by Amy Holtz
Today’s Jewish North American college students are lacking. They are lacking a connection to other Jews around the world (70% don’t understand the need to connect with Israel and other Jews). They are lacking a connection to the land of Israel (More than 50% of Jews under 35 would not consider Israel’s destruction a personal tragedy). They are even lacking a connection to and a pride in Judaism itself (More than 50% report observing or experiencing anti-Semitism in the past three years). To add fuel to the fire, these young Jews are simultaneously being flooded with biased information from anti-Israel professors and activists, and with images of Apartheid walls, mock checkpoints, and anti-Semitic vandalism and literature. More and more Jewish students are not proud of their heritage, and the future of our community’s leadership is in the hands of those who are not even sure they support the existence of a Jewish state.
The problem is simple to understand: today’s Jewish students lack easy access to accurate information.
The result is harder to digest: they know next to nothing about Israel.
The vast majority of Jewish college students did not learn about Israeli history, the Arab-Israeli conflict, or even Israeli society, culture, and achievement, before arriving at college. Once in college, they quickly become one of four types of Jewish students: 1) A majority are easily influenced by activists and professors who propagate misinformation about Israel. 2) Of those who are not influenced, most are not knowledgable enough to speak out against it. 3) Even those students who do have the facts often do not know how to relay them to an audience. And 4) the few that are left, who do know the facts, and can advocate effectively, most likely do not have the support in numbers to feel confident in speaking up. It is a lose-lose situation no matter how much a student knows or how passionately they feel.
The problem of ignorance is widespread, but the solution exists. Jewish students should learn the facts about Israel and the skills to communicate them effectively before arriving at college. It is the responsibility of those who understand the problem to educate the next generation of leaders and voters before they are confronted with the lies and propaganda faced on campus.
To do this, we must make the information easy to access. Today’s young people do not learn the same way they used to. They are on Facebook and Twitter. They take notes on their laptops and YouTube is their primary source of entertainment and news. If we want Jewish students to learn the facts, we need to teach them on their terms. We need to use internet, social media, and film to educate Jewish students about the importance of Israel and how to speak up for it.
Our organization, JerusalemOnlineU.com, is already practicing this method. JerusalemOnlineU.com is a non-profit that is educating students about Israel through film before they get to college. Their new campaign called Step Up For Israel seeks to inspire and help parents, lay leaders, and students themselves get educated about Israel before they are faced with the need for it. The campaign, co-chaired by Alan Dershowitz and Dore Gold, consists of 1) a screening of Crossing The Line, a film that documents the growing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, and 2) a follow up film-based Israel education mini-course, consisting of both Israel education and tools for advocacy.
Every Jewish parent, child, and community member needs to understand the importance of preparing the next generation to defend Israel, and then they need to actually prepare them in an engaging and interactive forum.
Amy Holtz is President of JerusalemOnlineU.com.