Sunday, January 16th | 15 Shevat 5782

August 7, 2009 2:48 pm

Obama and the Jewish Youth

avatar by Dovid Efune

In the July 24th edition of the Forward newspaper there appeared an opinion piece that left me deeply troubled.

The column was written by a young Jew aged 26 named Isaac Luria who is the campaigns director for the newly formed liberal “pro-Israel” lobby J-Street.  Luria is among the best of our youth, he is clearly a super bright, talented, idealist who cares about Jewish causes.

In the column he asserts that by criticizing Obama’s policies the American Jewish leadership is likely to alienate the youth that they put so much time and effort into attempting to reach out to, he writes:

“For many young Jews, Obama embodies our values. He leads an interconnected world, dealing with myriad and difficult problems pragmatically and honestly. As a symbol of a new era of racial relations, he is uniquely positioned to help peacefully resolve ethnic strife and conflict abroad.”

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With regard to growing concern among American Jewish leadership over Obama’s dealings with Israel and matters related to her safety he continues by saying…

“….these men’s personal acquaintances might be feeling unease about President Obama’s push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But many American Jews, and especially younger ones, are feeling a sense of relief.”

He concludes with an admonition:

“….given the combination of my generation’s attraction to President Obama and our inherent distrust of old-style top-down institutions, Jewish communal leaders should consider that the more aggressively they criticize this president’s sensible pro-Israel policies, the more they will alienate us from their aging institutions.”

Of course this is totally spurious……

The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of young American Jews are largely ignorant of and indifferent to the details and specifics of what is going on in Israel and therefore certainly can’t count themselves as supporting Obama because of his Mid East policies.

Amongst the more insightful explanations as to why Obama really appeals to many young Jews, is the following:

A number of months ago I had the privilege of Interviewing Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, one of the topics that came up was Obama’s meteoric rise, and this is how he explains the phenomenon:

“I thought he absolutely got the plot and understood exactly the message that our generation needs.  I had never heard of him before, who was this Barack Obama? But when I heard he was a presidential candidate, I had no doubt that he would win, because there was no way that Hillary Clinton or John Mc Cain could connect with that message. At times of turbulence people turn to their leaders to provide them with a compelling narrative of hope, and that is what Obama did.”

What the youth find compelling is the positivity of his message, that belief in a better world, and the spirit of his vision, “the narrative of hope.”

But as we have seen, this message can also be dangerously intoxicating blurring the vision of the masses, people forget to scrutinize the content and the methods. Movements of this nature can be creative and vastly powerful but sometimes also horribly misguided. Some of history’s most twisted dictators have ridden the waves of this kind of sentiment.

With regard to Obama and Israel it is pretty obvious that his policies are not at all in Israel’s best interests and are frankly endangering many Jewish lives. (This is not the topic of the column, but I am happy to debate the details with anyone, any time.)

So here is another message to all Jewish leaders from another young Jew:

Firstly, please don’t shy away from speaking out for the good of our people, even if it is against the President of the United States.

Secondly, everybody knows that the best form of defense is offence; the true antidote to Obamamania among young Jews is in offering a compelling alternative, a new brand of Jewish leadership that captures this spirit of positivity, infused with the Jewish wisdom that stood the test of time.

As Sacks continued:

“I’m afraid we have been walking in precisely the wrong direction by focusing on all the negatives of recent Jewish history and the Jewish present and have failed to connect with the spirit. We have failed to connect with the positives and we have failed to connect with the message of Jews to humankind “through you will all the families of the earth be blessed”. When you give over this message everyone responds, Jew and Non-Jew alike”

We need leadership that doesn’t reek of defensive, reactive victimhood, leaders that embrace themselves and are brimming with Jewish pride and purpose. Barack Obama, kept his name, but how many Jewish leaders prefer to use an anglicized alternative, or are uncomfortable sporting a kippa in public, in the words of Adlai Stevenson “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse”

The youth want to get involved and make a difference, they want to be pro-active and productive and real inspired Jewish leadership is what it takes.

We want to believe that we can create positive mechanisms for change, that living without war, strife and poverty is within our grasp, it is in the innocence of this conviction where the power of youth lies, and in it, the ability to bring about its realization.

Find me a Jewish Obama, and there you will see inspired young Jews.

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