Effective Jewish Advocacy Begins With Jewish Education
Since its passage in December, UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which claimed that Israel′s settlement activity and sovereignty over the Western Wall are “flagrant violations” of international law, has worried Jews around the world. They — and we — are worried about its impact on Israel’s enduring security, and the Jewish State’s ability to negotiate a durable and lasting peace with the Palestinians.
I have long believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be meaningfully understood without experiencing Israel firsthand. That’s why I was honored to bring then-freshman US Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) and a delegation of Jewish community leaders to Israel this past June for a week-long leadership mission. Our six days in Israel focused on Israel’s geopolitical and security realities, and the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Over the course of one week, we met with Members of the Knesset and government ministers, toured military installations with IDF generals, and spoke with the mayors and citizens of numerous Israeli cities. We met with a wide array of Israeli residents, including both Jews and Arabs, to gain a deeper and more profound understanding of Israeli society.
On the final day of the mission, Congressman Emmer (who is a religious Roman Catholic) and I met with the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau. Toward the end of the meeting, the Congressman asked Chief Rabbi Lau what message he should bring back to the United States.
While Rabbi Lau could have spoken about our two countries’ shared ethos and commitment to protecting religious freedom, or even the need to collaborate in our joint fight against terrorism, he took a different route entirely.
The chief rabbi turned to Emmer and said: “Congressman, you have spent the past week in Israel, learning about the Jewish people’s near-4,000 year connection to the land of Israel. You see how integral Israel is to the Jewish people’s past, present and future. But there is one thing even more important to the Jewish people: Jewish education.”
Having piqued the congressman’s interest, the chief rabbi continued: “For nearly 2,000 years, the Jewish people survived in exile from our homeland, but we as a people cannot survive for even a single generation without Jewish study, without Torah. When you return to Washington, remember that the chief rabbi asked you to do everything in your power to strengthen Jewish education in America.”
Spending just one day on any US college campus will convince you of the accuracy of the chief rabbi’s statement, and the urgency of his plea. Across the country, Jewish students are becoming disengaged from their people. Virulent and often violent antisemitism and anti-Zionism compound the problem, discouraging Jewish identification and affiliation. And though there are more ways than ever before to “be Jewish” on campus, the constant badgering by anti-Israel student groups makes Jewish expression unattractive and even dangerous.
While UN Security Council Resolution 2334 should concern us, we should be considerably more distressed by the dire state of Jewish education and affiliation. As concerned citizens and proud Jews, our Jewish advocacy work should first and foremost focus on strengthening Jewish education and empowering our youth by helping them feel connected to their Jewish heritage.
As the Executive Director of MEOR, I have the opportunity to meet with hundreds of young and idealistic Jewish students at top universities across the US each year. Our young people are passionate about their academic pursuits and social lives, but are rarely as passionate about their Judaism — because a positive, authentic and empowering Judaism has never been presented to them.
We cannot take the next generation’s connection to Judaism or the Jewish people for granted. As we begin the New Year, let’s redouble our efforts to advocate for a strong Israel and a strong American Jewish community. But we cannot limit our advocacy to the political arena.We must turn our focus inward and commit ourselves to educating and inspiring our Jewish youth.
Once our ranks are replete with young and ambitious leaders who value their Jewish identities and understand exactly what they are fighting for, our broader advocacy efforts will take on a whole new meaning, and our Jewish future will be brighter and more vibrant than ever before.
Rabbi Hershel Lutch is the Executive Director of MEOR, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring, educating and empowering Jewish students at leading universities across the country.