Events unfold so rapidly in our society that before we can quite absorb one situation, something new erupts. So, Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia University is already tired news. But tired as it may be, we have to stop and consider how it was possible that such a grotesque travesty was permitted to take place on a New York City campus on which many of the University’s Board members, professors and students are Jews.
In last week’s column on the Columbia University fiasco, I posed a question which I left largely unanswered: How can Americans be so self-destructive? I was specifically referring to academicians who bend over backwards to provide a platform to those who hate us and seek our demise (to say nothing of the politicians and members of the media).
The question is especially troubling to us Jews, since those who hate America and seek her destruction, hate Israel even more. So how, you might ask, can freedom loving Americans who cherish democracy justify giving a stage to these hate-mongers? In all good conscience, how can they allow them to spew forth their venom and infect the world? As I pointed out, this question is even more perplexing since the Jewish presence on Columbia’s campus, both on the executive level and among the student body is substantial. To dismiss the entire issue under the banner of “freedom of speech” would be dishonest, for the same university that saw fit to host Ahmadinejad, who called for the annihilation of Israel, would never grant such a privilege to someone who would advocate the elimination of Moslems, Africans, or other minority groups. So why is Israel fair game?
This challenge is all the more vexing, since ours is a generation that can still recall the Holocaust and its horrific consequences. We can still hear the voice of the madman who, with his venomous tongue, set the world aflame and killed six million of our people. So, again I ask how is it possible that a man who advocates genocide for Israel should be feted on a New York City campus? And more, how is it possible that the students did not cry out, but applauded this terrorist murderer?
A renowned American Jewish philanthropist, who has devoted much of his resources to outreach, was reported as saying that he “blew” one hundred and twenty-five million on Jewish education during the past decade, with no real results. Assimilation and intermarriage, continue to eat away at the innards of our people. A recent poll conducted by sociologists Stephen Cohen and Ari Kelman, demonstrates that half of American Jews under the age of thirty five would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy. Truly a devastating report! So yes, one must wonder, together with that philanthropist, what really was accomplished with all the well-intentioned efforts at outreach to secular Jews? What happened to the dream that secular Jews harbored – that dedication, and support for Israel would be a constant? How is it that, despite all the work on college campuses, we are still witness to leftist anti-Israel sentiments among our own Jewish youth
Tragically, it’s not only in the United States that we behold this defection. Incredibly, we see it manifested in Israel as well. Unfortunately, mere living in the land does not imbue our youth with a sense of purpose, with ideals, with an understanding of who they are as Jews. So if we cannot accomplish this in Israel, how much more are our young people at risk in the United States?
Although millions of dollars have been spent on outreach, the anticipated results never materialized. But what sort of outreach are we talking about? Parties, clubs, trips, cruises, Jewish music and art or discussions on “How to find happiness” and other related subjects? I am afraid that none of these endeavors will do it. Yes, they may attract many young people, and organizations may delude themselves into believing that they have succeeded, but close scrutiny will reveal abysmal failure, for the ultimate goal of genuine Jewish commitment has not been achieved. Nor are visits to Israel an answer (as I pointed out, Israeli youth are also defecting). Even a trip to Auschwitz will fail to do it. So, if nothing works, what is the solution? What hope do we have?
Have no fear - the truth is that everything works! All these aforementioned programs are great vehicles for outreach IF – and here is the big IF….IF these programs are presented within the context of serious Torah study. It is not being in Israel, but what we do there and the voices we hear there that are determinants. If we expose our youth to the sanctity of the land, the beauty of Shabbos and Yom Tov…. if we resuscitate their parched souls with the divine wisdom of Torah; if we teach them the language of prayer, we will not only succeed, but we will imbue them with new life, conviction and faith. And this holds true for every form of outreach.
A trip to Auschwitz can indeed be traumatic, even devastating, leaving people shattered and speechless, but genuine Jewish commitment must be based on something more than the barbaric slaughter of six million. So, here too, the visit must be accompanied by serious Torah study. It is Torah that is our raison d’etre… it is the Torah that imbues us with vision; it is the Torah that connects us to our land; it is the Torah that tells us who we are and what our destiny is….and it is through the Torah that the voice of G-d speaks to us in every generation.
So yes, outreach works, but it must be Torah outreach and not some homogenized pap. So whether it is a social event or a trip, whatever the venue, Torah must be the focus. Only thus can we succeed in revitalizing our people.
Can it work?
