Thank God the world is obsessed with Israel! I’m even more grateful that the younger generation of Jews — millennials, for instance — are also passionate about Israel. But you wouldn’t always know it from events that are planned around the Jewish state.
We’ve had numerous Israel Friday night dinners at our synagogue over the past 10 years; however, when they focus on the danger Iran poses for Israel, or on issues relating to Palestinians or Hamas or any other strategic concern — as exciting as our speaker might be — the young people don’t show up.
But when the topic involves friends — friends who served in the Israel Defense Forces, friends who lived through the ‘67 war, friends who just got back from Birthright or from leading it — then young people enthusiastically sign up and shell out $15 for what is a combination social and religio-national event. The food is incidental.
When we tap into Israel as the land we can relate to, the land we all share a love for and as a way of creating friendships, then Israel regains its centrality in the lives of the next generation of Jews. There is no crisis in the depth and sensitivity of Jews of our time toward the Jewish state; the question is, are we allowing Israel to connect with them in the right way. Relationships, not issues, will help Israel feel the love of our youngest Jews, and, in turn, the Israel they relate to will help them become more passionate members of our synagogues and communities.
Asher Lopatin is the rabbi of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago.
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