Borrowing this ancient story for a very contemporary topic, it should be clear that American Jews and Israelis may have legitimate differences on many issues, even assuming either community ever had unanimity an anything on its own side. Geography matters today, as it did eighteen hundred years ago.
My question regarding this editorial in The Forward isn't about it's thesis, but about it's unspoken underlying quandary. The thesis is that the Birthright program which flies young American Jews to Israel for 10 fantastic days isn't enough to forge a long-term bond with Israel; the main follow-up program, apparently, looks sort of like an attempt to proselytize to orthodox Judaism, and this must be countered.
Fair enough for what it's worth. Yet isn't the real problem, even as described by the editorial itself, that for most young American Jews, short of orthodox Judaism there isn't much of a program or option that's particularly compelling?
The community is far less adept at effectively reaching out to single, unaffiliated Jews in their 20s, who marry and procreate later than their parents, and enter adulthood at a time of limitless opportunities as Americans, including the opportunity to ignore their faith and live outside the tribe. Worrying though the Jewish Enrichment Center is, it fills a void left by the inability or unwillingness of more progressive denominations to engage in the kind of passionate outreach characteristic of the ultra-Orthodox. This dynamic is played out on college campuses, where students flock to the warmth and welcome (and, let’s be honest, the liquor) offered in a Chabad house on a Friday night rather than the more institutional atmosphere of the local Hillel or synagogue.I'm not being judgmental. The historical evidence is that Jews have carried on longer than any other known group, in spite of more adverse conditions, because they wanted to. On past evidence, then, they'll probably continue carrying on to the extent they have the willpower. Where the willpower is insufficient, so will the staying power be lacking.
Pervasive indifference of American Jews to their Judaism is regrettable for Israel, but not an existential threat. It may be such a threat to American Jewry.