A Long Overdue Dialogue About Israel – The Great Schlep Revisited

the great schlepby Alan Ronkin

In 2008, young Jews, led by celebrities like Sarah Silverman, visited their grandparents, particularly in key swing states like Florida, to convince them to vote for President Obama. This strategy was effective for a number of reasons, including the strength of the overall campaign and concerns about the direction of the Republican Party, but most importantly because of the moving experience that family connection has to influence opinion.

Recently, Senator Rob Portman shifted his position on marriage equality after a long process. He attributed his “change of heart” to recognizing that his gay son, Will, deserved the same rights and opportunities as every other American.

Conventional wisdom and years of research have underscored the generational gaps in perceptions about Israel. It has become axiomatic that older people, who, by and large, underwrite the financial support for Israel “advocacy” in the community, see Israel differently than their grandchildren. The idea of Israel’s destruction and isolation motivates these donors in ways that are mostly foreign to their grandchildren, most of whom cannot imagine a world without Israel – and for whom Israel’s difficulties in achieving peace with its neighbors, particularly Palestinians, are considered far more pressing.

And so, Israel advocacy has focused on “training” the next generation to make Israel’s case, especially with those that would seek to isolate and undermine her. Organizations have been successful in attracting some young people to this effort. AIPAC, the David Project and others, helped greatly by the influence of Taglit-Birthright, have built a cadre of young leaders who make the donors proud – actively making the case for Israel on campus and in other areas – in the spirit of their grandparents.

But, to achieve what everyone wants, which is for our community to play a role in helping Israel thrive and enhance its international position, more is needed.

It is time for the next great dialogue in Jewish life – an intergenerational conversation about Israel. Imagine a framework in which grandparents and their young adult children came together for an honest conversation about Israel. In this experience, they could explore their passions, concerns and the underlying values that inform their attitudes and approaches to Israel in a spirit of love and mutual respect. Such an experience could sensitize donors to the changing priorities of younger Jews more effectively than any research or visit to a campus ever could. It might even inspire them to look at what they fund and what types of efforts might also be effective in achieving their goals. And for the young adults, it would provide a window into their families in a whole new way. Having an open conversation about the passions of their grandparents in an environment in which they aren’t being judged or told what to think is a very powerful experience.

A close look at Malachi 3:24 tells us that in the end of days, the hearts of parents and children will be brought together – that they will learn from one another. However, that is only the first part of the prophecy. The end of the verse warns us that if this doesn’t happen, the land will be stricken… High stakes – so it’s time for another Great Schlep… Who’s up for the challenge?

Alan Ronkin is a career Jewish community relations professional residing in Boston, MA. He most recently served as policy adviser and constituent manager for the congressional campaign of Joe Kennedy III.