I was recently on the phone with a student, an involved MJE participant, who also happens to be a volunteer firefighter in the New York area. To keep things anonymous, let us call him Bob. Bob set aside his law job and traveled to Israel on a two-week volunteer mission to man a firetruck in Israel. He called me from Israel and shared that his younger sister was posting anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian material and was very upset. Bob called to ask me how he should handle the situation. Over the last few weeks, I have received dozens of such calls from my students in their 20’s/30’s asking how to deal with cousins, friends and former college roommates who are pro-Palestinian, posting “Free Palestine” on their social media. And these are not isolated incidents. A recent Harvard Caps Harris poll reported that over 50 percent of those between the ages of 18-24 felt that the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel was justified. I don’t know what percentage of them are Jewish, but I suspect a good deal. How is this? How do you have someone who flies to Israel to man a firetruck for the IDF whose own sister is anti-Israel?
There is, of course, a strong anti-Israel sentiment amongst the hard left, but it is no coincidence that the brother who volunteered in Israel is engaged in Jewish life and his sister is not. The more disconnected our young men and woman are from the Jewish community, the less of a feeling they have for Israel.
In Parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham asks Hashem how He intends to make a great nation out of him if he doesn’t even have children? Hashem responds by taking Avraham outside of his tent and tells him to look up at the sky to see the many stars, famously declaring: ko yiheyeh zarecha – “so too will be your offspring”. The Torah then says: V’he’emin b’Hashem - “and Abraham believed God”. As an act of faith, Avraham accepted God’s answer that he would have children. But when Avraham asks God about the land of Israel, whether he will inherit the land as God had promised, Avraham asks: Bamah Aydah Ki Irashana- “how will I know that I will inherit it?”
Why is it that when Hashem tells Avraham he will have children Avraham believes God but when it comes to the land, Avraham seeks assurances and wants some proof?
The great chasidic master, Rebbi Elimelech of L’shinsk suggests that Avraham was not doubting whether God would give him Israel. Avraham believed Hashem would provide him with the land, just like he believed He would give him children. What Avraham was questioning was whether his children would want it too. The word “ireshena” – does not mean to inherit, but rather to cause another to inherit and so Bamah aydah ki irishena does not mean how will I know I will inherit the land, but rather - how do I know I can bequeath it? How can we know the next generation will want what we want?
There are no guarantees in life, but it is by first developing ourselves into those types of people. One thing I have learned as a parent, is our children may ignore what we say, but they pay attention to what we do. And so, if we are committed to our Judaism and to Israel, more likely than not our children will follow suit. If our children see we are committed to Shabbat, if they us see running out to a Torah class, if they see we are changing our schedules to help Israel in her time of need, there are no guarantees - but that is the best way to ensure we can bequeath the Yiddishkeite we hold dear to our children. But that only applies to a small segment of the Jewish community that is engaged in Jewish life. What about the eighty percent of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the United States who are not?
We must follow Avraham’s example and reach out to them. We must show the beauty of Torah and the power of living as part of a vibrant Jewish community. Maimonides in his Sefer Hamitzvot wrote that part of fulfilling the mitzvah to love God is by bringing others to love Hashem as well. He learns it from the famous verse: es hanefesh asher asu b’charan – “the souls they acquired in Haran” which Rashi, the great biblical commentator, says refers to all the men and women Avraham and Sarah drew into the service of Hashem. Avraham and Sarah didn’t just live their own religious lives. They reached out to others, and when we follow their example, when we do our part to engage our less connected brothers and sisters, amazing things always happen.
A few years back, a young man named Larry was walking on the upper West Side coming to meet a friend for brunch. The friend cancelled and Larry noticed the MJE sign on the building. Having no other plans, Larry followed the sign into our Beginners Service and took a seat in the back. After coming to that Beginners Minyan every week, completing our Basic Judaism classes, traveling to Israel with us for the very first time, Larry became Jewishly involved. And although he received no formal Jewish education and had previously been disconnected from the Jewish community, Larry today is a committed Jew who is hugely supportive of Israel.
If we want to bequeath our Judaism to the next generation, we must actively share it with others. In doing so, we will not only inspire Jewish continuity, but we will also help ensure the State of Israel receives the support she deserves - from all Jews.