Can Birthright Israel Alone Reverse Young Adults’ Declining Support of Local Jewish Communities?

by Joel Frankel

In my experience, it is rare to hear someone say something negative about Taglit-Birthright Israel (“Birthright”). How could they? It is an amazing program that sends hundreds of thousands of Jewish young adults to Israel each year for free. More importantly, beyond just physically sending people to visit Israel, the trips they fund have a significant psychological impact on the participants. Studies have found that almost 75% of all Birthright participants call their trip a life changing experience!(1) Around for just over a decade, Birthright is shaping an entire generation’s relationship with the State of Israel.

Our parents’ generation has an inherently emotional connection to the State of Israel. After our grandparents witnessed the creation of a Jewish state as a safe haven for Jews following the Holocaust, our parents grew up with the Yom Kippur War, Entebbe, the Intifada, AIPAC, JNF, and Operation Solomon. Living in the shadow of great atrocity, they grew up fighting for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and a home for all Jews. They did so even though the vast majority of them were physically separated from the land of Israel and socially estranged from Israeli culture. Instilled with survivalist mentality, the geographic separation and inability to connect to Israel on a personal level had little impact on their level of support for Israel as both a State and an ideal.

Conversely, our generation has grown up with night club bombings, Rabin’s assassination, scud missiles, JSTREET, childish bickering over the outline for a peaceful two-state solution, Flotillas, and Gilad Shalit. The violence has been relatively constant, but the steadfast nature of Israel’s alliance with the United States along with Israel’s growing military strength has seemingly diminished the existential threat to Israel’s existence. In addition, we have grown up in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world that has allowed us to interact with Israelis and Israeli culture through a variety of mediums. As such, our relationship with Israel is not one of unequivocal support driven by a fear of potential extermination, but one of rational and reasoned consideration, primarily shaped by a global view of where Israel fits in an ever-changing world. At least, that was the direction we were headed until Birthright came into existence. By providing young Jews with the opportunity to experience Israel first-hand, Birthright has single-handedly fostered an emotional connection between Israel and an entire generation and dramatically altered the way we experience our relationship with Israel.

However, Birthright was able to accomplish this tremendous feat with one small, but not insignificant, side effect. They have made it so easy to visit Israel that they have begun to breed a generation of emotionally connected but uninvolved and entitled Jewish young adults. It is becoming increasingly apparent to Jewish Communities across the country that a Birthright participant’s newfound emotional connection to Israel does not miraculously translate to involvement locally, especially when local involvement entails monetary commitments.(2) Just two generations removed from our grandparents coming over from Europe with an immigrant work ethic that propelled them to establish vibrant Jewish Communities across the United States, we are frighteningly close to becoming the generational version of the trust fund baby who does not recognize the amount of effort expended to give him all that he currently possesses.(3) Many Jewish Communities are responding to this trend proactively, hiring young Jewish professionals whose sole job is to target Jewish young adults and keep them connected to their local Jewish Communities.

That is where I come in. As the Israel Engagement Professional for the Jewish Federation of Saint Louis, I am charged with providing a non-threatening, concierge-like service to young Jews who have been on Birthright or other programs in Israel, offering personally tailored suggestions as to how to become involved with the Saint Louis Jewish Community. It was a serendipitous confluence of events that brought me to this particular position at this particular moment and I was initially ecstatic to learn how powerful the emotional bond was between Birthright participants. During the first few months in this role, I was constantly bombarded with some form of the question, “how can I get back to Israel for free?” It was only after I was asked the same question half a dozen times in the span of two hours at an event sponsored by the Federation’s Young Professionals Division that I began to reexamine the ramifications of a “free” trip to Israel, specifically the impact it has on local Jewish Communities across the country.

What will happen as this generation of Jews becomes older and begins settling down and having children? Will they send their children to the local Jewish Day School, or will they send them to public school when they learn how expensive it can be to provide children with a strong Jewish education? Will they become affiliated with a congregation, or will they scoff at the idea of paying up to $3,000 a year just to go have someplace to attend services on High Holidays? Will they support the local Jewish Community Center, or will they simply become members at the neighborhood recreation center? Is a powerful emotional connection with Israel enough to financially sustain entire local Jewish Communities?

