake, or for the preservation of “Jewish values”, which without much exploration look strikingly similar to mainstream Western ideals, also feel like pretty empty.

If a donor does not know really why he is giving, what can be the expected result from the target audience?

There is something bigger tugging, something not always easy to pinpoint.  Jews are naturally searchers, and perhaps this is why they are willing to look everywhere (Buddhism, Communism, you name it) for meaning.  There is a book that is a terrific guide to Jewish identity and values, and it also makes a pretty strong case for a Jewish right to a State of Israel.  That, of course, is the Torah.  But for the vast majority of Jews, it remains elusive.  Jews run to the corners of the earth and to the peaks of academic thought and inquiry.  But to the Torah?  Nah.

I don’t know how to latch on to that searching spirit and to guide it in the right direction.  But I know that the searching is there, and I believe that it’s the key to the preservation of Israel and the Jewish people.  Jews will not ultimately succeed by being just like everybody else, and Israel will not succeed by being just like the other countries.  Jewish values may have formed the basis for Western values, but they are not the same.  This must be embraced rather than denied.  I suffer when I try to be something that I’m not, and I think the Jewish people and Israel do too.

To achieve the goals of reducing intermarriage and strengthening Israel’s support and security, I advocate supporting institutions that advance Torah education. This seems strange at first.  Clearly this would benefit people who are already insistent on marrying Jews and passionate about Israel.  But the Bet Midrash is increasingly filled by people who are newly religious and do not know how to properly study the Torah that they recently found.  Yeshivas and seminaries are also, as a rule, pretty strapped for cash, especially in this poor economy (Thanks Madoff).

Few yeshivas and seminaries have campuses as well-maintained as that of your average U.S. college or university Hillel.  I’ve seen some in Jerusalem and Tsfat that are located literally amid rubble.  I can think of a lot of ways that a generous donation can go far here, certainly farther than the thousands of dollars that it takes to bring in some big-name speaker to campus who is entertaining and just happens to be Jewish – which formed the extent of my Jewish education in college.  As a young person, the Torah was a much more convincing argument for making major life decisions than free pizza.  The free pizza just helped make the case for me to engage in something I found was already inherently worthwhile.  I would throw in this basket intellectually honest organizations that do outreach to get Jews to think about this Torah thing they’ve heard about.

I know, I know.  The Torah is not sexy (well, if you read the right parts…)  And it’s too heavy (I fear the same thing about this blog).  But it’s what the Jewish people have had to stand on for 3,000 years, and increasing numbers of Jews are giving it a chance.  I think it’s the only chance we’ve got.

For the Math geeks among us:

(Jewish Identity = Jewish Pride = Support for Israel)

Lastly, my final old-school radical idea: Prayer.  It’s not ultimately up to us, and I think Gd is more willing to step in the more we recognize that we need His help.


1 Response to “The Solution is Under Your Jewish Nose”

  1. 1 If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem « Aliyah L'Torah Trackback on May 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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