In Response to “Combating BDS: Teens to Israel”

If we expect our students to constantly be on the defensive, again and again, they will tire out, maybe even switch teams, and we will collectively fail.

By Leor Sinai

Mr. Lappin you are right! Israel is the beating heart of our people and getting our youth to Israel for extended programs is the game changer.

In your article titled “Combating BDS: Teens to Israel” you continue to lead by example, challenging the Jewish communal world to think beyond the current teen-immersive Israel experience provided to our youth. Mr. Lappin – yours is a vision that includes bringing High School aged students to Israel for an extended visit explaining that “Getting Jewish teens, ages 16 and 17, to Israel en masse, including and following up with Israel advocacy training before they go to college, will equip them to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and particularly the BDS movement. Key to attracting Jewish teens en masse to go to Israel is to offer them a two week fully subsidized teen Israel experience that will educate, train and inspire them to be Israel advocates in high school, during their college years and beyond.”

However I have to challenge your vision on two very important fronts:

  1. Are two weeks enough to provide a transformative experience?
  2. Celebrate Israel! Why take Israel Advocacy’s “defense of Israel” approach?

Getting teens to Israel prior to their college experience has a tremendous impact, but two weeks is not enough.

Practically speaking, a two week visit to Israel just touches the surface, it is not enough time to transmit all the knowledge we seek to impart to our next generation, nor equip them with the required skills you shared in your article. A transformation happens over time, taking place over more than a two week period. Effective programs ought to be a minimum of 6 weeks over the summer, no more than 16 weeks for a full academic semester.

Such a program provides the opportunity for High School students to actually live the Jewish calendar in the Jewish state, acquire an authentic Israel experience, and gain the knowledge and conviction to know they stand on the right side of history, that they are part of a winning team.

A survey of our alumni in comparison to the U.S. Pew Report of 2013 reflects the following contrast in specified areas of Jewish life and engagement:

  • Participate in Jewish/Zionist organizations: AMHSI Alumni 65% – US Jewish Population 18%
  • Members of a synagogue/temple: AMHSI Alumni 63% – US Jewish Population 31%
  • Donate to Jewish Charities: AMHSI Alumni 80% – US Jewish Population 56%

And when it comes to marrying Jewish: 88% of AMHSI Alumni marry within the faith, compared to 58% (dated 2013) of the US Jewish Population marrying outside the Jewish faith. When analyzing these numbers it is important to keep in mind that this specific program’s mandate is the Public High School sector and we are achieving positive results.

In response to Israel Advocacy, we believe that the overall community-wide posture of “reactionary Israel programming” or Israel Advocacy to BDS and anti-Israel campus activities will continue to lead us to no-where. All we need to do is look at what is happening around us and on university campuses – for all the years and resources poured into Israel Advocacy, we should not find ourselves in the current state of anti-Israel affairs. Since the second intifada, we have been chasing our tail in an attempt to respond to the lies. The Jewish communal world has produced pamphlets, videos, Ambassador Programs, and where has this led us? Not that Israel Advocacy has failed us since the late 90’s early 2000’s, but it seems as though we owe it to our students to try another more positively oriented approach. We are proud of our student activists, we actively share and promote the information, video clips, and marketing tools to support our overall efforts, and yes we all Stand with Israel; though we’ve won a battle or two on some campuses, the war is still up for grabs.

Our students, like anyone else, want to be on a winning team; The People of Israel, Jewish Peoplehood, are a winning team. Students that have had an extended Israel experience go on to college and university campuses celebrating Israel, highlighting her achievements, organizing Positively Israel campaigns, exemplifying how Israel’s existence makes the world better. Our hope is that Alumni do not spend their time, energy and resources constantly “defending” Israel, we want them to Celebrate Israel!

If we expect our students to constantly be on the defensive, again and again, they will tire out, maybe even switch teams, and we will collectively fail.

Mr. Lappin, ours is a “Google Generation” searching for answers at the click of a button, however when it comes to investing in human capacity, in our future, there is no quick fix.

You recognize and intimately know the important need for investing in our youth’s relationship with peoplehood and with Israel, you are a leader, but please let us not err and go the route of previous initiatives looking for a “quick fix” approach. Let’s give our kids what they deserve: the time and space to grow, to explore and to discover their link in the chain of Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity. Anything less just isn’t fair.

Rabbi Leor Sinai is co-CEO of Alexander Muss High School in Israel.