The St. Louis Jewish Community has spent considerable time and effort trying to capitalize on the effect Birthright, and Israel in general, has had on the current generation of Jewish young adults. By supporting organizations like Moishe House and Next Dor, they have shown a willingness to actively reach out to the younger generation of Jews and incorporate them into their long-term plans, even though it is not the most lucrative short-term strategy. However, unless our generation wants to be known as the generation of American Jewry that oversaw the decline of the local Jewish Community, we need to do more than simply work within the confines of the current system. We also need to continue the grassroots movement that is currently emerging amongst passionate young Jewish professionals who have a vested interest in Jewish continuity in the United States.

We need organizations like Detroit’s CommunityNEXT, whose goal is to create a fresh culture and dynamic lifestyle for young Jewish adults who live in and around Detroit. In the past two years, CommunityNEXT has engaged the Next-Gen community through many different access points and is providing a model for how to reach young adults by leveraging existing resources and creating new social, cultural, and professional programs. We also need innovative events like the now annual Kosher wine tasting organized by Tribe 12 in Philadelphia. For the past three years, they have they held an event that brings in representatives from local synagogues, similar to an activity or job fair, to talk to young adults about their congregations. This allows unaffiliated young adults to learn more about their synagogue options in an unintimidating environment and gives them the opportunity to determine where they (and their friends) might be comfortable attending High Holiday services. In return, the synagogues are able to sell themselves to potential future members of their congregation while receiving the contact information of interested individuals, a valuable asset in the competition to stay relevant as we progress into the next decade.

By sending so many Jewish young adults on a “no strings attached” program and arousing interest in Israel, Birthright has laid the foundation for us. Now we must continue to engage our peers while vigorously lobbying for continued support within the current Jewish establishment. If we are able to do that, maybe, just maybe, we can carry on what is quickly becoming a Jewish tradition of leaving our children with more than we were given.

———————————————-

(1) Five to ten years after the trip, seventy-three percent of all participants felt the trip was “very much” (45 percent) or “somewhat” (28 percent) a life?changing experience. (Generation Birthright Israel: The Impact of an Israel Experience on Jewish Identity and Choices; Leonard Saxe, Benjamin Phillips, Theodore Sasson, Shahar Hecht, Michelle Shain, Graham Wright, Charles Kadushin; Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, October 2009)

(2) Participants were 16 percent more likely than nonparticipants to report feeling “very much” connected to the worldwide Jewish community, but were no more likely to report feeling connected to their local Jewish community. (Generation Birthright Israel: The Impact of an Israel Experience on Jewish Identity and Choices; Leonard Saxe, Benjamin Phillips, Theodore Sasson, Shahar Hecht, Michelle Shain, Graham Wright, Charles Kadushin; Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, October 2009)

(3) This phenomenon is not isolated to Jews – the underlying reason this dynamic is currently manifesting itself in local Jewish Communities across the country is the same reason that family business experts estimate that while approximately 40% of U.S. family owned-businesses turn into second generation businesses, only 13% are successfully passed down to a third generation.

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  1. says

    Good analysis. We created tenpartners.org to help address this exact type of young Jew who is emotionally engaged but wary of or unable to make a major (time or money) commitment to local communal action.

