Elkana Bar Eitan
According to a recent PEW report, only 45% of American Jewish adults knew that six million Jews were killed in the holocaust. This statistic should be a wake-up call for Jewish leaders and educators.
I have been deeply involved with Jewish experiential education for nearly 15 years, including ‘March Of The Living’ and ‘Birthright.’ Based on my observations, I suggest that we connect both programs. We must draw a clear line between Jewish victimhood and the Shoah on one hand, and the State of Israel on the other.
Back in 1999, when Birthright was founded, Jewish decision-makers and leaders believed that young Jews would find it easier to connect to modern/vibrant/exciting Israel than to their ancient Jewish roots and past. On those assumptions, Birthright proceeded for twenty years.
However, times have changed.
The emerging findings go in the opposite direction, meaning that Israel has fallen out of favor because of politicization and a toxic press. Social pressure effectively marginalizes the Israeli state. This negativism trickles down to Judaism, driving young Jews away from the beautiful and meaningful traditions of their parents and grandparents.
Another factor that needs to be understood: critical race theory.
Similar to many privileged young adults in N. America, young Jews are caught in the midst of the critical race war. Many young, modern Jews feel shame by their privilege. To alleviate their ill feelings, they seek to identify with minorities, as well as any other groups that have been victimized. It is not my purpose here to enter into that political/social minefield. However, I do believe we cannot turn a blind eye to the anti-Israel bias that daily bombards our Jewish youth. Further, I believe that our new reality brings opportunity. We should educate these young people about Jewish victimhood, as a stepping stone to bring them back to Judaism. One could readily argue that two thousand years of Diaspora is an object lesson in pain, suffering, and degradation; systematic victimization.
To be clear, I am not advocating gimmickry or opportunism on the backs of untold Jews who suffered. I am suggesting reaching into our authentic Jewish experience for purposes of holding on to young Jews before it is too late. We speak of providing a genuine solution to the crisis facing this generation.
Jewish resilience, if anything, contrasts victimhood and hope.
With the mountains of ashes and oceans of tears of Auschwitz and Treblinka, life was created in Tel Aviv and New York. Helplessness gave birth to a startup nation, destroyed Ghettos brought the vision of Tikkun Olam.
This is a poignant message that young Jews need to hear and should hear. Combining the March of the Living with Birthright breathes and proclaims that triumphant message.
The pathway to Judaism goes through Poland, as does the pathway to Israel.
While standing next to the mass graves in Poland, we connect to our own victimhood.
While standing on the beach of Tel Aviv, we sense the beauty of hope and celebrate life.
While standing by the Western Wall, we feel awe, unlocking our ancient mysteries.