Absolutely! I know - for it is thus that I have been reaching out for the past forty-five years, and Baruch Hashem, today, we are reaping magnificent fruit. Three and even four generations of Torah families, and every week, we gather more and more young people who, only yesterday, were seriously considering marrying out, but today are living splendid Jewish lives Torah outreach works because Hashem planted a spark of Torah in every Yiddishe neshama at Sinai, and when that spark is ignited, it bursts into an eternal flame of faith. I have never seen it fail.
Still, you might protest that the poll giving American Jewish youth such a dismal rating is an exaggeration. Secular Jewish youth may not be knowledgeable of the Torah – may be detached from observance, but that does not mean that they would betray their Jewishness or the land of Israel. They are just open-minded and not afraid to express criticism. And I have no doubt that, in their minds, that is exactly what they believe. But that does not alter the fact that, willy- nilly, they have joined forces with those who would demonize Israel. In every generation, anti-Semitism surfaces in different guises, depending upon what is in vogue and what appeals to the masses. So, throughout the centuries, every accusation has been leveled against us. We have been vilified as communists, capitalists, war mongers, poisoners of wells, killers of Christian children, global manipulators, bloodsuckers, etc, etc. Every culture has its own biases and anti-semites always know how to exploit them, and Jews are always the convenient scape goats.
Today’s anti-Semite will never concede his prejudice. Quietly, he will protest, even as Ahmadinejad did at Columbia, that he has nothing against Jews - it is Israel and Zionism that are the scourges. This liberal leftist philosophy that is being espoused today views Israel as an anathema, and it emanates from the most respected academic and political circles. Israel is portrayed as an “apartheid state”, an occupier, an oppressor of the downtrodden - so it is little wonder that this insidious bias has impacted on vulnerable assimilated Jewish minds.
Whereas, in the early days of the state, even the most secular Jews took pride in the stunning victories of Israel’s fledgling army, today, that same army has become a source of embarrassment to liberals who view the military as occupiers of an apartheid state…and again, I emphasize that this labeling is being leveled at Israel, not by fringe lunatics, but by a former president of the United States. The Israel lobby in Washington is viewed as a “Jewish cabal” that pressured America into war in Iraq and is now pressing for the same action in Iran.
This new anti-Semitism is insidious precisely because it emanates from the most unexpected sources. A study by Harvard and University of Chicago professors advanced the same ideas, and this bias is not limited to America, but unfortunately, is world wide. In short, anti-Semitism today is manifested through anti-Zionism. Where once, those who hated us vilified us for being Jews, today, Israel and Zionism have become the demons. But whether they call us Israelis, Zionists or Jews, the end result is the same, and let no Jew delude himself into believing that he will be safe if Israel is attacked,
So, what is the solution?
We must re-educate our people, for if we do not know who we are and what our purpose and life-goal as a nation is, then the battle is surely lost. No programs – regardless of how imaginative and exciting, can imbue our youth with genuine commitment to their Jewishness. That goal can be realized in only one way ….and that is Torah, Torah, Torah!
But you will protest – our youth is not interested in Torah.
That is a gross mistake. Every Jewish soul yearns to be connected. We need only have the guts, the perseverance and the conviction to make that connection for them. It’s time for American and world Jewry to wake up. – Make no mistake about it. This is not a matter of Orthodox, Conservative or Reform – this is a matter of Jewish life. Our history testifies that every anti-Semite, from Pharaoh on, has failed. They rise to power only to disappear in the sands of time. We have encountered them all and triumphed, but this triumph is not contingent upon armies or weapons, but upon return to Hashem, the Almighty G-d – all that befalls us, all the suffering that we have experienced, are wake-up calls from our Heavenly Father who is yearning for us to return to Him..
“If only My people would heed Me; if Israel would walk in My ways, in an instant I would subdue their foes and against their tormentors turn My Hand…” (Psalm 81) for it is He who will do battle for us, It is He who is the source of our lives.
Let us wake up and reach out to our people with genuine Torah. It’s time to become serious Jews and reconnect with our G-d.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was born in Hungary. She came to the United States after surviving the Nazi’s Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Determined to devote her life to fighting the spiritual holocaust among Jews in the U.S. and around the world, the Rebbetzin founded Hineni. She writes a weekly column for the Jewish Press, the largest Anglo-Jewish paper in the world, teaches Torah on TV and over the Internet, and has authored two best selling books, “Jewish Soul of Fire” and “The Committed Life.” The Rebbetzin lectures across the globe, has been featured in numerous publications, and has been given formal recognition for her accomplishments by major religious and civic organizations in the U.S. and Israel.