Two weeks ago, thousands of American Jewish leaders from across the country gathered outside Washington, D.C., for the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly to discuss issues pertaining to Israel, Jewish continuity and campus life.
One of the more engaging programs at the GA was a plenary panel featuring journalists I admire: Jeffrey Goldberg, Aluf Benn, Steven Linde and Linda Scherzer. As the conversation drifted from the media’s coverage of the war this summer to support for Israel, Benn pointed out that American liberals, especially young people, still traditionally support Israel but are growing more critical of the occupation.
Scherzer responded with: “Do you think young people just don’t get it?” With its deep condescension toward me and my peers, that moment revealed a major flaw in the American Jewish community’s approach to young people. The JFNA, like the rest of the community, knows that it has a problem engaging with us. It was frequently discussed at the GA. But the nature of those conversations actually epitomized the problems they purported to solve.
The panel “Doing Jewish in College and Beyond: Effective Ways to Engage Young Jews” had not a single student or young person on the panel. In fact, several of the students who asked questions were told that their views were “parochial” and only representative of a tiny, insignificant minority.
The program “Generation #Hashtag” highlighted statistics about the rise of anti-Semitism on campuses, even as the students on the panel itself insisted that they didn’t feel unsafe or insecure as Jews.
The fact is, millennials are not staying away because their local federation’s Facebook page is not attractive enough; they are staying away because when they want to talk about their beliefs and goals, they are often condescended to or ignored. Assuming that by understanding Facebook and Twitter they can understand how millennials think, the organizers of the conference displayed how out of touch they really are with young people. I attended the GA because I feel a personal investment in Israel, Zionism and the American Jewish community. I’m a Pakistani-American Muslim, so I’ll forgive you if you find that confusing.
I grew up sympathetic to Palestinian rights and grievances in the heavily Jewish suburb of Potomac, Md. I decided I wanted a more substantive understanding of the Israeli narrative after some abortive arguments in high school, so when I began college, I started going to Hillel, took classes in the Israel Studies department and joined J Street U. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with Zionism. I spent a semester in Jeru-salem and started learning Hebrew.
I began to organize in support of a solution to the conflict both out of deep concern for Palestinian rights and for Israel’s security as a Jewish democracy. I am in this for the long haul.
So what does Scherzer think I and the rest of my generation don’t get? The fact that Israel is facing serious security threats? That a peace deal, though necessary for Israel’s long-term security, will also contain risks? That Israel will never be completely secure until it has internationally recognized borders and international legitimacy?
We do get it, and we want to do something about it. Our views are not infallible, but the notion that we cannot understand the complexity of the conflict simply because we are young is offensive and wrong.
Amna Farooqi is the Southeast representative to the J Street U student board.