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May 4, 2021 12:51 pm

How to Keep Zionism Alive for Generation Z

avatar by Alex Ryvchin


A general view shows the plaza of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, amid the coronavirus pandemic, May 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

What is in store for the relationship between Zionism and Generation “Z”?

The answer to that question depends entirely on the actions we as leaders take right now. Let me put these questions to you: In your community, how informed are young people about Zionism? What proportion would be able to discuss the defining moments of Zionism, its greatest achievements, and its most compelling leaders? How many can explain the historical, legal, and humanitarian basis for Zionism? Could they explain the concept of Jewish peoplehood or Jewish connection to land? Could they debunk the slander of Israeli apartheid, of colonialism, of genocide?

But forget that. How many can even accurately say what Zionism is?

These deficiencies present a serious risk for our local communities, for the State of Israel, and for Jewish unity and survival. How will our young people defend Israel if they cannot explain why Israel was created? Why would young Jews feel connected to other Jews around the world if they struggle to grasp that they belong not only to a religion, but to a people?

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Zionism, at its core, has always been about rights.

Yes, Zionism sought a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, secured under international law. But why? To protect the most fundamental right of all — the right to live. Zionism remains, both through its support for a strong Jewish state and its ethos of Jewish resilience and self-help, the greatest bulwark against antisemitism, an evil which has accompanied and tormented the Jews for all of their days.

We all know that hostility towards Israel and Zionism among non-Jewish millennials is rapidly increasing. We have seen how the term “Zionist” has been stripped of its true meaning, and has instead become a term of infamy and curse.

The movement to liberate, or at least shelter, the Jewish people from antisemitism, Zionism seeks nothing more than to give the Jews a scrap of this earth to call their own, so that our people and our contributions to humanity shall not vanish from this earth. Yet somehow, this has been characterized as akin to racism, to Nazism, to colonialism, to white supremacism, and every other popular conception of evil known today.

These are lies that cannot be allowed to be laundered into truth.

The consequence of allowing these deliberate distortions of Zionism to go unchallenged, is that new generations will only know of Zionism and Zionists as an evil to be fought. And when Zionism is the foundational movement of the Jewish State and the national movement of the Jewish people, that fight will ensnare Jews of the left and of the right, secular and religious, in Israel and the Diaspora, without distinction, just as every assault on the Jewish people before it.

In the face of this, we need a generation of strong, proud, and informed Zionist Jews who can withstand the pressures they will inevitably face, and can articulate the case for Israel and advocate for Jewish rights.

Our work must begin with instilling knowledge. That knowledge will give our young people the confidence to stand up for the things they believe in, and to be effective advocates for our people.

There is a remarkable story to be told here — one that will inspire and give courage — and will powerfully bind Jews to their history and to their people: Zionism is the story of an ancient people that by all rational reckoning, should have ceased to exist as a people centuries ago. And yet through it all — through two millennia of exile and pogroms and inquisition and infernos — that people survived, retained their distinct culture and sense of peoplehood, and formed a national movement that achieved the physical return of that people to their ancient homeland. This is a story without precedent and without successor.

If we fail to tell this story effectively, if we fail to develop real knowledge in our young people, we will see an increasing number of Jews turning away from Zionism — or worse still, turning against Zionism.

This is why we, as leaders of our people, must be committed to working with Jewish communities throughout the world to impart knowledge, teach advocacy, and instill pride in our Jewish youth so that Generation Z is truly Generation Zionist.

Alex Ryvchin is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and a member of the flagship program of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps. The text is based on Ryvchin’s remarks at the 16th WJC Plenary Assembly, which takes place every four years and brings together delegates from WJC-affiliated Jewish communities and organizations in more than 100 countries around the world.

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