GA Reflections & Thoughts on the Disturbances

Friday, 12 November, 2010 - 1:42 pm

This week I had the pleasure of participating in the GA. Kudos to our local federation for doing a great job with the hosting logistics and to the volunteers from our great Jewish community for making everyone feel welcome. Aside from the fact that I had to miss Chabad's annual conference in NY, it was a great experience. I met and chatted with visiting delegates and spent some good time with our own New Orleans folks. I participated in informative sessions, including one entitled "Federation is from Mars, Chabad is from Venus." The general plenaries were quite rewarding; having the chance to hear from American and Israeli political leaders. I was saddened by the misguided young Jews who interrupted the Prime Minister's talk. I was gladdened by the annoucement by Natan Sharansky that the Jewish Agency has undertaken to help promote Jewish identity in the Diaspora. He cited Netanyahu's poignant statement that "all Jews are his base." I believe this is a very important attitude shift on the part of Israel. If we view the Jewish people as a unit then we must be strong wherever we are.

If one thubmed through the schedule of the GA, two issues would jump out as being of primary focus (aside from fundraising), supporting and defending Israel, and engaging young people to participate in the Jewish community. Yet, on display before 4,000 people was the stark realization that these two goals can sometimes be contradictory. While many (perhaps most) of our young people are supporters of Israel (to whatever degree), some are walking away from a state that they see as a contradiction to the Jewish values that they were taught. As misguided as we consider them (and I do), it is still an issue that we must confront.

I do not intend to over-simplify a complex issue, but I would like to share an element of a possible solution. Admittedly this stems from Torah convictions, but I proudly declare that Torah is the prism through which I view life. 

The average Jewish youths from liberal (i.e. secular) Western homes are given three dimensions to their Jewish identities. Social action, Holocaust rememberance, Israel. (See previous blogs on these issues -

Social action, while an important part of being Jewish, is not exclusively Jewish. All people should care for the needy, the planet, animals etc. The Holocaust, which is very central, gives us a sense of peoplehood, but in terms of who and what we need to resist and fight against (anti-semitism etc.). So the one positive element of identity (something they can be for rather than against) is Israel. How a group of ragtag people made the desert bloom. How it is the only democracy in the region. How so many scientific, technological, and medical developments came out of Israel. How it gives a place for all Jews to live in security. How it cares for forgotten Jews from all over the world, Yemen, Ethiopia, Soviet Union etc. The great beaches, universities, music, culture, art. Tel Aviv is the third best city in the world for a Hedonistic experience.

What we are under-emphasizing (or in some cases avoiding altogether) are the religious associations. That it is a gift from G-d to the Jewish people. The holiness of Israel. The very place in which the narratives of the Bible occur. The special Mitzvot connected to the land. The closeness to G-d that one can feel there. And most importantly, seeing it in the context of the entire Torah, Mitzvot and Jewish religion.

When we do not provide spiritual substance as our Jewish identity education, we face the possibilty of a young person saying, "Wait a minute! It doesn't all align in my eyes. One value seems to contradict the other." While we can argue the issue with them until we are blue in the face, we may not be successful in convincing them.

On the other hand when a Jewish identity is the Torah, Mitzvot, spirituality and G-dliness, then social action is a part of that, Holocaust remeberance is in that context, and Israel is a central aspect as well. But then we do not face the same risk, for it is all part of a greater understanding of life and Judaism, which is unshakable. Space constraints do not allow for further elaboration, but this is enough to get people thinking.

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