The October 7th attacks on Israel have been prominent and monumental in their effects on the Jewish community in Israel, but also across the world. According to the ADL, antisemitism has soared over 360% since the war began. For Generation Z teens, those aged 11-26, the war in Israel is occurring at a time crucial to young Jews developing their own Jewish identity. In many diaspora communities, these Jewish teens across America are being faced with an abundance of division, intolerance, and antisemitism from their peers.
On October 7th, I was with a group of American teens on a high school study abroad program in Israel. The day the war began is still vivid in my memory. Though it was the holiday of Simchat Torah, we spent most of the day rushing up and down the stairs of a bomb shelter stories below Jerusalem. The holiday was one of joy and community, but the war overshadowed a deeper underlying hatred. For many of us, our realities were shattered. What I did not comprehend until I landed back in the states a week later, was that the reality of much of the Jewish youth community was also shattered. Even though the war raged thousands of miles away, in the Jewish world, everyone was affected.
For Generation Z, one of the greatest platforms of social change (and hate) has been through social media. Most teens maintain an online platform to communicate with their own communities and the world at large. This visibility is a powerful tool, but in times of growing antisemitism and anti-Zionism, it has become a weapon for misinformation. That being said, Gen Z Jews have the unique opportunity to be the change online and in their communities in the diaspora. Jewish teens can be voices for Israel and ambassadors for the truth. At this moment in history they have the seemingly insurmountable task of promoting peaceful, well-informed, and respectful communication with their peers.
There is a superfluity of obstacles present that prevent education and cause harmful rhetoric, detrimental to Jewish people. On social media it can be immensely challenging to combat antisemitism when people have the luxury of hiding behind a screen. In some public spaces, the conversations on the ongoing war may be so extreme and divisive that a productive conversation may not be possible, and in some cases, even dangerous. It’s also notable that when talking with strangers, creating a space of mutual understanding and connection essential to both speak and listen isn’t necessarily productive. In most cases Jewish teens won’t need to look online, or to an extremist group, or even a stranger with a contrasting ideology. In the U.S. one doesn’t need to look far to find someone with different views.
The real change starts when looking at one’s own circle of friends or fellow students. Productive conversations on Israel are most effective for teens that know each other and are able to talk 1:1 and not online. Through knowing each other, these conversations are already more accessible. Although it can be tough to talk with a peer about an issue that has been politicized and disputed as ‘controversial,’ by not having the conversation there is no progress. In other words, to create unity, tough conversations are essential.
There are several key steps Gen Z Jewish teens can take when having these conversations to ensure that they are truly productive. First, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a discussion and not an argument. Going in with an open mind can make all the difference in creating empathy and comprehension. When talking to someone with vastly different views, it’s important to see the humanity in each other. Ultimately, the goal of these conversations is understanding. Next, an obstruction in these important conversations is often false information which can be countered with facts. Any Israeli who goes online today can find a clear amount of online propaganda being used to deteriorate Israel’s image. The deceitful claims being mass posted create a standard for Israel that is not seen with any other country, merely because it is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. Finally, Jewish teens can combat this by telling the rich history of our people. Within this history lies the many attempts of hatred toward the Jewish people. It’s paramount to use facts and show the patterns — that this hatred seen toward Israel amidst war is nothing new for us, but rather an addition to a long history of hostility.
While these may seem like small items for the much larger task at hand, creating change can be done through conversation. By ‘hugging and wrestling’ with Israel through conversation, teens can create a stance that reflects their own Zionism and Judaism. Jewish teens who are willing to speak up are our greatest hope for change in defending Israel. After all, these Jewish teens are the future. By stepping up as leaders, they can make a stance for truth and understanding in a society pulling closer to ignorance and deception. The fate of Israel’s world view lies largely in their hands.