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Young Jews and Israel: It’s Complicated

Last week, I had the pleasure of appearing in Westchester before a lovely synagogue reading group (and an even lovelier platter of Nova lox, replete with capers, cherry tomatoes and tasteful slivers of red onion) to discuss my book.  I read an excerpt from the first chapter, and then, as is expected of one at such events, fielded questions from the audience. Usually, when I do this sort of thing, I hope that the questions are things like “Why are you so brilliant?” or “How can I get my granddaughter to be more like you?”—queries designed to appease the blend of overweening arrogance and overwhelming insecurity that forms my sad little psyche.  As of press time, these queries have never been asked by anyone in any forum, and this was no exception.  I was however, asked for my opinion on several issues pertaining to issues of Jewish identity, which I did my best to answer, but the perhaps the most challenging question came from an elderly gentlemen, a former speech and rhetoric teacher (who later took it upon himself to tell me that I had read way, way too fast and I’d better slow down if I ever expected to get anywhere in life.)  This was his question:  “Tell me, what does your generation think of the state of Israel?” I was startled.  No one, not even in the most indulgent, honey-you-are-good-at-everything-you-do bubbe kind of way, has ever so much as intimated that I am the voice of a generation.  And this was a question to which, it seemed to me, I had no good answers.  A sea of expectant senior faces turned towards me, eager to have their worst suspicions either fulfilled or assuaged.  For a brief, terrible moment, I was back in Hebrew school. “Well,” I began, “I can only speak for myself…” and then launched into a half-hearted something or other about a two-state solution, and how an non-interventionist American foreign policy will ultimately be good for Israel, and almost cried with relief when a woman dressed head to toe in a color my mother likes to call “Menopause Purple”  raised her hand to tell me that she didn’t care particularly for my work, as she felt I didn’t spend enough time on all the positive things about being Jewish.  “You’re absolutely right,” I said, and shoved some more lox into my mouth.  (I refrained from my stock answer to this question: “Well, I hate myself and I’m a Jew.  So I guess you can draw your own conclusions.”) In a piece endorsing Barack Obama on the Huffington Post this week, entitled “Israel’s Best Interest is a Morally Strong America," noted gazillionaire (and possessor of the most vivid dye job on an octogenarian since the late Ronald Reagan) Edgar Bronfman Jr. provides his answer to the former speech instructor’s question: “There is a generation growing up that is more distant from Israel than I should like. Young Jews do not automatically support Israel, and many are rightly troubled by what they learn about the ill treatment of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. No longer motivated by fear of anti-Semitism, they seek to understand what Israel stands for, not to say ‘my Israel, right or wrong.’  Without strong support among the younger generation of American Jews, Israel may lose its vital relationship with the U.S. government.”  Apparently Bronfman is also the voice of a generation. As I mentioned, I can only speak for myself.  But I wish I had thought to ask my interlocutor to clarify: was he asking for my views on the State of Israel, or the state of Israel?  Because like my on the United States of American and the United (and various) states of America, these are two very different subjects, and my views on each are very different indeed.  One I hold very dear indeed.  The other is something that I think we can all agree has a great deal of room for improvement.   

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