New York, NY -
In an age when students graduating from Jewish high schools must be increasingly knowledgeable about the multitude of issues facing Israel in order to successfully defend its positions on college campuses, many of them are finding themselves not up to the challenge. This is why The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University and the UJA Federation of New York joined forces to present a “What’s Up Israel: Consultation” event for Jewish high school educators, which featured two of the Jewish world’s leading advocates for strengthening Israel-education programs at all levels.
What’s Up Israel is a new, innovative initiative of The Lookstein Center. It will introduce a facilitated social media discussion for high school students from across North America by focusing on the multitude of issues facing Israel.
The featured speakers at this event, which was held recently at the UJA Federation headquarters in New York City, were Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York. Participants included in person attendees, as well as those who joined online. They included leading high school educators from across the US eastern seaboard and Canada.
Improving Israel’s Brand
Aharoni stressed the importance of teaching Jewish children and young adults in the United States that Israel is more than its problems. Saying “this brand image does not serve Israel’s interests,” Aharoni told the educators that the “Israel brand” has now been twinned with the Palestinian conflict in the minds of most young people.
“This is why Israel has to create relevance in positive areas. Young people must learn about Israel’s core meaning, and we should be talking about it as a country whose people are daring, independent, tough, smart and who have leadership qualities…We have to stress messages that show that Israel can be fun, a good value as a travel destination, and trendy. We have to close the perception gap,” Aharoni said.
Fighting Anti-Israel Messages and BDS Movement
Hoenlein told the educators that more and more Jewish children are absorbing the anti-Israel messages they see on TV. Saying that ignorance serves the enemies of Israel, he added, “We have to make Jewish history and Israel’s role in it relevant to children. Tell them about all the amazing discoveries taking place in Israel, which show our connection to this land throughout history.”
More effectively teaching modern Jewish history is essential, said Hoenlein, who added that 50 percent of young Jews don’t know what Auschwitz is. He said, “If you asked young Jews who is Natan Sharansky or the Soviet Jewry Movement, most of them would not know.”
Hoenlein said all Jews should be concerned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which he said was part of the “anti-Semitic revolution now taking place around the world.” He added that the BDS movement is building on the same anti-Semitic sentiments that we witnessed in 1930s Europe, except it is attacking the collective Jew – Israel – rather than the individual Jew.
Both men stirred numerous questions and ideas, which will lead to a follow-up workshop in the fall conducted by The Lookstein Center to advance the What’s Up Israel program. To learn more about Lookstein Center activities in the US, contact Stuart Zweiter, Director of The Lookstein Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org