  2. Mike says

    Joel, great food for thought! An endless battle in using important “words” when trying to to direct attention. I will start with this key phrase as an example…”Birthright participants call their trip a life changing experience!” What is a life changing experience? When a child touches fire for the first time, that’s “a life changing experience”. When a sports team wins the championship for the first time…that’s “a life changing experience”
    Yet when it is used with birthright it seems to draw a bright light and a choir singing in the background and is misunderstood as being the “answer” for future Jewisshness or in today’s language, Peoplehood…I believe we need to think more. The fact that you say that many of the returnees look for another “free”, life changing experience to return to Israel says quite a bit.
    Yet on the other hand, perhaps many of those that participate on birthright may never have another opportunity to visit Israel at all if not for birthright, and for those the experience is worth every last penny that is spent. But why cant there be a “pay it forward” as part of the process of having this life changing experience? Can communities that provide Birthright programs not set minimal community requirements on the participants, such as signing an agreement that upon returning from Israel they must speak at local federation programs or synagogues, prepare projects for local Hebrew schools. Or prior to departure raise money to plan 50 trees in Israel via the JNF, and if they do not comply within a certain amount of time after there return be bound to return the $2500 that it costs to participate on birthright? One may say that will then reduce the number of people that choose to go on birthright, and to that I say…..that’s ok as well.
    It seems that all the wonderful people that have made birthright possible for free should not feel it is not within their rights to ask the participants to “pay it forward” in some Jewish fashion, as they paid it forward by making the trip available. There are many federations that could use a few more volunteers, many Jewish schools, Hebrew schools that could use an extra hand, and mostly there are many very talented young people that participate on birthright that have much to give of themselves that can encourage and develop stronger Jewish communities.
    From the Israel side, as I live in Israel, it seems that some Israel program providers have reduced the number of non birthright programs so as to take the path of least resistance. Some have almost stopped providing teen age programs all together for obvious reasons…very sad. Yes the tourist dollars are very important to Israel, and more, knowing that a young person has connected with their history and religion for the first time, and perhaps the only time.
    The Jewish community today is a world wide family and each community plays an integral part in our peoplehood. Israel may be an epicenter for coming together, and some may even choose to stay, as I did with my family, however the roots of being Jewish today touch many countries around the world and must stay healthy in order for the tree to continue to grow.
    Joel keep thinking outside of the box and help these young returnees find connectedness and make a little commitment bring a great yield in your community…Israel is proud and honored to be part of your success.
    MIke

  3. says

    Really? Your goal for “involvement” is to get kids to attend “High Holiday Services”?
    What about the other 50 weeks a year? A lack of involvement in the “Jewish Communit)” (and let’s be fair: you mean “Jewish Federations”, which refused to fund Birthright until pressured by major donors) is a symptom of the Federations’ failures to provided meaningful, “life changing” experiences and motivation to engage. Compare the values promoted by Chabad — which DOES give much of its events for free — to the Federation’s thinly veiled attempts to build a donor base. Also, wine tastings aren’t innovative — offering young adults free alcohol in exchange for pretending to care about something is a very old method. What is missing is ONGOING programs that draw REPEATED interaction. Chabad, JCorps, and Orthodox Judaism get this, which may be why they grow. Also, let’s not have the audacity to call Israel’s struggle to negotiate peace “childish”. That’s incredibly disrespectful and obvlivious to the complexity of the situation. It’s comments like that that highlight the cluelessness
    and out-of-touchness of Federation workers.

  4. Mike says

    Wow Ari, such anger in some of your words…
    although I am not an employee of a Jewish Federation, I think you are a little short sighted in some of your words. Whether they do or do not do what you feel is the right thing, they have without question been a resource for many communities and Jewish people since its inception. Perhaps it is your passion that they long for to help move them forward in their continued path. Perhaps teaching them how to better partner with those organizations that you feel are productive and helpful in today’s Jewish Communities, is what is needed, whatever that may mean.
    Connections to synagogues are not only for high holiday services, in fact, a beit knesset, is a house of gathering, and some are very successful in creating programs that are “ongoing”. In fact the one that I was part of in Providence, Rhode Island had its doors open everyday all day and was a center of happenings for all age groups, and interests.
    I think the future of the Jewish community lies in the ability for people to find more points of connectedness and partnerships rather than trying to prove some to be more or better than others.
    Finally I will agree with your point about Israels struggle to negotiate peace. Recently I was at a meeting about the issue of peace and one of the members began speaking about the Palestinians and our surrounding countries, and went on for quite a while. At the end of this mans speach, another gentleman raised his hand and said, “I must be in the wrong meeting, when I said I would take part in a meeting about peace in Israel I meant between the religious and non religious Jews….”

  5. Dan Hazony says

    I agree with Ari. The role of Birthright Israel is not to engage them in the local federation programs, but to inspire them to the point that they are part of a Jewish heritage and that Israel is the home of the Jewish people. Birthright is not like any other program attempted by the organized Jewish community, so therefore, it is expected that the follow up required cannot be the standard ideas and projects that have been put forth by local Jewish organizations for many years.

