Israel Discovers Jewish Diaspora Crisis in Confidence

Conference Takes Aim at Disengagement From Jewish State

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 07, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

With the startling results of the Pew survey on American Jewish identity still echoing loudly around the globe, this was a fortuitous moment for an international Jewish summit to convene in Jerusalem and hash out strategies for shoring up the next generation.

In fact the two-day summit, beginning November 6 and involving some 120 community professionals, philanthropists, academics and Israeli politicians, had been in the works for the past year, long before the Pew survey surfaced. The plan was to kick off a new, long-term, heavily funded initiative to combat assimilation. It was dreamed up by officials in the Israeli prime minister’s office, working in partnership with the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel. The timing of the kickoff event, seemingly feeding off the anxiety of the Pew survey, was just a lucky coincidence.

Or perhaps unlucky. For anyone familiar with the Pew survey, it was hard not to notice the contrast between the crisis of identity that the summit was supposed to address and the forces convened to tackle the job. On one hand, an emerging generation of young Jews who are overwhelmingly uninterested in traditional forms of Jewish organization, strikingly more liberal than their predecessors, disengaged from Israel and suspicious of its policies and actions.

On the other hand, a task force led by the world’s largest and arguably most hidebound Jewish organization, the Jewish Agency, in partnership with the most conservative government in Israel’s history.

The contradiction wasn’t lost on the participants arriving for the opening session at the Jerusalem Convention Center. Asked what they expected, most of those I questioned replied with shrugs and wry smiles. Several pointed to the published agenda: “to strengthen the younger generation’s Jewish identity and deepen the connection between world Jewry and Israel,” hardly a trailblazing manifesto. “It looks like the same old same-old,” one participant told me.

The conference working paper, sent out in advance to frame the discussions, was even more discouraging. The problems it defined were all about the fraying of Diaspora Jewish identity, but the solutions it proposed were mostly about Israel’s needs: getting young Jews to identify with Israel, defend its policies (or “cultivate a robust pro-Israel environment,” as the document put it) and, ideally, move there.

Compounding the skepticism was the simple fact that most participants — the Americans, at least — knew each other. If they’d been hoping for new faces and new ideas, that didn’t seem to be in the cards.

So what was the point? To begin with, organizers said, there was the fact that the Israeli government was directing its attention — and its resources — to the Jewish Diaspora. The initiative is envisioned as a $300 million per year bundle of programs, with one-third coming from the Israeli taxpayer, one-third from Diaspora donors and one-third from program user fees.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.