The director-general of the Jewish Agency’s Israel Experience, Amos Hermon, has written that Israel should bring 250,000 young American Jews a year to Israel for extended stays. To be sure, Hermon’s argument for bringing pre-college-age American Jews to visit Israel is one of self-interest: Israel needs American Jews to fight antisemitism on campus and to lobby for Israel in Congress. After all, American Jewish support for Israel is crucial: Hermon marshals evidence dating back to the Balfour Declaration through the Yom Kippur War, almost 50 years ago. Though, as Hermon himself notes, Israel today is a military powerhouse and financially vibrant, he has no doubt that this will surely change.
The problem is, American Jews just aren’t interested. For almost 25 years, Birthright has offered free, all expense paid trips to Israel. By Birthright’s count, it has brought almost one million young Jews here. Yet 25% of young American don’t think Israel is worth a free trip, and can’t be bothered to come. What more can be done? At a certain point we must recognize that American Jews, certainly the less religious ones, are simply not interested (as Hermon points out, a quarter of young American Jews are pro-BDS). If American Jews want to continue living in the United States as a community, there is little Israel can do at this point. It really is in the hands of the American Jewish institutions, not the State of Israel, to resolve the challenge of its detached youth.
It will be a sad day should the American Jewish community wither and die. But Israel will survive that too. And the responsibility for that death will not be on Israel’s head.