    Another factor in this generation’s decision making, aside from the negativity surrounding Israel, is the fact that they were born with the Internet revolution. The biggest factor in them not going to federation and synagogue events is that they are used to the instant gratification afforded to them by the ability to go online and use the box on the Google home page to find answers to all of their questions and concerns. If they do not get exactly the type of event or experience that they want from the institution, then it will negatively impact their very high relationship with the Jewish community (not necessarily reflected in event attendance) that they come back from Birthright with.

    I applaud what Joel is trying to do with his job. The most important part of the experience is the follow up that occurs. There should be more Joels in the organized Jewish community, whose main job is to maintain a relationship with Birthright alumni. Let them be positive Jewish role models, and if that means that they go to synagogue or federation sponsored events, then so be it. The most important thing is that the personal relationships yield a positive association with Judaism and Israel, and that whatever the alumni decides to do, their own Jewish decisions are built on accurate information and are sustainable in the long term.

    If they go to events and are active in the community, sure the alumni will help “pay it forward”. But if they feel ownership over their own Judaism and relationship to Israel, they will “pay it forward” financially and emotionally/socially for many years to come.

  6. Julie Farkas says

    Part of the solution lies in giving our kids role models. And the role models need to be the parents.

    There are many in my generation that have never gone to Israel. Lori Palatnik of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) has created a movement to bring mothers to Israel for free. To date, over 3000 women have been given free trips to Israel.

    I am the North Jersey city leader, a volunteer, and last year I raised local money took 25 women to Israel on this trip. We were together with 200 other women from around the country learning about Jewish values and connecting with the land.

    As the city leader, it is also my responsibility for post-trip follow up. The trip was life-changing for each and every women, but even more life-changing has been the follow up. Their willingness to give back has been incredible. The women are attending weekly classes on Judaism which I teach and are involved in community activities in which they organize or seek out themselves, a value that we learned in Israel. Their recognition of how much they received is evident in the outpouring of monetary help they have given me to support my ability to be able to take another set of women to Israel this year. Through the 25 women alone, I have already raised 50% of the next North Jersey trip.

    We are only 25 but there are 2975 others from communities all over the country who are involved in very similar activities. By bringing the mother to Israel, you effect the entire family. Her kids and spouse see her renewed commitment to Judaism and it affects them as well. I have witnessed this happening before my eyes, these women, who thought they had no control over their children are contributing to the commitment of their children through their actions.

    I highly recommend anyone who truly wants to make a difference to look into getting involved with this organization. It can only make the efforts of Birthright or any youth movement even stronger.

  7. Dan Hazony says

    Julie – If your model works, which it sounds like it does, then this is absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, often enough the relationship between teen and parent does not allow for such a positive influence.

    Yasher koach to you and your colleagues!

  8. says

    Interesting and important exchange, including the pushback. The mothers’ trip idea sounds fantastic and leads into my response: the issues of involvement and engagement are not limited to twenty-somethings or Birthright alums. The change we are seeing in terms of diminished affiliation (however measured, whether memberships, donations, etc.) is societal. People are grazing among different episodic connections, all aided by social media. I am being descriptive here and believe the Jewish community needs to see that the way people learn about activities and decide how to spend their time is changing. Long term memberships might be a nice goal but might also not be the way to measure success any more–and might not be what people are looking for. What’s more, this is not only occurring among twenty-somethings, but among other generational groups as well. The idea of “concierge-like” service is welcome, not because it is what twenty-somethings uniquely need but because it is a way to provide personal connections and convey openness to those who want to explore. And that is not age-based. How about measuring the success of birthright (and more broadly of other communal initiatives) by how many participants continue to explore and to learn and to sample and to try new Jewish connections?

  9. says

    Mike, saying “they have without question been a resource for many communities and Jewish people since its inception” can also be applied to: rotary phones, donkey-powered plows, Polaroid pictures.

    We SHOULD be angry that the self-serving paid “professionals” at the Federations are *wasting your money* while lining their pockets and delivering increasingly poor results.

