Rena Cohen
Rena Cohen
An Israel-born, US-raised, Israel returnee

A Guide for the Very Perplexed

Amidst news that the UN is getting ready to fund a massive lawfare campaign against Israel paid for with American tax money, among other sources, we received a fundraiser letter from the Habonim Dror Foundation. For those who may not be familiar, Habonim Dror came about through the merger of two labor Zionist youth organizations, both founded years before Israeli independence was declared by Ben-Gurion in 1948.

Apparently, Habonim Dror did not consider the UN attack against the country its founders gave their lives to see reborn even worth a mention.  Nor did the fundraiser note the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, with its historic significance for Zionism and the return of the Jewish people to our national home.

Habonim Dror sure is evolving — in a very disturbing direction. Our California-born daughter, who now resides in Israel, spent a summer at the organization’s Camp Moshava quite some years ago. She has since grown up, served in the IDF, graduated from IDC Herzliya and is studying for the Israeli bar.  We are very proud of her, as we are of our son, who served as a combat soldier in an elite unit in the IDF at great personal cost and is now studying at the University of Haifa.

The Habonim Dror fundraiser speaks volumes, serving up the kind of cognitive dissonance that “leadership” in the Jewish community seems to suffer from far too often these days. For anyone new to the term cognitive dissonance, I offer this from the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary – “cognitive dissonance — psychological conflict resulting from simultaneously held incongruous beliefs and attitudes”.  Here’s an example, drawn from the second paragraph of the letter:

“…Debate rages over America’s and Israel’s basic values, rising anti-Semitism and white nationalism, 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian people, and battles for gender and LGBTQ equality and inclusion still to be fought.  Assimilation of Jewish youth is still unchecked, and peace and social justice remain elusive…”

Reading along in dismay, I quickly concluded that these would-be leaders need look no further than the nearest mirror to find out just why Jewish youth might be assimilating.

The only clear message that this kind of self-contradictory, confused and confusing hodgepodge communicates can be summed up, more or less, as “start feeling guilty now!”

In the face of this, Jewish youth may well be opting for what seems like the pro-survival path.  Assimilate.  Disappear.  Conform and carry on.  Fit in.  Victimhood is revered and those who succeed should be ashamed, right?  So – don’t be anything to feel guilty about. Don’t for pity’s sake be a proud Jew, and certainly don’t be a Zionist.

After all, faced with one’s heritage and the survival of one’s people cast in the light of “50 years of occupation” – well, who wants to be seen as aiding and abetting an “occupation”, or … (heaven forbid) be “selfishly” concerned about finding out about one’s identity?  Instead, the message more than slightly implied in the Habonim Dror missive is that if there is anything cool left to do, it is to just get out there and start fighting the “many battles for gender and LGBTQ equality and inclusion still to be fought”.

I have news for the leaders of Habonim Dror.  This week, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, or UNWRA, a bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the “refugee” status of the people it claims to serve, was forced to protest the building of (yet another) tunnel under one of its schools in Gaza by the Hamas terror group.

The Qatar-funded tunnel, built under (yet another) UNRWA school in (yet another) cowardly and cynical display of how really convenient using human shields can be when you don’t care if kids you claim as your own pay the price, was directed at Israeli territory for one express purpose – to hurt and kill Jews.  Kids, moms, guys – doesn’t matter.  Jews.

Now luckily, Israel’s leadership – despite its quite extensive and obvious flaws – does manage to differentiate between survival and extinction. Not always, but at least enough of the time that the little state has managed to stay alive in what has certainly has been and still is an extremely hostile environment for the past sixty-nine years.  So they blew that tunnel up.

Now, how does that stack up against “50 years of occupation of the Palestinian people, and battles for gender and LGBTQ equality and inclusion still to be fought”….?  It’s pretty simple.

When young minds encounter older minds chock-full of cognitive dissonance, confusion, an almost craven impulse to glorify and placate just about anything flying the flag of “victim” and a strong tendency toward self-denigration, they are generally either dragged down the rabbit hole of ideological possession that these older minds are selling or they run for the hills – and straight into the arms of “assimilation”, if you will.  And certainly, the brand of thinking put forward by Habonim Dror (and, sadly, others) softens them up plenty to fit in just beautifully, and become good little BDS activists by the time they get to college.

This is our tragedy.

So, a task for Habonim Dror, and for any other organization purporting to help Jewish youth.  Get your priorities straight and stop insinuating that Israel or Jews should continually apologize to the world for surviving and make amends nonstop for the “crime” of being alive.

This is not a call to some reactionary tribalism.  It is a call to acknowledge and celebrate what we are rather than spend all of our time and effort mourning over our inability to fix this rather messed up planet.

Last but definitely not least consider this: as we all know, our tradition holds that destroying a soul is like destroying a world, and saving a life is like saving a world.  It would do lots of good if the folks at Habonim Dror (and elsewhere in the firmament of Jewish leadership) thought a little less globally and acted a little more locally. How about focusing a little more on the beautiful worlds of potential in our Jewish youth, and finding ways to help them get through this rather ugly and nihilistic period in history with their sense of self and of their identity at least somewhat intact?

They need us to do it.  If they are assimilating, it is because we’re failing them.

About the Author
A prodigal daughter -- born in Israel, raised in the U.S. and lived there on both coasts with lots of visits (even a few residential stays) to Israel, but just returned for good in 2019. Entrepreneurial generalist -- worked for others, built my own medical reporting business (with NO seed money), and since have had an extended career in the U.S. biotech industry in early startups through late clinical stage firms, holding positions in everything from investor relations and corporate communications to business development to facilities management (my current post). Longtime editor, particularly on foreign policy topics. Author of the book, LambBunny and His Friends. Blogger for The Times of Israel.