This year's Presidents Conference held in Jerusalem recently focused on whether American Jewry is in crisis. Almost immediately it became evident to those attending that mainstream American Judaism is indeed in crisis. In a desperate attempt to remain relevant to young American Jews, the major Jewish organizations have kicked open all of their doors and windows so as to re-create an atmosphere of transparency that enables American Jewry to connect within a wide-open, unrestrictive and pro-active cultural reality that reflects much of what young American Jews are seeking in today's global internet based user-friendly environment.
No longer is Israel or Zionism, or Aliyah the main issues that trump up all other Jewish issues. Israel is no longer viewed through that all encompassing lens that puts Israel smack in the center of the field. The lexicon of American Jewish life is undergoing profound changes and has evolved, having left behind Israel as the central uniting and defining issue for American Jewry. As Rabbi Wertheimer of the Conservative Movement has stated; the vocabulary of Jewish life has undergone a profound transformation. "The evidence is all around us: in books promoting 'empowered Judaism,' blogs singing the praises of 'Do It Yourself Judaism,' slogans celebrating a 'Jewish renewal' or a 'Jewish renaissance' in America, and more." This new lexicon reflects what Jewish life in American is now focused on and Israel to my chagrin is no longer in the top 10. Don't worry, be Jewish is reflective of the new mantra.
Yet behind this seemingly innocent portrayal of a seismic change emanating from the American Jewish scene, we can begin to see the emergence of a new rationale, an "empirical and evidence" based transformation of a whole different set of organizational priorities as far as funding of programs and assistance to communities. Israel is out, and helping American Jews rediscover their "Jewishness" is in. We are witnessing a tectonic change in how Israel is valued, perceived, and understood by the American Jewish communities and the organizations that represent them. How better to explain the diminishing strategic level funding of programs by American Jewish organization in Israel, then the need to invest more than ever in American Jewry before it becomes to late. Although new generation liberal wanna-be's like Peter Beinhart are crying wolf all the time about the crisis of Zionism and claiming "that we are witnessing the slow decline of the Zionist consensus.” Yet in the same breath, he has also been the first to point out before young American Jews connect to Israel, they must first connect to their own Jewish identity. The burning issues challenging major American Jewish organizations is that young American Jews lack Jewish identity and have little if any commitment to Jewish communal responsibility. Re-kindling the Jewish torch so that today's generation of young Jews will become involved has become the central issue challenging American Jewish organizations.
So we should ask ourselves, has the situation in Israel become that good, and the situation in American become that bad that today Israeli Jewry has what to offer our American brethren in overcoming their lack of affiliation, their lack of interest in fostering and nurturing Jewish identity. This being the case, how can we in Israel help Jews in America. How can we help young American Jews overcome their sense of pervasive alienation that they harbor towards being Jews and towards being identified as belonging to the organized Jewish community.
In recent years Israel has changed greatly as its economy has expanded and been transformed from a poor country into an economic dynamo. It has also endured a failed peace process, fought two wars and dealt with low-intensity terrorist campaigns since the days of the Oslo agreement. Some of Israel's leaders have succumbed to illusions of the "peace process", only to be stung again and again by the uncompromising Arabs. Despite these setbacks, the victory of the Zionist movement was won despite the long odds and thousands that have been killed and injured. However, the men and women of Israel needed not only courage but also an iron will and the patience to bear great suffering while never losing sight of their goal. It is this amazing ability to remain committed despite the many forces operating against the Jews of Israel that can be the single most significant empowerment that we can convey to help counter the rampant individualism and evident lack of interest in American Jewry's collective needs by young American Jews.
Israel and American Jewry can regain a common bond despite her heroic era being over. Making the desert bloom, building a state, and achieving military miracles all belong to the past. It is crucial that young North American Jews view Israel not just as a country locked in perpetual war with its enemies, but identify positively with its energy, innovation, and the simple goodness of its people. We the Jewish nation whether in America or in Israel are each the product of an unbroken chain of ancestors who found something so powerful in their Jewish ancestry that it was worth enduring a never-ending chain of pogroms and forced exiles, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the hardships of building a modern state here in the land of Israel. It is this tenacity, this ability to meet challenges that can be the mutual bond. In conveying our sense of mission and commitment, we the Jews living in Israel can translate these values to what in America is commonly referred to as Jewish identity and redefine a common agenda.