Op-Ed: US Jewish College Students, Is Israel a Fringe Issue?
With the month of Iyar here and the joyous celebrations it contains, it is hard not to look to the past and see how far we have come.
This is, in fact, the essence of the celebrations of both Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) as well as Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day). These are the days we reflect on how, just a short time ago, Jews were forced to be strangers in strange lands, often leading to their mistreatment and, at its absolute worst, slaughter.
These are the days when we allow ourselves, religious and secular alike, to be thankful that we now have a bastion of safety for any Jew. These are meant to be truly jubilant days for the Jewish community world-wide.
Sadly, however, looking into the past is not always as pat-on-the-back emboldening as we anticipate it to be. It is of grave concern that many a time we look to the past to see progression only, while filtering out any and all regression it may expose, no matter how substantial.
Another great way to receive a blast from the past is Ipod shuffle.
For all of you adult Baby Boomers out there who think this is the newest in a series of silly dance moves ‘that are all the rage among young’uns these days’ that I am in danger of losing as readers, allow me to briefly explain. An Ipod, or electronic device that plays digitally downloaded music, allows you to listen to a single song, an entire album, a specific playlist you have customized, or if you are in an indecisive or adventurous mood, can shuffle through all of your songs at random.
What often happens, in my experience at least, is the ‘shuffle’ option will inevitably select a song long forgotten, drudging up the old emotions that your subconscious has naturally fused to that melody. In one recent case of ‘shuffle nostalgia’, my Ipod selected the song “City of Gold” by Blue Fringe. Blue Fringe was a cult hit among the religious American Jewish community during the early 2000s and, not to brag or anything, once slept at my house the night before a concert in LA.
While I was overjoyed to relive my younger days as a care-free teenager rocking out to Yeshiva University students most likely trying to make a few extra bucks over spring break (yes I was quite the rogue in my youth), as a young adult now living in Israel - but still very much connected to the Jewish community in the US -, the lyrics of “City of Gold” perturbed me enough to replay the song over and over again as I drove down Highway 443 near Modiin..
For a long time afterwards, I failed to pinpoint what exactly in the lyrics troubled me so much, despite often dissecting the lyrics as a diligent yeshiva student would a perplexing (or more perplexing than the norm rather) page of Talmud.
Allow me to take you on this journey, but first some background. The song was written at the height of the second intifada and was a beautiful ode to the disparaging helplessness undoubtedly experienced by many far-away non-Israeli Jews watching the daily carnage with clenched fists and gritted teeth. Thus the first verse opens:
What have I become, when all I feel is numb, to the numbers, that’s all they are to me now
I can’t hear the news anymore, it’s all the same to me, it’s all monotony
When did I grow so cynical, nothing helps me, nothing helps you see
A wave of helplessness has washed me away and I can’t get back
These feelings are reiterated in the song’s chorus:
I am lost without you, I need to be with you
How can I help ease your pain, just tell me what to do
I am here without you, standing in the cold
How can I help, ease your pain
City of Gold
I was sure that this opening verse as well as the chorus was not the cause of my discomfort. In fact, even as a resident of Israel, the oft-depressing helplessness one feels over the continued attempts to eradicate the State of Israel by its seemingly endless number of enemies, the international communities’ consistently appalling misrepresentation of the situation, as well as the Israeli leadership’s own reluctance or failure to do all that is necessary to ensure the safety of its people, is a cold yet familiar bedfellow.
Thus I knew that whatever anger the song was eliciting must lie in the subsequent second verse and/or final bridge. Let’s press play again shall we:
Not a day goes by, you’re not on my mind
All mixed up with emotions
I wanna take up arms, I need a hand to hold
But there’s nothing I can do, and there’s nothing worse than thinking that
And I can’t stand to see the world, close its eyes to the truth
And I can’t stand to see myself, standing still
Some days I just want to put it all behind
And come to you
And comfort you
Finally I thought I had discovered the source of my irritation. Here was a guy lamenting that he had no means of helping the besieged city of Jerusalem, when in the very next verse he presents two perfectly viable options for providing such help; namely “taking up arms”, better known as volunteering for the IDF, as well as the more general “come to you and comfort you”, whether it be making aliyah or even simply visiting the Holy Land to help boost its morale not to mention its economy.
“So just do it buddy!” I yelled at my car stereo, was proud that I now knew a good number of people who have both taken up arms as well as come to comfort Israel, and the song began to again drift back into the great jukebox hiding in my hippocampus.
But alas, I could not fully shake the feeling of “City of Gold” despite constantly reminding myself it was just a song written by a couple of guys who are best known for the tremendously poetic lyric “nothing rhymes with cholent”.
I soon came to realize that even if I found the ignorance of “City of Gold”’s lyrics annoying, I had fallen victim to reflecting on the past with blinders on.
The real reason the song bothered me was not that the singer missed out on the answer to his self-posed question, but a far more disturbing reality. It was that I was acutely aware fewer and fewer American Jews, especially the future leaders of US Judaism currently on college campuses, wouldn’t waste a minute of their time posing the question in the first place. A quick glance at my Facebook newsfeed could tell me that.
In fact, if one were to see the statistics and listen to the experts, one very well may “Flip Out”, to borrow a phrase from our esteemed lyricists. A 2006 study conducted by the American Jeiwsh Committee on young American Jews stated that “There is a consensus among several studies that Israel is not central to young people’s Jewish identity. In Horowitz’s (2000) study of Jews ages 22 to 52 in the New York area, only 33 percent indicated that “supporting Israel” was related “a lot” to what being Jewish involved for them. In fact, on a list of ﬁfteen values, it was ranked eleventh in signiﬁcance.
Finally, in a study of teens (Kadushin, Kelner, and Saxe, 2000), “caring about Israel” was cited as “very important” by only 31 percent of the respondents, lagging considerably behind several other values that were endorsed by upwards of 50 percent of the respondents.”
More recently, well established pro-Israel advocate Daniel Pipes wrote that “major Jewish institutions show a marked propensity to promote and celebrate the enemies of Israel and even anti-Semites, including Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University’s Plans to give its International Advocate for Peace Award to Jimmy Carter, author of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, on April 10.” We are swiftly becoming our own most lethal weapon.
So as another Iyar falls upon us, let us speak openly about what the past can indicate might be a danger to us in the future. In addition to all external threats, it is the terrifyingly growing number of young American Jews who are apathetic to Israel, or worse, view it as a hindrance or a blemish to their identity that is one of our greatest perils going forward.
We must address this growing epidemic if we hope to ensure that the “Land of Hope” and the “City of Gold” does not become anything but a (Blue) Fringe issue for future generations.
Chag Yerushalayim Sameach.