Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave across the most important message that every Jewish educator and parent must focus on with every Jewish child and youth of today. We are so blessed to be Jews. Please don’t misunderstand me, we Jews are no better than other people. We are all people – all equal. But, we have a special responsibility. Instead of running away from one’s Jewish identity, Jewish people of all ages should embrace their identity. They should embrace their heritage, their history, their homeland, Israel, and be proud to be Jews.
Being Jewish Today Outside of Israel
After over 2,000 years of exile and persecution, the Jewish people today are one of the most blessed generations of Jews, ever. We are back as a sovereign on our ancestral homeland. We have our own army to defend ourselves with. And we are a geo-political force that the world cannot ignore. Living as a Jew today in Israel is so much safer than it has been for thousands of years. Jews do not have to fear antisemitic acts of pogroms or discrimination that past generations had to deal with.
However, with all this good, the amount of Jews who run away from their Jewish identity – from the Jewish collective – is staggering.
Some in the Jewish exile place the blame on Israel. The more progressive Jews of today don’t understand Israel’s foreign policy. They feel embarrassed when Israel has to use military force to kill terrorists. They prefer to sympathize with the civilians of our enemy than to sympathize with their Israeli brethren who suffer from a genocidal culture of terror.
The reason why so many of our Jewish brethren in the exile feel this way is because of a weak connection to their Jewish identity. They are disconnected from their ancestral heritage and don’t understand the miracle of Israel. Basically, they have no pride in their Jewish identity. They think that to believe in progressive values is today’s Jewish identity.
PM Netanyahu’s Message
In a speech Prime Minister Netanyahu made at the GA in Tel Aviv, he quotes a Rabbi Hirsch who wrote an article in the JTA. Rabbi Hirsch wrote that “those who are not concerned with Jewish survival will not survive as Jews.” The message is clear. Those Jews who do not support Israel defending herself today against her enemies will not survive as Jews. Why? Because to sympathize with Israel’s enemies and not with their own brethren, that shows that they no longer have a strong Jewish identity. They have cut themselves off from their own Jewish brethren.
Jewish Identity and a strong Jewish State
PM Netanyahu then continued saying that “Jewish survival is guaranteed in the Jewish state, if we defend ourselves. Their (American Jewry) own future as Jews depends upon their identity. It’s protecting Jewish identity and developing Jewish consciousness that is the most important thing. It transcends politics and touches upon the foundations of history.”
He then finished his speech with the following line that sums it all up “let’s make sure every Jewish child in the world knows how proud they should be to be Jews”.
My Plan for World Jewry
Believe it or not, my plan to help develop a true sense of Jewish pride in today’s Jewish children and youth of America and abroad is simple.
The ideal solution is for Jews to make aliyah and move to Israel. I know, not everyone will seriously consider doing that.
In the meantime, here is my proposed stop-gap solution for the Rabbinic and lay leadership of US Jewry today to solve the problem of Jewish continuity. They should help their constituents develop a deep sense of true pride in their Jewish identity and heritage. Yes, the solution is that simple. And this should also be implemented for Orthodox youth as well.
The Real Start-Up Nation
Step one, Jewish organizations should stop focusing on the wonders of Israel as the hi-tech start-up nation to drum up Jewish pride. Yes, that is definitely something wonderful to be proud of. However, hi-tech hubs can also be found in Silicon Valley and other cities in the world. Israel as the hi-tech start-up nation is remarkable, and something to be proud of. But it is not something that allows one to develop a deep pride in their Jewish identity.
Instead, they should be focusing on Israel being the true “start-up nation.” We are a start-up people, saved from slavery in Egypt and brought into the land of Israel to start-up a nation. That is an essential part of our heritage that is unique to being a Jew. They should be taught to be inspired by Avraham, the father of our nation. Young Jews should be brought to visit Elon Moreh, Hevron, Beer Sheva etc, the places where Avraham lived and traveled. They can literally walk the path of our nation’s founder. All they have to do is visit these places with an open Bible in front of them. That will bring the Biblical stories of Avraham and his descendants to life. This is a simple, and effective way, to help their constituents truly develop a connection with their ancestral roots.
Connect to the Bible
Next, they should not promote Israel as the country with liberal “values” that hosts a gay “pride” parade. They can get that in the US. That is not unique to Israel and it has nothing to with their unique Jewish identity.
Instead, they should teach them to be proud of their Jewish heritage. They should bring their constituents to the Mount of Olives. There, they will see a Jewish graveyard from hundreds and thousands of years ago. When they visit the graves, they should learn about who these people were. They should hear about their contributions to the Jewish people. Near the relatively recent graves of Israeli leader Menachem Begin and fighters in Israel’s War of Independence. Near King David’s son Absalom. On the upper slope of the Mount of Olives are the traditional burial places of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi from the Tanach. Visiting this one place, with an open Tanach in hand, young Jews can learn and connect with the people who make up 3,000 years of Jewish history.
Land of the Living
The Mount of Olives is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. It also just happens to be in the area mislabeled as “Arab East Jerusalem.” This is an area that much of the Reform and Conservative leaders support in removing from Jewish control and giving away to the Arabs.
And that is not all. These leaders who preach about “Jewish continuity” should start teaching their constituents that the true holy place to the Jewish people is the Temple Mount, not the Western Wall. The Western Wall is just a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. We pray three times a day for the Temple to be rebuilt, not for the Western Wall to be rebuilt.
City of our Forefathers
In addition, they should bring them to Hevron. Hevron was the first capital city of King David’s Kingdom. That is where our matriarchs and patriarchs are buried.
They should focus on inspiring today’s youth with the rich heritage of our people and the places that make up our history. They can visit all these places today and bring their cultural heritage to life.
These are things that make our Jewish identity unique. It is the places and people from our history that come alive in Israel that have the best chance of awakening the Jewish pride in today’s younger generation of Jews.
Real Jewish Pride
Speaking to Israelis is nice, but that is not what will help bridge the divide between US Jewry and Israeli Jewry. Establishing a strong Jewish pride in US Jewry is a much more critical step to help bridge that divide.
The key ingredient, that non-Orthodox Rabbinic and lay leadership, is missing in leading their congregations, is instilling a true pride in the Jewish identity of their constituents. They err in focusing on the shared liberal values of our modern countries. Whether that is true or not, that does not help one internalize a pride in one’s ancient identity and culture. The true focus should be on helping them focus on their cultural history that comes to life in the land of Israel.
Hevron vs. Tel-Aviv
The bottom line is that US Jewry has to internalize their connection and pride in historic Hevron more than their pride in hi-tech Tel Aviv. Ultimately, if Jews have no connection and no understanding of their right to visit or live in Hevron, then the connection and right to live in Tel Aviv will disappear as well.
It’s time the leadership of US Jewry starts talking about developing a true Jewish pride with US Jewry. The conversation with Israel can wait.