    Dan is right. The Federations miss the point of Birthright. The Federations think the point of everything is The Federations, and it’s not. They’re the rotary phone. They’re the middleman in a world where we can buy direct online.

    Oh,and sign your name, “not a Federation employee”. (Consultant? ;-))

  10. Jordan Goodman says

    Shalom, All,

    There is no such thing as “the Jewish community” in the US in any meaningful sense of the word community. Using “Jewish community” as a synonym for the Jewish population, trivializes the word community.

    For the most part, young people returning from the Birthright experience, return to a status quo in non Orthodox Judaism and it’s primary delivery system the synagogue, that is all but broken; mired in the past and without the visionary leadership necessary to make it viable in 21rst century America. The same can be said of the Jewish federations around the country. Thus it’s no surprise that there is little if any carry over commitment form Birthright participants.

    The further removed in time a non Orthodox Jew in America is from her/his family’s immigrant experience, the less meaningful ethnic/peoplehood definitions of Judaism will be in her/his daily life. All that’s left of Judaism for most who identify as Jews in America is a trivial to nearly meaningless Jewishness, that manifests as lifecycle fixes (b’not/b’nei mitzva births weddings and funerals), the occasional perceived need for a worship service e.g., high holidays (yet another guilt fix for ever fewer Jews). And all of these things are available ala carte or online for a fraction of the cost of synagogue membership. Other aspects of Jewishness that are losing their ability to attract are the Holocaust/anti semitism, Israel, and let’s not forget an occasional trip to the Jewish deli/restaurant. This residual Jewishness will go the way of borscht belt humor and the Catskills. As the older generations pass, nostalgia will have less and less of a pull. It (nostalgia) already holds little or no sway with my two sons, one a Gen X’er and one a Millennial. And the same can be said of their peers.

    People do things for two reasons: because they want to or because they have to. For the vast majority who identify as Jews (probably close to 2 out of 3) who are unaffiliated as well as the majority of the non Orthodox affiliated, Judaism, the synagogue and supporting the State of Israel are not in the “have to (read obligatory)” category and no amount of handwringing or ostrich-like desire to turn the clock back to the good old days (read the 1950’s and 60’s) will change that fact. What’s left is the great opportunity to persuade those Jews to “convert” to the “want to” group.

    In today’s consumerist world, Judaism/the synagogue/Israel must compete in the arena of ideas and leisure time/discretionary income choices. People will give of their time, talents and tithes to that which is perceived to have value. Synagogues, Judaism, “Jewish” organizations (what exactly is Jewish about them?) and Israel are perceived by the masses of Jews as having at best marginal value and thus the result is at best marginal commitment. Most non Orthodox Jews see no meaningful value in Judaism or Jewishness.

    An answer is to rediscover a meaningful contemporary, serious non-Orthodox Judaism that matters, whose teaching has the power to inspire the kishke level convictions that are the bedrock of the measurable success of megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, Saddleback in Lake Forest CA, and Northpoint in Alpharetta (near Atlanta), GA, as well as that of Habad. And to quote Hillel, the rest is commentary. And to paraphrase Hillel, so who wants to go study how to do this?

    Biv’racha,
    Jordan
    eashtov@aol.com

  11. says

    If there are actually Jewish community professionals who are asking the question titling this post, we’re in trouble. Birthright is not for everyone nor can it do everything nor was it created to be the cure-all for what ails us. If I hadn’t been on Lapid and Masa programs before I was even of Birthright age (before any of those names existed), I wouldn’t be the Jew i am today.

  12. Mike says

    Benji good comment, an issue as well that has been expressed many times.
    Ari, perhaps I did not write my words correctly when speaking about the federations and already established organizations. You were clear about your point about rotary phones, donkey pulled plows and others. What we must not forget is there is a progression in the art of moving forward….by that I mean, two tin cans became the a way to speak over distance, the rotary phone, the push button phone, the 20 pound cellular phone, you get my message. However each new wave brought a new way of either doing the same thing or improving it, or not. The idea however was to understand what is and try to move it forward to make it better for a larger community of users.
    In older days, even before my time, civilizations after conquering each other would bury all that remained of the previous civilization and build on top of it a new…I look outside my window and see the hill that covers a roman fortress.
    My point is we need not bury the federations, synagogues, Hebrew schools and call them useless or view them as historic relics, rather take a look at how we need to move them forward into today’s society and needs and make them useful for the present Jewish communities. Call the federations what ever you want, that’s just semantics, but learn from what it has done well and move it forward.

