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Jewish American Youth, Israel, and J Street It is tough being a young Jewish American these days! Under the pre- grew up with the liberal values, taught to them by their parents, for sent conditions on college campuses, where Zionism is often appallin- racial equality and justice for minority groups here in America, to acgly equated with racism, and the accusation that Israel is an apartheid cept what they perceive as oppression of “the other” in the Palestinian state is casually tossed around, it is difficult for a young student to territories, not to mention confronting their peers on college campuses nourish and maintain a strong attachment to Israel. At the same time, who dismiss Zionism as racism. many young Jewish Americans who grew up loving Israel, the nation, Well, no longer need American Jewish youth (not to mention graymight themselves have serious problems with specific policies of the heads like me) feel alienated; they have clearly finally found a home in government of Israel toward the Palestinians. J Street. J Street provides an alternate voice in the Jewish community About five years ago I attended a talk in and allows American Jews to love and care Newton by one of the most respected figures about Israel while still being critical of specific in the Boston Jewish community, Leonard policies, and addressing the unfair treatment (Leibel) Fein. Fein is well-known for his of Palestinians. As a grandparent, I have been human rights activism, advocacy for supconcerned that my grandsons may grow up plying the basic necessities to the needy, and with no attachment to Israel. Now I have hope fighting for justice for the Palestinians while that through the efforts of groups like J Street, maintaining Israel as a secure, democratic when they grow up they may inherit an Israel and Jewish state. that they can be proud of. During the Q and A session an audience J Street has its finger on the pulse of American member rose and asked, “what is the main Jewry. Its long-standing positions on Israel thing that we can do to hasten the goal of made concrete by its advocacy work within Advocacy meeting with Rep. Joe Kennedy on peace in the Middle East?” Fein answered the Jewish community and in Washington Capitol Hill as part of the J Street conference with a rhetorical question, something like: in support of a two-state resolution to the “Look around you. Do you see anyone who Israeli-Palestinian conflict - are in line with doesn’t have gray hair? Go out and get the recently-released “2013 Pew Survey young Jewish Bostonians involved!” of American Jews.” This survey shows Well, it has taken five years, but Fein’s that the majority of American Jews challenge has finally been met. (60%) support President Obama’s hanI was privileged to attend the 4th J Street dling the nation’s policy toward Israel National Conference that took place in at a significantly higher rate than the US Washington D.C. at the end of Septempopulation as a whole, and 54% believe ber. To my delight, the large throng of that current support for Israel is “about 2800 attendees included 900 students, right”.The survey also finds that 61% many from the Boston area, including a of American Jews believe that there “is contingent of 50 from Brandeis. a way for Israel and an independent PaThis enormous turnout of young Jews at lestinian state to coexist”. Of particular the conference was not a fluke - J Street interest concerning the questioning of has active chapters on 15 campuses in Israeli policy, 89% of American Jews Youth movement students at the conference New England, including three in Greater think that “a person can be Jewish, and Boston - Harvard, Tufts and Brandeis. strongly critical of Israel’s policy.” For an answer to the question of “why have young Jews flocked to J A statistic from the Pew study that should be worrisome to those Street?” we might start with a cogent and influential article written in concerned about continued Jewish American attachment and support 2010 by Peter Beinart, an associate professor of journalism and political for Israel is that 53% of those 65 and older say caring about Israel is science at the City University of New York. He famously wrote, “For essential to being Jewish, whereas only 32% under age 30 express several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews this view. to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, Clearly, we have to show young Jews a way to positively engage with they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism Israel while not abandoning their liberal values. But, the 900 students instead.” The major mainstream Jewish organizations, as Beinart put who rallied at the J Street National Conference have demonstrated that it, “have refused to foster - and indeed have actively opposed - a J Street has pointed the way. Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Stan Fleischman - Newton Highlands Strip and toward its own Arab citizens.” It’s hard for young Jews who (The writer is a member of the J Street Boston Executive Committee)

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Shalom Magazine - www.facebook.com/ShalomMagazine

Winter 2013


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