Rabbi Neil Schuman

Repeats and Changes:  Israel and our Youth
Shana Tova, good Yom Tov, thank you for joining us today.
First and foremost, I’m thrilled to see so many of you here live and in-person.  To those of you watching from home, if we get sick, I hope you won’t say, “I told you so!”
Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year.
Shana means year, but in Hebrew, all words are built upon two and three-letter roots; so, what’s the root of Shana?
It might be related to לשנן, which means to repeat, for each year we repeat the same days, weeks and months. Many of our relationships, needs, and beliefs will remain the same from year to year.
And in total contrast, it could be derived from לשנות which means to change. From year to year, we’re always renewing ourselves. We alter our hair, get a different car, we relocate. We yearn for new songs, movies, and upgrades on our phones. We have a passion to be creative.
Change can be good, and it can be bad. In fact, a few years ago, a middle-aged woman was rushed to the hospital. She prayed hard, “Dear God, please don’t let it be my time.” Then she saw a light and heard a clear voice. “Don’t worry, you have at least another forty years to live.”
The woman was so relieved that, when she left the hospital, she got a face lift and a tummy tuck, started working out at the gym, redid her hair with a much younger style, and bought a whole new wardrobe. She felt better than she ever had before.
Then, when she was walking out of the gym, she crossed the street and was hit by a bus. That was it! On the way to heaven, she cried out to God, “You said I have forty more years.” A voice answered, “I’m sorry, I did not recognize you.”
So as the new year begins, we’d like to embrace both aspects of the word Shana: we hope some things remain the same, while others will inevitably evolve.
This past year I noticed a radical difference between how our youth approach Israel from what I always assumed was the monolithic view of American Jewry, and it’s a change that I believe we need to address.
I’m sure nearly all of us are Zionists, people that support the State of Israel. A few of you may have rejoiced as children when Israel became a nation. More of you danced and cheered when Israel defeated their enemies in six days in 1967.
You were disgusted in 1972 when Israeli Olympiads were shot in Munich, and you sat in trepidation on Yom Kippur in 1973, worried about the continuity of the fledgling state.
I remember when Sadat, Begin and Carter met in Camp David. It was such a relief to think that after four major wars, perhaps Israel would no longer have to worry about being pushed into the sea.
When our second son was born in June 2001, in the midst of a deadly Intifada, my wife and I named him, Netzach Yisrael, the Victory, the Destiny of Israel, a wish that although things look bad, our glorious future is assured.
It never occurred to me, though, that a child of mine might think differently than I regarding Israel, until this May.
The eviction of Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah section of Jerusalem released a tidal wave of Arab fury:
There was violence at the Al Aqsa mosque, fighting in the streets of Jerusalem, rioting from normally peaceful Israeli Arabs, and then Hamas made themselves out as the protectors of the Palestinian plight and launched rockets from Gaza. Perhaps the most damaging of all was the universal mass media condemnation.
When I was discussing Sheikh Jarrah with one of my daughters, she reacted, “Well, Israel started it, and it’s racist the way they treat the Arabs.”
I was shocked and unprepared for such a reaction. Obviously, she had picked this up from her social media streams and friends, so I sat down with her and presented to her a wider array of facts than she had been exposed to. Thankfully, she rescinded her statements.
Unfortunately, my daughter was just one of thousands of young Jews being fed anti-Israel propaganda through social media.
In July, a survey of US Jewish voters taken after the Israel-Gaza conflict found that 34 percent agreed that “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States and 25% agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state”, but among voters under 40, more than a third agreed that Israel is an apartheid state.[1]
Now we can definitely throw some of the blame on the ignorant and/or anti-Semitic talk-show hosts, politicians and influencers, but I think we need to reexamine the issue. With Sheikh Jarrah, many friends and supporters, people normally loyal to Jews and Israel, turned on us. Could it be that something has changed?
When I was young and learned about the creation of the State of Israel, I was told that Palestine was basically a poorly populated land before the first waves of Aliyah in the late 19th century. Tackling parched deserts and malaria-infested swamps, the smart Jewish immigrants turned Israel into its current fertile and habitable state.
In fact, this was the most popular joke among the early pioneers:
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Israeli.
Israeli, who?
Israeli hot out here; open the door!
While many areas were indeed infertile or disease-ridden, they were not uninhabited. Arabs, Turks, Ottomans, and Byzantines have been living there for over a thousand years.
In the 19th Century, Jewish philanthropists and organizations bought large swaths of lands in Israel from Arab landowners. Most of these lands were inhabited by poor Arab sharecroppers. Some of these families lived on the farms for hundreds of years. Now, because of the sale, they were forced to relocate.
Ari Shavit writes in his book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”, about British Zionists who toured the land of Israel in 1897 and declared: “Palestine has never yet adopted another population!” Arguing with the critics of Zion, they insist that Palestine is absolutely suitable for “the teeming millions who are in distress in the East of Europe for whom a home might have to be found with a minimum of difficulty and a maximum of hope.”
Think about these words: they spent twelve days traversing the Holy land in fine British luxury, and they’re confident to have found a home for the Jews with a minimum of difficulty and a maximum of hope.
They were not seeing something. Shavit notes, “In 1897, there were more than half a million Arabs, Bedouins, and Druze in Palestine. There were twenty cities and towns, and hundreds of villages.”
