Every week I spend time in the library with my children, often reading the biographies of different heroes. It is easy to find biographies of “heroes” from our generation – From Michael Jordan to Lebron James, Madonna to Bill Clinton, walk through any library and you will see plenty of biographies of modern personalities. Many of them are still alive.
In our era in which the assimilation rate of American Jewry is around 60%, one might ask who the Jewish heroes for people of this generation are? Who can today’s American Jew look to as a role model? It is not an easy question to answer for those who grow up in the ’80’s, ’90’s, and ’00’s – for whom living (well-known) Jewish heroes and role models could be helpful.
Undoubtedly within the Orthodox world there are Rabbis in the community who are well respected -assimilation amongst the Orthodox is less of a concern. And let’s accept and keep in mind the study by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis which showed that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings..” towards Judaism.
Indeed if one is not connected to Israel, can attending services on the High Holidays be enough to capture a positive feeling for Judaism? Wouldn’t positive Jewish role models encourage more members of this constituency to remain in the fold?
Perhaps there should be more of an emphasis on highlighting the stories of the heroes of this generation as a means to inspire more young American Jews. For example, the greatness of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of Chabad – a holy man who died in 1994 who is universally recognized as the pioneer of Jewish outreach. His story and amazing inspirational tale should be shared in Jewish homes – especially the non-Orthodox – throughout the United States.
There are many other American Jewish heroes of this generation whose biographies one wishes were shared with Jewish youth to inspire them. There is Sheldon Adelson, who grew up dirt poor and today is one of the greatest philanthropists in the world. “I care more about the future of my people than anything else,” he said. Awesome.
There is Elie Wiesel whose story of surviving the Holocaust is one which Jews must never forget. And Rabbi Avi Weiss who has had perhaps more success in his outreach work than any other living Rabbi and has been at the forefront of so many important issues. Of course there are the countless heroes who fight for the defense of our people in Israel’s Defense Forces.
There are of course many others.
Those of us with strong Jewish homes who try daily to give our children strong and valiant Jewish values are on the front line. As Moses says in the Torah, Chazak Ve-ematz – be strong and have Courage. Each of us should do all we can to impart heroic Jewish stories to the next generation.
P.S. – I wanted to share this most amazing gorgeous chuppah entrance – With more Jewish heroes there’ll be more awesome Jewish weddings like this.