Hearts And Minds

Why are you losing the Jewish millennials?

judea-and-samariaJudea and Samaria, Hebron, The Temple Mount, Joseph’s Tomb, Rachel’s Tomb – this is why you are losing them. Not because, as most mainstream Jewish “advocacy” groups suggest, these are “controversial and divisive” subjects, but because the other side has a very clear and concise position on these things, while the pro-Israel side has people teaching to avoid even talking about them. But if you avoid talking about the very places that you should be venerating, if you don’t act as if they are important on a visceral level, then you not only risk losing them but you risk losing everything. You erode your own morally superior position by not manifesting it. Basically if you act guilty, how do you expect young people to react?

Think about it, you have a group of young people who are taught their history, who are taught that Israel is perfect and that it’s the ideal for everything. They are taught the Torah, they are taught the importance of all the things I just mentioned but only in a religious context, a flawed religious context because it doesn’t concentrate on the importance of that “religion” in the context of their identity. Jewish identity is so much more than just Judaism. I liken all indigenous identities to a hand, with each finger being something that makes up that identity: Culture, language, traditions, core beliefs, and spirituality is the Thumb – if you cut off a finger, the hand is still functional. If you cut off the thumb it’s much less so. However, the more fingers you cut off, the less functional the hand becomes until it’s just a useless stump. THAT’S HOW IDENTITY WORKS. So back to the issue at hand so to speak – these kids, most of whom don’t speak their own language, who don’t follow the traditions, some of whom don’t have any spirituality at all, these same kids are taught that they shouldn’t support the “settlements,” that Judeans are Jews who are causing all the problems. That if they were not there, there might be peace. THEY HAVE NO REASON TO SUPPORT THEIR OWN PEOPLE ANY LONGER. It’s a simple solution based on the” logic” they see from so-called “pro-Israel” people.

Alan Dershowitz is pretty much the bell cow for Israel advocacy. His book The Case for Israel is pretty much the seminal work for anyone who does this stuff, yet Dershowitz fails to grasp that the central subject needs to be Jewish Identity and its connection to its ancestral land and sacred places, its history. He is anti Judea and Samaria. I doubt he has ever actually been “over the Green Line” and his attitude is very damaging because if he, as the main pro-Israel guy in North America doesn’t believe Jews have that right to be on their ancestral heartland, then how the hell do we expect young people who are not firm in their pro-Israel identity to believe that Jews have any rights at all? It annoys me to see him waxing eloquent about the “history” of Israel and the Jewish people, not because he isn’t right, but because he clearly doesn’t manifest his own beliefs, and it comes across as less than genuine because of that. He is a lawyer and should know that if a lawyer doesn’t believe in his client’s case, it harms the case. A lawyer who believes strongly in his client will always do a better job. That lawyer doesn’t argue for the other side at all, but acts on behalf of his client’s best interests at all times. I wish he would visit Gush Etzion, or Kiryat Arba, or Efrat, because when you see those, so firm in their identity and just being Jews, you cannot fail to see how amazing it is that they are there on their ancestral lands against all the odds.

Kids are not stupid. They tend to have a much more developed sense of following logic to its conclusion before that is beaten out of them by the “nuances” of life. If Jews living in the land of the bible – actually the biblical “heartland” of the Jewish people – is wrong and not supportable, then Israel itself must be wrong. Israel is a place where the Jewish identity was formed, but what does that even mean? After all, if Jews have no right to the Temple Mount or Hebron, the most sacred places, the places where their ancestors are buried, do they have rights to Tel Aviv? The secular non-religious Jew doesn’t care because he would rather talk about computer chips and scientific advances, but the most common retort I hear from the other side to that advocacy is actually much more brilliant and evil: “You know who else was really good at science? The Nazis.” And this simple retort appeals to young people. It’s simple, its evocative and it requires no deep contemplative thought. As offensive as it is, it “feels good” because it makes the young person feel like they are a rebel and at the same time part of something bigger and they are subsuming their personal interest “for the cause,” which at its root is replacing the feeling they should be getting from their tribalism. The feeling of belonging to something bigger.

So what is the solution? It’s not easy but its simple.

  1. Manifest your identity and be strong in it. What does that mean? It means that you are a tribal indigenous people who have ancient beliefs that predate any other extant “religion” so stop acting like white people. Stop seeing yourself through their lens, and see yourselves as Jews through a Jewish lens. Be proud of the survival of your people, your traditions and your culture. Learn your language, and always put your tribe’s welfare first. Celebrate who you are because its worth celebrating. When you go on a holiday, go to Israel. Go to Judea and Samaria. Go to Tzfat and go to Hebron, not because you are religious BUT BECAUSE THAT IS YOUR REASON FOR BEING. People died so that you could live and be who you are. Celebrate it, and your young people will too.
  2. Be honest when you teach your history and that of Israel. That way, when your kids go, they are not disillusioned but reinforced. They will understand that Israel is a Middle Eastern country, that it’s advanced and flawed, that it’s wonderful and problematic. If they go in understanding that, they can see Israel for what it is: the centerpiece of Jewish identity and culture, a country that has issues like any other, but also a country that has been thinking outside the box since its inception, a place where innovation and tradition can walk hand in hand. Where you can walk out of an energy-positive home in Judea, walk 20 feet and see a three thousand-year old Mikvah. This way, they are not disappointed in Israel or embarrassed, but proud and justifiably so. Inoculate them against the anti-Israel asshats, but do it right. Don’t deny that they exist, but show the inherent dishonesty in their positions and let your kids explore it themselves. Just give them support and guidance.
  3. Focus on Torah as it applies to your identity. You have something that the majority of indigenous people do not, and it’s a huge advantage. You literally have a textbook on how to be a Jew. I am not saying you have to be “religious” – I don’t like that word (it’s a white man word to describe things they themselves don’t understand) – I am saying a huge part of your identity comes from the Torah. It is equal parts history book, guide for life and religious text, so use it. Yes we live in 2016 but the guys who wrote the Torah were clearly really smart because so much of it still applies. There is a reason for that. Listen, that book kept your people alive and together for millenia, and now when you need unity the most, you have this book, so use it.
  4. Get involved, be visible, bring your kids. Volunteer, do stuff in the community, go to the events of other people, speak up on their behalf, because when others see you doing it, they will do it for you and your kids will see you manifesting every part of your Jewish identity. They will follow that example when it matters. Kids want to have someone to look up to, so it may as well be you.

If you do this, you will see a change. You will not only see a change in yourself and your kids but your communities and yes, the world. You will not only stop losing young people to the other side, but you will bring some back once they see that they can be proud and active in their own community on their own behalf.

Tikkun Olam starts with your own community and your own family, then your tribe and then the world.


Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football, reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.