There is a lot going on in the Jewish community today that troubles me and, of late, I have been thinking that the “glass is half empty.” In particular, I see:
- a widening distance between Jews in America and Israel, specifically among young Jews
- growing cracks in the unity of the Jewish people and with regard to understanding of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people
- doubts about the sustainability of a number of Jewish institutions and organizations at home
- increasing social service needs among the vulnerable in the Jewish community, which could be exacerbated by pending budgetary moves
- the spread of anti-Semitism in the public sphere, both in local schools and in the media, in response to the Lakewood arrests, especially online.
These are all issues that fall within the mission of The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, and we are working aggressively to address them. This is in addition to our core work helping those most vulnerable in the Jewish community and enabling as many Jews as possible to find their connection to Jewish life and values.
However, what has disturbed me the most — it’s actually keeping me up at nights — is something I have heard repeatedly in recent weeks in discussions about anti-Semitism in the heart of New Jersey. On multiple occasions, when I’ve had conversations with community members, I have heard variants of: my son or daughter saw an anti-Semitic post on Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat, someone made an offensive remark to my child in school, or there was a racially motivated incident that upset my child and friends.
Invariably, when I asked if the child said something to whomever made or posted the offensive or anti-Semitic comment — in many cases the individual is a “friend” — the answer has been a resounding no. Moreover, the children usually insisted that the parents, or whichever person they chose to confide in, not say anything, either to officials or the other child’s parents.
To which I wonder, “Why ever not??”
Of course, I understand the dynamics of youth development and the importance of fitting in and being accepted. But there are also important considerations and concerns when it comes to identity development. What do we need to do to encourage young Jews to stand up for what they believe in? Or perhaps, more pointedly, what more do we need to do to ensure that young Jews believe in something and have a strong Jewish identity?
Is this a problem with their education, that younger Jews don’t know how to respond or even understand the importance of standing up when they see something wrong? Is this a matter of pride — that many of our younger folk aren’t proud of their Jewish identity or understand the value of being out and proud Jews?
Or does this have to do with concerns about whether they are in a safe environment and can push back without fear of repercussions? Have we, as a broader society, done a good job instilling respect for difference and diversity among our youth, and demonstrating that hate has no home in our schools and communities?
The answer is probably all three, and we have to figure out how to solve those problems. A whole future generation of engaged Jews is at stake.
We must all play a role in overcoming this challenge. The work of the federation in terms of education and engagement is critical. Just as important is the role of family and friends at home instilling appreciation, and even love, for our extended Jewish family.
I welcome your thoughts on this and encourage your ongoing support for the federation — because there is a lot more we need to do, and we must work together.
I still have hope for the future. Even though I still see a half-empty glass, I am confident we also have the ability to fill it, a unique opportunity in our Jewish history.
I find this quote from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) to be particularly relevant: “The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master of the house is insistent.”