I wasn’t always a rabbi or even the “most Jewish” of my friends. While I certainly admit to having a robust Jewish education, in High School I could be found on Friday nights picking up my Orthodox friends on the street corners so their parents wouldn’t see them driving. I was far more interested in basketball and other things during High School. My wakeup call happened when Judaism wasn’t all around me anymore and I began searching for my own Judaism. My wakeup call happened when I least expected it, college, a time of drinking and learning (probably in that order).
Because of my education at Solomon Schechter Day School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy I received tremendous exposure to areas that breed an attachment to the Jewish people; Israel, Holocaust, Hebrew, Keshet (Special Needs), and the richness of text. As I got older I always wondered where the Jewishness from my college/adult friends stemmed from. How does my generation see the Jewish world? What is their attachment to Peoplehood and Israel and were they aware of the reality of the anti-Semitic world we live in? I remember a friend’s father coming up to me and saying, “If the Jewish world spends any more time preaching Tikkun Olam, I am going to go crazy.” He said this, as a former IDF soldier, because he sees millennials caring more about the world than their own people and especially Israel.
In many ways I agree. Tikkun Olam and cultural Judaism seem to be a larger attraction to millennials than Torah study. Many of my Jewish friends do little, to absolutely nothing, to attach themselves to the Jewish world outside of having Jewish friends. The assimilation rate is rampant. Studies have shown this is partly due to the millennials viewing their Judaism the same as any other part of their life, and their fear of labels – being too religious or too Jewy.
It is often when one’s Judaism is threatened that individuals in my generation come out in full force. On campus I had friends who would never step foot in Hillel, but came out with fists up, ready to fight against Israel Protestors on the Quad. My current 9th grade students refuse to wear their kippot but when I tell them their religious freedoms are at risk, they respond with fierce opposition.
I am now seeing the gameness of my most liberal friends, those who cursed out anyone who didn’t vote for President Obama, to plead with the United States to stand by Israel during these troubling times. The daily postings of their disgust for the world’s anti-Semitic rallies and rages are causing many to think about what it means to be Jewish when you no longer live in a safe house. Millennials only know a post-Holocaust world with a Jewish State of Israel. The current situation focuses on the reality that things are not perfect. This current situation has caused Jewish Americans to evaluate President Obama’s allegiance to Israel and certainly to think about why they ever voted for John Kerry. What does it mean to vote in America as a Jew? Can it be that it took the world to show hatred towards the Jews and the victimizing of Israel for millennials to realize their own Judaism?
If Facebook newsfeeds and other media are any indication, then this current situation is that wakeup call. And if it isn’t, it should be. I wrote earlier this week about the outlook on my daughter’s Israel, but it holds the same truth for my generation. When the Nazis came knocking on doors they didn’t care about your denomination or affiliations; they didn’t care about your Shabbat practices or even who you married; just that you were Jewish. I am not suggesting we are headed towards World War 3, but certainly bigotry towards Jews is poking its head out all over the world. So it is a shame that it took a tragedy to wake up the many Jewish millennials, Jews who were carefree for some time. I just hope we will not be caught sleeping again.