By Ilana-Sherrington-Hoffman, Director of Operations & Strategic Partnerships at StandWithUs Israel
While on a speaking tour abroad, a Holocaust survivor told me his heartbreaking story and explained with tears of joy why Israel is a living miracle. The tears turned into ones of sadness when he shared that his only son, born when he was 50 years old, is a prominent anti-Israel activist on campus supporting the delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist. The sad reality where these two stories can follow each other speaks volumes on how values have changed between generations.
It is a sad but natural fact that the further away a point of time in history is, the further it is from hearts and minds. As the last survivors die, with no living testimony, the memory of the Holocaust and lessons learned will join the pool of age-old horrific times, remembered more out of respect than pertinency. When was the last time you felt deeply connected remembering the Jewish ghettos imposed by Rome in the 16th century? We must wake up to the fact that history has an expiration date when it comes to resonating with the younger generation.
It’s true that to us children and grandchildren of those who survived persecution, Zionism as a national movement for Jewish self-determination is still a necessity with which we identify. After all, it was not long ago that our grandparents were murdered for their Judaism. But can the same be said of those who were born into a reality where a Jewish state already exists? How does Zionism continue to be a relevant ideal when its main goal has already been fulfilled? What is left for the following generations to aspire to?
Throw into the mix the simple fact that Israel is not perfect; dealing with astronomic strategic threats on one hand, but also struggling with considerable flaws on the other. And Israel’s failings, similar to those which exist in many other countries, receive attention that does not exist for other countries. This makes the “miracle” perception of Israel a tough one to swallow. Concerted efforts by the anti-Israel movement on mainstream platforms, while largely misleading, further exaggerate Israel’s imperfections. If we are not prepared to educate the next generation about Israel as a very real country – imperfect but still outstandingly inspiring – we will see more youths becoming disenchanted with an Israel that does not live up to impossible expectations.
Young people today may not connect to Israel in the same way as those who lived in a pre-Israel reality. This is something that, as educators and parents, we often fail to recognize and address. We need to find compelling ways to inspire young people today about Israel, to be affected by its destiny.
So how do we instill a love for Israel in the next generation, when the power of an emotional past is no longer a compelling notion? How do you inspire a strong bond with a very honest perception of what Israel really is?
In order for history not to fade from memory along with everything our parents and grandparents held dear, it is our (the people you are speaking about here) responsibility to keep it alive; not only to learn our family’s history and connection to Israel, but to impart that knowledge in a profound way. I was raised hearing in detail about my great-grandfather losing his family in the Holocaust; that my grandfather was persecuted by the authorities in Iraq. I know the stories of my husband’s family from Iran and that my children are fourth-generation Jerusalemite. All these experiences are not just history to me – they informed my connection to Israel and my desire to stand up for its right to exist.
If you want someone to care about something, they need to be familiar with it. Expose them to Israel – the people, the culture. Travel Israel, whether you live here or visit (even Israelis could travel more in their own country). Make memories, create something they can refer to in later points of life. Complexity is key
If you can show that Israel cannot be understood in simple terms, even if simplicity is the mind’s aspiration, you will better represent a notion of Israel that is rooted in reality. It is very real that is Israel can be both modern and historic, progressive and conservative, Eastern and Western, secular and religious, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Be open to questions – and to criticism
Don’t be afraid to criticize Israel; it doesn’t mean you don’t love it. And don’t be afraid of their criticism – encourage it. Let them explore it, but do so together. Criticism can only help to strengthen their connection and identity, as it will have been tried and tested rather than passed on by their elders. Moreover, encourage them not just to criticize – but also to be the change they want to see in Israel. Vote, participate, start movements, be involved.
The bigger picture
Being pro-Israel does not mean agreeing with every policy of the Israeli government. In the democracy that is Israel, policies can change daily. You can be critical of issues like Israel’s handling of ongoing conflicts, the Nation-State Law and racism while having a deep love for your country and standing up to efforts to delegitimize it. Democracies are inherently imperfect, but it is their ability to work on those flaws – rather than the existence of the flaws themselves – that should be judged.
Rise to the challenge. Shape a perception of Israel that is based on today rather than reliant on the romance of the past. Let’s allow our children to shape their own connections to Israel, while inspiring them with our own. As someone said long ago: “If you will it – it is no dream.”
The writer is the director of operations at StandWithUs Israel, and has represented Israel on speaking tours and with delegations around the world, including the US, UK, South Africa, Australia and Europe. She is an IDF reserve officer and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two children.
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