Nowadays, we, who watch Israel from half way across the world, are amazed at our little sister state. We’re proud of their economic, scientific and military accomplishments and awed by their moral judgments. What other country tries to eliminate collateral damage in battle as much as they do? They send their own sons and daughters to do door-to-door searches for terrorists instead of bombing a whole neighborhood, and when they do bomb a building, they drop notes from a drone beforehand letting the inhabitants know to vacate the building.
Yet this is not the whole story, and all of Israel’s deeds have not been moral in taking over a previously inhabited country.
Shavit writes, “The miracle is based on denial. The nation I am born into, in 1958, has erased Palestine from the face of the earth. Bulldozers razed Palestinian villages, warrants confiscated Palestinian land, laws revoked Palestinians’ citizenship, and annulled their homeland. (By the socialist kibbutz, Ein Harod, lie the ruins of Qumya. By the orange groves of Rehovot lie the remains of Zarnuga and Qubeibeh. In the middle of Israeli Lydda, the debris of Palestinian Lydda is all too apparent. And yet there seems to be no connection in people’s minds between these sites and the people who occupied them only a decade earlier.)[2] Ten-year-old Israel has expunged Palestine from its memory and soul. When I am born, my grandparents, my parents, and their friends go about their lives as if the other people have never existed, as if they were never driven out. As if the other people aren’t languishing now in the refugee camps of Jericho, Balata, Deheisha, and Jabalia.”[3]
In some ways, Zionism is a lot like Manifest Destiny.
This cultural belief that American settlers were destined to expand across North America was based upon three principles:
  • The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
  • The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of the agrarian East
  • An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty.[4]
So, if we replace American agrarians with Jewish ones, and include in it a need to find a haven for an oppressed people in the place of their birth and prophetic destiny, is it very different? In both cases, the new, more powerful settlers exile the natives from their homeland.
This is why Sheikh Jarrah set off such repercussions – it was another forced evacuation.
During the crisis, the BBC interviewed a couple from Sheikh Jarrah. Their house is one of 14 homes housing 300 residents who would need to relocate.
What exacerbates the problem is that both of their families were driven from West Jerusalem during the war of independence in 1948.
The houses the Dajanis and Budeiris used to own are just a few kilometers away, but Israeli law means they can never be recovered; they were forfeited in the war.
So, where did they go? In the 1950s, the UN funded a Jordanian project in Sheikh Jarrah to build homes for these displaced Palestinians. But some of the land involved had been owned by two Jewish associations before the creation of the state of Israel.
Now, 73 years later, these families are being evicted again with no recourse to their original pre-1948 property.
Can you understand why Israeli Arabs are incensed?
Those of us who have known Holocaust survivors personally know too well the need for a Jewish State. Yet most of us probably never knew of these Israeli injustices, and if we did we pardoned them on account of the great need.
But our children don’t have our perspective.
The 2019 Pew Study says that of Jews aged 50 and older, 65% feel very or somewhat attached to Israel. While those under age 30, only 50% feel that way. This means that 50% of Jews under 30 don’t even feel somewhat attached to Israel.
 Moreover, the previously mentioned 2021 study discovered that 9% of voters agreed with the statement “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.” Among voters under 40, that proportion was 20%
Shana, “year”, from a root meaning either repetition or change. We know and expect that our children will depart from our way of understanding, but I don’t think we expected this.
Those of you who have children or grandchildren in their 20s or teens recognize that this generation is much more liberal and open-minded than we are. They accept LGBTQ+ people wholeheartedly. They speak out for gun control, as was evidenced from the teens from Parkland. They support Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, Dreamers, and along these lines, Palestinians, who they see as being discriminated against in a similar light.
This change, this care for the unprotected by our youth, is good.
Yet, much of their information is tainted or outright wrong. In the past years, I’ve asked you to support Black Lives Matter, organizations for gun control and safe schools, and efforts to stave off climate change. This year, I ask you to fight against disinformation.
We all know that social media feeds everything from “Stop the Steal” to “Microchips in Covid Vaccines”: we need to strengthen positive forms of social media.
Please support Camera.org. It’s an acronym for COMMITTEE FOR ACCURACY IN MIDDLE EAST REPORTING AND ANALYSIS
Likewise, we should support the ADL (adl.org), the Anti-Defamation League, which does so much, in so many ways, to stop discrimination against Jews and all minorities.
Act-IL Initiative: Act-IL leads an online community that acts on social media platforms, fighting anti-Semitism and positively influencing the narrative regarding Israel (https://www.abbaeban.idc.ac.il/act-il).
Support your college student’s Hillel, for they are the defenders of Judaism and Israel on campus.
Yet perhaps the most powerful influence is the personal one. When I spoke to my daughter about what I thought occurred in Israel, and what was omitted from her reports, she changed her position.
Let us share with our children what we love about Israel.
Retell your family’s personal stories of survival or watch a Holocaust diary with them.
Let’s make sure our youth know why we believe Israel is necessary, while at the same time not whitewashing its flaws. And while doing so, let’s pat our children on the back for their strong moral beliefs, for they will make both Israel and America better places.
A new year means changes are on the way, but let us make the efforts to ensure that certain remain the same: the Jewish people, young and old, cherishing the State of Israel.
Shana Tova
[1] https://www.timesofisrael.com/poll-finds-a-quarter-of-us-jews-think-israel-is-apartheid-state/
[2] This was left out of spoken sermon for brevity
[3] Shavit, Ari. My Promised Land. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny