It’s spring time in DC, and that means annual events and galas. The Jewish community is no exception. AIPAC and J-Street had their big conferences not too many weeks ago. And I’ve seen invitations for:
- Israel Bonds Ambassador’s Ball, June 3
- JUFJ Community Meeting, June 4
- JCRC annual event, June 13.
- Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Annual Meeting, June 13
- PJLL Annual Meeting, June 18
But most recently in the spotlight was the American Jewish Committee. Approximately 1,500 Jews participated in the half week conference (May 2 – May 5), so if you’re still wondering why you saw a sudden increase in the number of kippahs around Metro Center, now you know.
The conference divided into two parts: The AJC Global Forum and AJC ACCESS 20/20. Global Forum boasted over 1,200 attendants, and it featured an array of policy luminaries including: Barney Frank, William Kristol, Jacob Lew, Dennis Ross, and foreign ministers from Brazil, Germany, Cyprus, and Canada. To read summaries of the three day conference, and to watch the week’s speeches, visit this website.
I didn’t make it to Global Forum (real work always interfering!), but I did, along with 400 others from 31 different countries, attend the ACCESS 20/20 portion, the Friday through Sunday conference meant especially for young adults.
Summaries of this conference can be found here, but I’ll quickly note my two favorite parts:
- Seeing the look of shock on a co-attendant’s face when she saw me and exclaimed: “You’re wearing a suit! I’ve never seen you wear anything but basketball shorts and a hoodie.” Too true I’m afraid. But I’m from the west. That’s how we roll.
- Listening to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren deliver the keynote speech.
The first point doesn’t merit any further discussion, and it probably didn’t deserve to be brought up in the first place, but I’m writing this quickly, and the backspace key slows me down!
The second point does deserve more detail.
Oren’s speech – I strongly encourage you to read it here – didn’t tiptoe around egg shells. He targeted – bluntly and successfully – the Jewish American youth who are content to sit in the safety of the United States while working to undermine Israel as alleged punishment for the measures Israel has taken to defend itself.
“I was shocked, then, that on the very day that I spoke with my kids about their concerns in Israel, some American Jews were discussing a call to boycott products made by Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” he said.
“But what most struck me—not as an ambassador but as an Israeli and as an Israeli father, was the fact that, on the same day that my son was worrying about his raw recruits and my daughter about rockets in Beersheva, a portion of the American Jewish community was debating whether or not to buy Ahava hand products.”
The speech is especially powerful coming on the heels of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism, in which Beinart argues that young American Jews are becoming detached from, or hostile to, Israel due to the immorality of the state and the Jewish U.S.-based institutions that support it.
Criticism of Israel, Oren argues, is certainly welcome, but at the same time, unity of the Jewish people is needed, and there are a few lines which the pro-Israel person must never cross.
When I grew up in this country, the slogan of the United Jewish Appeal was “We are One.” Today, that same logo is more likely to raise eyebrows than funds.
No doubt, a majority of American Jews care deeply about the security of Israel and oppose those seeking to undermine it. And even some of those calling for boycotts do so out of a sense of caring—I’d say misplaced sense of caring—about Israel.
And yet, sometimes it seems that we, Israelis and American Jews, not only inhabit different countries but different universes, different realities.
It’s unknown just how many young American Jews could desperately do with a dose of Oren’s medicine. Beinart, who sees young American Jews as drifting away from Israel, points to a study by Steven Cohen (NYU) and Ari Kelman (UC Davis) who said that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders.” Those scholars asserted that only 54% of non-orthodox Jews under 35 are “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state” (as compared to more than 80% of non-orthodox Jews over 65). Another poll found that only 20% of young Jews labeled themselves as “highly attached” to Israel (Slate).
But there are other studies that come to drastically different conclusions. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and The Israel Project recently released a survey of 400 American Jewish college students which found that:
- 90% agree that Israel is the spiritual center of the Jewish people.
- 83% said caring about Israel is an important part of being Jewish.
- 73% said American and Israeli Jews share a common destiny.
- 89% have warm/favorable feelings toward Israel.
- 78% sympathize with Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
- 84% think America should support Israel.
Perhaps we’ll do a little poll of our own here at Gather the Jews. But in the meantime, read Oren’s speech and give it some thought.
The views in this article are Stephen Richer’s individual opinions and do not represent a GTJ institutional stance.