Millions of American Jews, concerned about Jewish continuity, long for a view of Israel with which our children can identify. Research indicates that young people can be positively influenced by encountering Israel first-hand. The success of Birthright Israel programs is living proof of this observation.
Through Birthright, our sons and daughters experience the pulsating vitality of a modern-day nation in which Jews are the majority, Hebrew is being spoken, Jewish holy days are marked as a national events, and where Jewry and Jewish values are at play in economic, self-defense and cultural life.
A cloud on this bright horizon of direct “mifgashim” is American Jewish young people’s frustration at the Israeli Government’s non-recognition of Conservative/Masorti and Reform Judaism.
Surveys affirm that disrespect by official sectors of the “State for the Entire Jewish People” toward “the Streams” is off-putting to many young American Jews. Their connection to Zionism was cultivated by synagogues and rabbis. As noted by Prime Minister Netanyahu 23 years ago in his volume entitled A Place Among The Nations:
In the Jews’ dispersion, the dual nature of Judaism [both nation and religion has] assumed vital importance. Stripped of their homeland, their government and their language and dispersed into myriad communities, the Jewish religion became the primary vehicle by which the Jews maintained their national identity and aspirations. Into this vessel [of religion] they poured their dreams of Return and ingathering in the Land of Israel.
Netanyahu, A Place Among The Nations, p.30
The Prime Minister is correct. It is via American Jewry’s congregational cultures that Israel-attachment is nurtured! It is hard enough to counter BDS and other forms of de-legitimization of Israel on college campuses. What we do not need is to have our youth offended by Israeli bureaucrats rejecting the legitimacy of their rabbis, congregations, converts, and pluralistic forms of approaches to prayer. This challenge gives urgency to the implementation of a pluralistic plan for the Kotel . The alternative, e.g. the continuing Israeli governmental de-legitimization of Masorti/Conservative and Reform Judaism, poses a serious threat to the future of global Jewish unity!
As noted by Theodore Sasson of Brandeis University’s Cohen Research Center: “respondents in…. [focus] groups [of American Jewish Birthright alumni] cited the inferior treatment of non-Orthodox movements in Israel as a reason for feeling personally alienated.” Among representative comments, Sasson shared the following observation:
[if I made aliya]… I don’t know where… I would fit in because I feel very connected to my [approach to the Jewish] religion and feel very much a part of it. But I feel I would be devalued completely in Israel in terms of the way I practice my religion and am involved in Judaism. It is alienating.
Creating a Pluralistic portion of the Kotel is essential for Am Yisrael globally and for Medinat Yisrael in particular. For example, in assessing 1.2 million Conservative Jews in the USA, the Pew Study affirms that – 98% are “proud” to be Jewish. 93% feel “being j3ewish is important to their lives. 90% regard Israel as “an important part of being Jewish.” 89% feel an “attachment” to the Jewish State. Furthermore, nearly half of American Lone Soldiers come from Conservative homes. 2/3 of synagogues conducting Israel Bonds campaigns are Conservative congregations. More than half of the 9000 AIPAC Policy Conference synagogue delegates represent Conservative shuls. Young people from these households are the potential AIPAC, Israel Bonds, UJA, JNF supporters of the 21st century. Their distancing from Israel would pose a threat to our collective Jewish future.
We must implement the Pluralistic plan for the Kotel as a dramatic symbol of Israel as the State for ALL Jews world-wide!
Rabbi Alan Silverstein is the President of Mercaz Olami.