    To further your education Ari about the after effects of birthright. Birthright has in many cases crippled Israel teenage programs. It has delayed the “life changing experience” for many to a later date, and for those that loose interest by the age of birthright , removed the experience all together. I think that Benji shared that thought very well in his post.
    However Ari I can also value that in life as with every change there is give and take, good and bad and hopefully, by evaluating that change we learn, or the next generation learns to made another change that will take it further.
    I will clarify my writing very clearly about birthright. I believe birthright may be one of the greatest moves forward that has been made in the young Jewish world perhaps in the past decade! I have hosted in Israel several participants, and spoken to numerous more about their experience. My daughter who is a combat soldier here in Israel recently participated as one of the soldiers that joins the experience and she had a great time. I think you get my point.
    what is the next step is the question…. and how do we all contribute to it so that the Jewish community continues to thrive around the world? It is clear from the article that initiated our comments that Joel is trying and that is great. I hope all the federations red the comments that this article innitiated, and more so I hope they reach out to people like you and me and Benji to actively listen and continue to make positive changes, even possible change the name of the organization if that will move things forward.

    And to make you happy Ari, my name is Mike Meyerheim, I live in Israel and am proud to say that I have had the better of two worlds as I am both American and Israeli. I have one daughter studying in the U.S. and one that is a combat soldier in the IDF. I do not work for or consult for the Jewish Federations, but perhaps may in the future if they make me an offer. I am working with the Lone Soldiers here in Israel, making sure that they have places to live, food to eat,solutions to their problems, adopting families when requested and at times a shoulder to cry on or someone to share their achievements with. I help to make sure that our lone soldiers, that come from around the world, are not alone.

  13. says

    Here’s the thing: if you’re the kind of person who reads an article like this (especially on the website like this) you are Jewish. With me so far?

    A lot of the world is Jew–ish. By that I mean, yes, they are Jewish. But they are Jewish in the way that Panda Express is Chinese. Sure, there may be a seder at some point, and maybe someone is gonna smash a glass at a wedding…but that’s about it. We’re American before we are anything. We are music fans, before we are Americans. We are whatever we are, before we are Jewish.

    One of the issues (and I struggle with this myself personally) is that Jewish Professionals hang out with and bounce ideas off of other Jewish Professionals. We are SUPER JEWISH. And frankly, we don’t relate well to the other 99% of the Jewish population…and we relate even worse to that younger Jewish population.

    Also, to what degree is the fear mongery about Jewish involvement really just waxing poetic? I saw a Chabad telethon once where they showed Chabad houses being built during the Vietnam war-era with the rabbis saying, “these young Jews need to connect to Judaism in this time of secularism and war.” Well guess what: not only is Chabad using that SAME SHTICK 40 YEAR LATER but those doped up, secular hippies are our parents and grandparents who desperately cannot understand why we aren’t connecting to shul and Federation. Life has a way of going full circle I guess.

  14. says

    Assimilation is the essence of American culture and society. From a very early age, Americans are socialized to conform fand to disavow components of their identity that make them different. There are no white American minorities, for they have all assimilated. The only minority identities who haven’t are those who are unable to shed those attributes that identify them as different: people of color, gays, disabled and women (who are actually a majority). When I was growing up (1960’s) there were very clear and defined white ethnic minority groups: Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Greek Americans and more. Today those substance of those minority identities has been diluted and are mainly comprised of ethnic cooking and folklore. The American Jewish community has now reached that stage and it is unrealistic to expect Birthright to reverse this inevitable sociological development. Young American Jews are already there and probably would be best to describe them as Americans of Jewish heritage. Thanks to Birthright, they will have a warm feeling about Israel and it will play a central role to whatever role their Jewish heritage plays in their overall American and universal identities. Nothing more, nothing less.

