Moving from land to people in Israel-Diaspora relations

Israel education must focus on building lasting personal bonds between young Israeli adults and their Jewish counterparts abroad
Image courtesy of Moishe House

As we look ahead from the attacks of October 7th and the ongoing war in Gaza, Israel and the global Jewish community have our work cut out for us. We need to reconstruct the devastated communities of the south, the battered north, and rebuild the trust between Israel’s government and its citizens. As we look at the priorities and work ahead, I suggest we add another item to this list: Strengthening the relationships and connections between Israeli young adults and the Diaspora young adult Jewish communities.

Over the past 76 years, the global Jewish community has effectively invested in experiences helping teens and Jewish young adults create relationships with the land of Israel. For me, my 6 weeks in Israel as a teenager were transformative to who I am today. While these strategies and investments in trips to Israel need to continue, it is time to enhance this investment and increase our programmatic investments in strategies to also include building relationships more deeply with Israelis. It is no longer a given that young Jews in America will have personal connections in Israel through family and friends.

A main reason for the additional focus on building long-lasting relationships between young adults in Israel and young adults in the diaspora is because of a change in Diaspora Jewry demographics, particularly in North America. Many Jewish Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials in North America grew up with direct family connections to Israel.  My father was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. From there, my grandparents came to America while my Great Aunt went to Israel. I grew up knowing my cousins and family in Israel. I had a personal connection to Israel through my relationship with my Israeli family. So many of my Jewish peers have cousins, aunts, uncles and relatives who are Israeli. They naturally built a personal and deep connection with Israel.

Many Jewish young adults, born in the mid-90s through 2000s do not have those same family ties. When they want insight into Israel, they are not able to send a WhatsApp to a family member or close friend. Instead, they are turning to Instagram, TikTok, or the news, and in doing so, are removed from knowing and feeling the personal experience of Israelis. This is not advantageous for the long-term prospects of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. We need to create a reality where young Jewish adults feel that what happens in Israel affects them and their future, even if they will never pay Israeli taxes, vote in Israeli elections, or send their kids to Israeli schools. We want Jewish young adults to advocate for Israel in the Diaspora- whether that’s San Francisco or Santiago – with a sense of real connection and pride. A Diaspora of Jewish young adults without those personal connections to Israelis will be less compelled to do this. This is where the Jewish community has an opportunity and a need to do better. We must more fully invest in strategies that build lasting personal bonds between Israelis and the Diaspora.

Help Jewish Young Adults Feel a Stake in Israel’s Story

As a field, we need to invest more in introducing Jewish young adults to the people of Israel. Moishe House is actively expanding our work in building strong connections between Israeli and diaspora young adults. In addition to growing our work in Israel to support young adults in Israel and those visiting from the Diaspora, we are opening Israeli Moishe Houses in North America to bring the culture, the history, the language, and ultimately, the relationships to Israeli and Diaspora Jews. These Israeli Moishe Houses are currently in Los Angeles and Miami with plans to expand to new cities. For all our large in-person gatherings, we will have Israeli young adults lead sessions, enjoy late night discussions, dance together, sing together and just be together. A few weeks ago, the 200 plus campers at Camp Nai Nai Nai learned about Israeli culture from Israeli staff and a handful of Israeli campers living in the United States, who traveled to Capital Camps to be part of our camp experience for the weekend. We will continue this work with all our large gatherings.

If we want Jewish young adults to have a serious and engaged relationship with Israel, we have to model that as an organization by bringing Israel to life wherever we can. Our goal is that these investments will yield Jewish leaders who have a relationship with the people of Israel, in addition to the land.

Bringing more enduring relationships to Israel education

We need to recognize that young adults are primarily influenced by relationships and experiences. That is at the heart of our 4HQ Israel education program, built around the 4 Hatikvah questions. Our 4HQ approach invites Jewish young adults with a range of political backgrounds, Jewish identities, and views of Israel, to be in dialogue together and with a great Israeli facilitator. We have found that sitting and talking with someone with real first-hand experience with Israel is far more effective than talking points or a facts sheet.

Jewish young adults are generally not moved by talking points. They change their perspectives when they feel connected to and are in dialogue with others. It is imperative that Israel education for this demographic emphasizes cultivating relationships with Israelis and creating space for young adults to have hard conversations with trusted partners and friends. This will give Jewish young adults in the Diaspora a real connection and perspective that they may not have gotten in their Israel education growing up.

The Road Ahead

Walk into a Shabbat dinner of young adults anywhere around the world and ask about Israel. Most will be able to describe the beaches of Tel Aviv, floating in the Dead Sea, and the Jerusalem stone throughout the old city. Describing the lives, tastes, and opinions of the average Israeli? That’s more of a struggle. But it’s something that we can bring to life in hugely impactful ways.

The theme of the next chapter of Israel Diaspora relations must focus on building up the relationship between Diaspora Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s and the people of Israel. It’s an opportunity that benefits us all.

About the Author
David Cygielman is the founder and CEO of Moishe House.
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