This generation of high schoolers and college students has a radically different relationship with Israel than any generation before. The relative security and power attributed to Israel, unimaginable to any previous generation, has concretized the inverted narrative of David and Goliath as an unquestionable truth.
In a post 9/11 world, students have grown up amongst a fear of terrorism and domestic gun violence. In hope, we have taught our students that the sacred purpose of our faith is to fulfill the destiny of a people liberated from Egypt to flourish and protect the vulnerable in our midst. We have been vigilant to educate our students with a deep concern for the safety and welfare of Muslim and Black communities in America as part of our prophetic imperative.
The Torah instructs, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Deut. 16:20.) When we look at the text from which that statement is drawn, we find a directive not only of a social action orientation, but also of a covenantal contract tied to our connection to Israel.
As educators of this generation, we have taught Israel and tzedek as separate commitments. This generation’s connection to a Jewish and democratic state of Israel wavers; in the absence of historical memory, they read Israel’s political stances as inconsistent with the liberal, Jewish values to which they are deeply devoted.
Israel education of children, adolescents, and adults must be evolving and nuanced, seeking information from all sides and cultivating empathy for members of two marginalized peoples. Our community needs to learn to love Israel and its people and to feel obligated to it. At the same time, we must not silence the Torah inside our youth that drives them to honor the lives of all people, protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.
While many of these students feel a strong commitment to their Jewish identity, they espouse a deep alienation from Jewish legacy organizations and seek to make public what they see as a hypocrisy in American Jewish values. Differences around Israel politics have led to schisms in communities. The American Jewish community’s internal debate about Israel has become a media obsession.
Today, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s charge for us rings truer than ever: “Are we going to take counsel here of fear of what this one or that one might say, of how our actions are likely to be misinterpreted; or are we to take counsel of our inner moral convictions, of our faith, of our history, of our achievements, and go forward in faith?”
For many contemporary Jews, our “inner moral convictions” come in conflict with the discourse coming forth from Israel’s leadership. And yet, this is complicated by the confluence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism around the globe.
The current crescendo in criticism of Israel within our communities coincides with an increasing sense of the important role that Israel plays in ensuring the safety and protection of Jewish people world-wide. We live in the heart of those tensions, and in this moment – as decades ago – we must go forward in faith.
-Rabbi Levin Rosen