Many have commented, with both varying degrees of surprise and satisfaction, on the recent show of unity in the Jewish world when it comes to support for Israel right now.
On the one hand, I want to recognize something that is good…the Jewish people coming together in a time of need. There is rare consensus among Jewish leaders and organizations – including tremendous approval among the Israeli public for Operation Protective Edge.
What can be wrong with unity, right?
On the other hand, as a professional who spends a significant amount of time trying to engage Jews in Jewish life and community, I see a danger in patting ourselves on the back and feeling satisfied with self-congratulatory claims of unity.
The simple truth is that the total number of people who have turned out collectively for all these solidarity rallies are a drop in the bucket when it comes to the Jewish community in North America.
What about those that didn’t turn out? The silent majority…are they just as supportive of what is going on? Do they fully understand and have an educated opinion about the situation in Israel?
Recent studies suggest not, such as this Times of Israel article highlighting increasing disaffection on the part of the younger generation.
From my own perspective, the core issue does not just have to do with Israel. This is a much broader concern that was highlighted by the recent Pew study. Increasing numbers of Jews today, perhaps the majority of our community, don’t know where they stand in terms of Jewish values, identification and living…let alone their relationship to Israel.
Just as the findings of the Pew Study should not have been a surprise, this ambivalence about Israel, too, should not be a surprise. Ignorance may be bliss for many in our community – and the challenge for leaders in the Jewish world is to keep focus on the real crux of the problem.
I also understand how tempting it is to be beguiled by some good news headlines after what has been a consistent spate of bad news in our communities, but there is a downside to being too satisfied with proclamations of unity right now. Perhaps the worst thing we can do is to brush over or ignore the fact that the majority of our community is not part of the choir or joining in the chorus of unity.
Instead, our focus needs to be on finding approaches and messages that can best connect with and engage the silent majority who don’t engage with/about Israel and might be frustrated enough not to care – let alone those who might not see eye-to-eye on some of the issues at play. We need more approaches like Rethink Israel and efforts that get kids, teens, young adults and others to first develop a personal relationship with Israel outside of the conflict. And we need to get more members of our community to visit Israel for the first time. When we do all that successfully, then we can really talk unity.