For answers to why so many young Jews are disaffected about Judaism and uninformed and hostile towards Israel, consult The Jewish Week of Jan 23rd. The cover story addresses the meeting organized by Repair the World at a Martin Luther King Shabbat in Crown Heights where three community activists spoke about race, privilege and partnership. The panel included a black woman, Tynesha McHarris (director of community leadership at the Brooklyn Community Foundation; a black man, Mark Winston Griffith (exec. director of the Brooklyn Movement Center) and a white Jewish woman, Amy Ellenbogen (director of Crown Heights Community Mediation Center). A questioner asked how the largely white audience could become effective allies in pursuing racial justice. McHarris responded that people of color needed to be the leaders while white people could follow and support. Griffith disagreed and said that his aency offered leadership roles to everybody. Ellenbogen stated that whites needed to “shut up and listen, and when you’re done with that, shut up and listen some more.” When a question arose concerning the selective filtering of history in the movie “Selma,” Professor James Goodman (History, Rutgers) felt that it was perfectly legitimate to airbrush Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from the film despite his enormous contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, his prominent position at the march (the iconic photo shows him in the front line) and his close personal friendship with Dr. King.
In another article, we learn that an organization funded partly by U.S. Jewish institutions and federations and supported by the Israeli government has sent four Israelis to Sierra Leone to deal with the ebola epidemic. Further in this same issue of the newspaper, Rabbi Sid Schwarz discusses his participation in the Israeli relief disaster team for Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and how this materialized into the Adat Shalom Haiti Project. Adat Shalom is the rabbi’s congregation in Bethesda, Md and for the last five years, it has sent money and young volunteers to Haiti to build homes and villages for 120 families. In an article about the Jewish Film Festival in NYC, editor Gary Rosenblatt heralds two new documentaries. “Above And Beyond,” produced by Nancy Spielberg (sister of Stephen), tells the story of a small group of American Jewish pilots who volunteered to help create the Israeli Air Force in 1948. One of the pilots recounted how little interest there was in this remarkable story until some Christian evangelists in Minneapolis invited him to speak and Spielberg reports that she has had great difficulty in getting her film accepted to film festivals. Another film, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front,” follows five young Israelis as they join the IDF and go through the difficult 8 months of basic training. The director of the Israel Film Center at the JCC in Manhattan (Isaac Zablocki), found both films too pro-Israel to attract audiences who might question Israel’s military policies. He advised the filmmakers to create films that offer criticism as well as praise, stating ,”A film that criticizes the IDF humanizes it.” There’s no doubt that he’s a man of his word as the JCC offers its annual Other Israel Film Festival in which we can see the complaints of Arabs and leftist Jews about Israel while Arab filmmakers typically boycott the Jewish festival but also lack the freedom to criticize their own governments and societies and live to make another film.
Though there is nothing wrong with the biblical command for Jews to help others, that precept was never intended to occlude the essential element of self-protection and self-pride. Aside from the Birthright trips to Israel, it’s hard to pinpoint another American organization aimed at illuminating the extraordinary accomplishments of Israel to young people. They won’t learn about that at colleges where Israel Apartheid Week is an annual occurrence and where most of the Mid-East History departments are controlled by anti-Israel academicians. They won’t learn about it from the media, especially not from the NYTimes which offers a daily barrage of anti-Israel venom that saturates its reporting as well as its editorials. A scant number of days after the horrific stabbing of 11 Jews on a bus and in the street in Tel-Aviv, the Times offers a sympathetic profile of the stabber, highlighting the approval of many Palestinians for this violence which his mother explains quite simply: “From a young age, we have always said that we should do good things in order to go to paradise. In his opinion, this was a good thing.” (NYT 1/23). The correspondent offers a detailed description of the various living accommodations of the stabber, as if the Arab death message for Jews stems from their resentment for the inferior decorating of their own apartments, as opposed to the message of the Koran and its interpreters. There is no mention of the condition of some of the victims who were critically injured.
Perusing the Times, you won’t find coverage of the disruption at the meeting of the NY City Council on Jan 22nd as they gathered to vote on commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation at Auschwitz. A group of 40 protesters from the Jewish Voice for Peace, along with other groups that have aligned with the BDS movement chose that moment to exhort the council members and other politicians to not visit Israel, shouting “Palestinian lives matter, Why are you supporting apartheid?”
What young Jewish adults can take away from the depiction of Jewish organizational interests, is that Jews are desperate to help others throughout the world, while few if any of these relationships are reciprocal. A great deal of funding and manpower is expended in helping the stranger but when an opportunity arises to show some pride in Israel and its remarkable accomplishment, the JCC of Manhattan is reluctant to participate. Destructive and one-sided criticism of Israel by lobby groups, by liberal rabbis and various politicians are masked as concern for that country’s best interests, as if worrying about Israel’s soul outweighs the need to worry about its very existence. Without psychoanalyzing the Jewish discomfort with any political role but underdog, there is no question that many Jews were more supportive of Israel before they were perceived as “winners.” Arab propaganda has been embraced by the American left and sadly attracted many Jews who are insufficiently informed to separate the truth from anti-Semitic lies. The growing prevalence of Jewish students and adults joining the BDS movement and admitting that concern for Israel plays little part in their voting choices are the inevitable and unfortunate answer to the prophetic question posed by the great sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”
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