Having just read this article asking whether building more Jewish museum is the best use of our resources, I began thinking again about two dilemmas facing Jewish communities across the United States.
Decreased concern and knowledge about the State of Israel on the part of Jews in their teens, twenties and thirties.
Day School tuition crisis (i.e. families cannot afford to send their children to Day Schools)
These problems are related to each other.
Let’s start with Israel.
Concern for and support of the State of Israel is related to what people know about Israel. What people know about the State of Israel and their attitudes towards the State of Israel, by and large, is related to their Jewish educational experiences.
Schools should be incentivized to teach about the State of Israel and urge their students to support the State of Israel. I am not suggestion that schools teach that everything that the State of Israel does is right, but their should be a general attitude pervading schools that the State of Israel represents the cumulative aspirations of the Jewish people. Furthermore, it should be taught that Jewish art, learning, and religious and cultural expression can only be fully expressed in Israel.
Once these ideas are firmly established, then the debates about policy, religious coercion, etc, can be entered into. First, however, the positive connection to Israel must be established. It is perfectly acceptable, even necessary for young people to know that they can voice their opinion when it comes to the State of Israel. Those voices are only valuable when they come from those committed to the overall endeavor to begin with. No doubt certain realities of Israel will disappoint students, but with a firm foundation as to why Israel matters, the students will at least engage in those areas of Israeli life that inspire them.
It is like a family. There are aspects of everyone’s family that are less thnn pleasant, but because the value of the family is a given, there is engagement and rarely a decision to cut off ties because of those unpleasant realities. This can work for American students vis-à-vis Israel, if the relationship with Israel is strengthened.
How does this tie into the tuition crisis? Easy, Incentives. Jewish philanthropy from private individuals as well as Federations can be contingent on the existence of Israel programing at schools. Schools that are willing to dedicate significant time to teaching the importance of Israel get a bigger piece of the funding pie. This strategy plays directly into the hands of the Federations in that graduates of those schools who were worthy of the additional funding will no doubt become future donors to Federations soliciting money for Israel.
Trips to Israel are nice. Israel advocacy programs are valuable. None of these attempts to re-engage our youth with Israel will have a large-scale effect to swing the pendulum back. The day schools are the battlefield.
This is a simple formula. People who know about Israel will support Israel, even as they debate the issues.