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Hoenlein: Time to Get the Youth Excited About their Judaism

Malcolm Hoenlein: The way to ensure the continuity of Jewish existence is to reach out to the youth at the youngest age.
By Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski
First Publish: 6/22/2012, 6:45 PM

Arutz Sheva met and spoke on Thursday with Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein took part in a session at the President’s Conference entitled “To Be Jewish: The Challenge of Being Jewish in the Diaspora.”

The session discussed the threats to Jewish existence in the Diaspora, including assimilation, the weakening of identity, financial difficulties in maintaining community and educational institutions, and terror and anti-Semitism. The main question the session attempted to answer is how can we ensure the continuity of Jewish existence in the Diaspora, and does Israel have a role in this process?

“It is a challenge to be Jewish but we have so much to celebrate that it’s time for us to stop taking our kids for granted,” said Hoenlein. “It’s time that we start re-investing and that means starting at the youngest age. You can’t send kids to Israel at 18 and ignore them the first 18 years of their life and think they’ll be good Jews. Birthright provides very important exposure to Israel but we have to do more to invest, to recognize the challenges and we have to respond to them in a global fashion.”

He added that “the issues that challenge Israel and American Jewry and world Jewry are more and more the same. By collectivizing the effort, by utilizing each other, by building closer ties we will help each other meet those challenges.”

With assimilation currently being an issue of concern among Diaspora Jews, Hoenlein said the key is for Jewish parents to emphasize to their children all the joy there is in being Jewish.

“We want to educate them about the Holocaust but [get them] to learn the lessons – to make sure that future generations don’t meet those trials and tribulations,” he said.

“If you understand what a great heritage, what great traditions and values we have, the young people will be excited about it, but we have to reach out to them and we have to go them in the means and the places they are,” said Hoenlein. “We have to come up with creative ways to reach out to them, to get into the 21st century in use of communication.”