* This article is excerpted from Ethical Tribing: Connecting the Next Generation to Israel in the Digital Era. The bestseller, written by Joanna Landau and Michael Golden, is available through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
In 1956, when Cecil B. DeMille directed The Ten Commandments, he shattered the record for most expensive Hollywood film budget. As often happens with historical dramas, DeMille had to make decisions about what to include from the historical record — and what to change. And because of the way he portrayed the film’s climactic scene, there are millions of people whose impression of the story of Exodus includes God parting the sea just seconds before the Hebrews were able to make safe passage across it.
DeMille probably made the right call. The film set records at the box office and has stood the test of time. But in doing so, he deprived a vast audience from experiencing one of the seminally inspiring stories of the Jewish People.
In the Talmudic account of those events, we learn that as the Hebrews were pinned down between the massive Egyptian Army and the Sea of Reeds, God commanded Moses to lead the Twelve Tribes of Israel straight into the waters. But they hesitated; none wanted to be the first to risk their life.
It wasn’t until a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the waves — and then became submerged above his nose — that God ordered Moses to lift his staff and spread his hand over the sea. Only at that point did the water divide, allowing the Israelites to cross unscathed, escaping Pharaoh’s forces.
The name Nachshon derives from nachshol, the Hebrew word for “tidal wave.” Facing the sea’s peril, the son of Jacob did not hesitate; he bravely took action.
A little over three millennia later, in April 1948, a military mission known as “Operation Nachshon” was given the green light by the man who would become Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Anticipating an attack on Jerusalem by Arab forces — they had already hamstrung the Jews’ supply route from Tel Aviv — the Jewish paramilitary unit known as the Haganah prepared to execute its first major operation. Up against it, and with no time to dither, just like their operation’s namesake, they did not hesitate. The brigade of 1,500 men conquered three Arab camps that were blockading the mountain road — and enabled the Jews to move critical supplies to the heart of Israel.
Again and again, the Jewish People have been forced to anticipate, innovate, and take bold action in order to survive. And thrive. Our Tribe has accomplished this by repeatedly adapting to the next challenge — at times unsure of our own path forward, yet never daunted.
As we send this blueprint out into the world, Israel is just weeks away from celebrating its 75th anniversary as the modern state of the Jewish People. The birth and astonishingly swift evolution of the State of Israel represent nothing short of a modern miracle driven by a relentlessly resilient people. Yet the promise of a long and prosperous future for any country — no matter how sinewy its citizenry — is the furthest thing from a guarantee. Jews, perhaps better than any other people on the planet, are well acquainted with this historical fact.
Jews in the United States and around the world have flourished over the past century. We’ve rightly celebrated these successes, yet they are never to be taken for granted. Anti-Semitism remains an ever-present threat. And it is rising rapidly.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2021 the United States saw an all-time high of anti-Semitic incidents: 2,717. Acts of assault, vandalism, and harassment were committed in all fifty states — and represented a 34 percent increase over 2020. Of the total, 525 incidents took place at Jewish institutions — a 61 percent increase over the year prior.
Jews who actively support Israel recognize this global trend as a stark reminder of how crucial it is for us to have our own state — with the authority and capability to ensure its security. Throughout history, even as we were making important contributions to the building of communities all over the world, Jews were nevertheless evicted from countless countries. For no other reason than for being Jewish.
Now, in the 21st century, having built a historic nation that is strong in so many ways — yet also faces new threats in a modern world — the Jewish community must innovate once again. We must take a deep look downfield and ask the hard questions: will our descendants be connected enough to their Jewish identity — and to Israel — to take the necessary steps to promote it and defend it? Will they have the strength in numbers and the wherewithal to protect the one country that stands tall as the common refuge for all Jews?
In this book, we will grapple with these questions and make clear the need for a solution. We will explain how members of the “Next Generation” are already gaining enormous power and influence over how the world perceives Israel — and how Israel is treated as a result.
Most of us over the age of fifty will have very limited direct impact over what happens to Israel in the second half of this century. On extolling its virtues. On inspiring new visitors to experience its culture and majesty. The Next Gen, however, will have that opportunity to shape how Israel is viewed — if they care enough to get in the game.
To be clear, there are many young people who care about their Jewish identity and about Israel — and we will need their help in this movement to appeal to the growing proportion who do not. The onus is on all of us to transport the great number of Next Gen’ers who feel indifferent toward Israel — both Jews and non-Jews — to the place where they feel a genuine affinity for it.
This objective can be accomplished through a strategy we call “Ethical Tribing.” Working together, and using modern communication techniques, we can change the way that the world sees Israel.
Achieving this goal will lead to two correlated outcomes: strengthening Israel’s status as a nation — and securing the future of the Jewish People.