  15. Dan Hazony says

    Neal —

    You have a very interesting perspective on American Jewish identity (or Jewish American, if it makes you feel better). However, the only difference is that Jewish society and religion is the only one that has an infrastructure to support life in our diaspora. In fact, when Jews were living in all of those countries that you mentioned above, they were in fact ex-patriates from their Jewish homeland.

    What is really happening here is something that has not occurred in any of those societies above. In 1948, Jews reclaimed control of their land for the first time in 2000 years. The infrastructure setup on both sides of the ocean encouraged people to re-patriate en masse, which with the “help” of the horror of the Holocaust, encouraged people to move there. What happened was that ex-patriates were re-patriated in their land for the first time, and others went even further from the physical land. However, that generation of people who came to the United States did have a closer tie to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish nation than prior generations. In many cases, siblings were split the two, and the option of living in a Jewish homeland was a reality.

    What is happening now is that that initial wave of aliyah and feelings of connection with the Jewish people is over. Yes, in large part to the fact that there are no more white minorities in the United States. The Jewish people has faced this in the past — the Spanish inquisition, and other horrific events that occurred when the Jews did not have a homeland, caused lots of pain to the Jewish nation. However, as corny as this sounds, the flame went on.

    The Jewish people have survived so much pain and agony, recently and centuries ago. We’re in the United States and are surrounded by other cultures not retaining their identity in our country’s massive melting pot, It sounds like you are giving up on Jewish peoplehood, and that you view Birthright as a nice trip that might only temporarily help save Jews from the inevitable doom of their fading identity.

    Maybe its time for American Jews to stop think of themselves as Americans first, and then Jews second. I think that would help solve a lot of our problems. I am not ready to give up on the American Jewish community, are you?

  16. Jordan Goodman says

    Shalom Dan,

    You wrote to Neal: “It sounds like you are giving up on Jewish peoplehood, and that you view Birthright as a nice trip that might only temporarily help save Jews from the inevitable doom of their fading identity.

    The majority of Jews (not just Neal) have given up on Jewish peoplehood as a glue for Jewish continuity. They’ve voted with their feet that the ethno-cultural stuff of Jewishness is little more than a nostalgic memory that is of little if any value and thus is quickly fading. You continued:

    “Maybe its time for American Jews to stop think of themselves as Americans first, and then Jews second. I think that would help solve a lot of our problems.”

    And why should Jews make the change you suggest? You’ve given no incentive that most Jews care about? To quote from my previous post:

    “In today’s consumerist world, Judaism/the synagogue/Israel must compete in the arena of ideas and leisure time/discretionary income choices. People will give of their time, talents and tithes to that which is perceived to have value. Synagogues, Judaism, “Jewish” organizations (what exactly is Jewish about them?) and Israel are perceived by the masses of Jews as having at best marginal value and thus the result is at best marginal commitment. Most non Orthodox Jews see no meaningful value in Judaism or Jewishness.” You continued:

    “I am not ready to give up on the American Jewish community, are you?”

    There is no American Jewish community in any meaningful sense of the word community. Using “Jewish community” as a synonym for the Jewish population, trivializes the word community. That being said, nor am I ready to give up on the future of the Jews of North America. But first we must acknowledge the status quo for you can’t fix what you don’t first acknowledge. Non Orthodox Judaism, its synagogues, its movements and its organizations, are for the most part broken, clueless and woefully out of touch with the vast majority of Jews in North America. So I offer the following from my previous post:

    “An answer is to rediscover a meaningful contemporary, serious non-Orthodox Judaism that matters, whose teaching has the power to inspire the kishke level convictions that are the bedrock of the measurable success of megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, Saddleback in Lake Forest CA, and Northpoint in Alpharetta (near Atlanta), GA, as well as that of Habad. And to quote Hillel, the rest is commentary. And to paraphrase Hillel, so who wants to go study how to do this?”

    Shabbat Shalom/Shavu’a Tov to all of us,
    Biv’racha,
    Jordan
    eashtov@aol.com

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