How to Actually Talk to Young Jews About Israel
By Molly Tolsky
Back when we launched Alma – a website for Jewish millennial women from 70 Faces Media – nearly two years ago, we knew there were certain topics we’d definitely cover, like dating and Jewish identity and Broad City (sometimes all three at once). And then there were those topics we planned to shy away from, ones that prove to be extremely divisive and could potentially alienate a good chunk of our readers.
It’s no secret that views toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have shifted in recent years, especially among the younger generations. Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, we steered clear of talking about the conflict on Alma, instead occasionally covering Israeli culture (and of course our many feelings about Birthright). But something shifted last May, when protests and violence erupted in Gaza. Suddenly, friends and readers were turning to us for answers. So, we did a little experiment, publishing an article titled “What’s Happening in Israel and Gaza Right Now?” that broke down the events for those who may not follow every move in the Middle East, but still want to stay informed. Rather than stake out a position, we did our best to present the facts and share a diverse range of perspectives.
The response was overwhelming. Readers reached out over email and social media to thank us for elucidating the conflict in a clear, accessible, and unbiased way. It’s proven to be one of our more popular articles to date. It was then we realized the error of our ways. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too big, too important, to ignore, and our readers are hungry for this kind of information, no matter what “side” of the conflict they fall on.
And so, over the past several months, while still writing about our favorite Jewish celebrities and rituals, we also took on the intimidating task of creating a guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was published just a few weeks ago. It includes over a dozen articles breaking down the basics of the conflict, from what Zionism actually means to how it relates to the intersectional feminist movement. We also took on hot topics such as BDS, whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and the evolving attitudes toward Israel on the left.
As we write in the guide, our aim was to make these articles as unbiased and fact-based as possible; our only agenda is to make a complicated issue easier to learn about and wrestle with. We hope that this guide will give readers the tools to better understand the conflict and more confidently engage in discourse, whether they’re on a college campus, Twitter, or just among friends.
Since publishing in late May, we’ve had over 30,000 pageviews to the guide and have received some excellent feedback from our readers, including one woman who wrote on Facebook that it’s “both well-written and informative and balanced and not condescending,” and another who wrote, “It’s easy to understand, full of maps and citations and outside reading, and offers a balanced approach to one of the most difficult to understand (not to mention polarizing) issues of our time.” We’ve also heard from a Judaic studies professor who’d like to use our guide in his classes, as well as a number of parents who plan to show it to their high school and college-aged kids.
Of course we’re not the first Jewish organization who has attempted to speak to and educate this demographic about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we do feel our approach is somewhat novel and one that fellow Jewish organizations can learn from, including a few clear takeaways we learned along the way:
- No agenda. Even though we are a Jewish website, the mission of this guide was not to make millennials feel closer to or more supportive of Israel. The only thing we want them to feel is more informed. If an organization has a clear pro- or anti-Israel agenda, people are less likely to take the information they’re putting out as unbiased and propaganda-free.
- No assumed knowledge. The articles in this guide don’t assume that our readers have a ton of prior knowledge about the conflict. Instead, everything is explained up front, and a special glossary functionality allows us to define certain common words, phrases, events, and people in a seamless pop-up box that doesn’t disrupt the user experience.
- No condescension. Even though these articles have a low barrier to entry, they don’t fall into the trap of talking down to our readers. They’re written in the same voice that one can find throughout the rest of the Alma website – conversational and engaging, occasionally funny when the opportunity arises, and more serious when need be.
- No simplifying. This is a messy topic, and there’s no use pretending otherwise. None of our articles conclude with simple, easy answers because – surprise! – there aren’t any. Instead, we provide links to outside sources with further reading and encourage our readers to keep exploring these topics.
- No skimping on aesthetics. Yes, looks matter. At least when it comes to how this demographic uses the internet. With beautiful original illustrations and a mobile-first, user-friendly interface, we understand that how this information is presented can be equally as important as the content inside.
As it turns out, the best way to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same way we talk about anything else, whether it’s something as divisive as politics or as innocuous as pop culture: with sincerity, nuance, accuracy, and the knowledge that our audience is eager for these kinds of conversations. We encourage anyone looking to start these conversations with your own constituencies to use this guide as a jumping off point and to let us know what they think at email@example.com.
Molly Tolsky is the editor of Alma and a former editor of Kveller, both properties of 70 Faces Media. Originally from Chicago, she received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and currently lives in Brooklyn.