Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Will young Jews stand up for Judaism?

Reform Jewish youth at a youth event,

OK, yes — I sometimes misplace things.

But, at least, I have never misplaced a child.

In this way, I am better than Abraham.

In the Torah reading for Rosh Ha Shanah morning, an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son. Abraham passed the test. He proved his faith and his loyalty to God.

But, at the end of the story, we read that Abraham and his servants returned to Beer Sheba.

Wait. Where is Isaac?

The ancient rabbis teach: Abraham sent Isaac to study at the Academy of Shem, which was an institution of higher Torah learning, founded by Noah’s son, Shem — a mythical ancient Israelite Hogwarts Academy.

The ancient rabbis knew that they lived in a dangerous time. They imagined a place where their children would be safe from the world.

Fast forward, to us, in our time.

We cannot protect our young people from the world. We can only prepare them for the world.

This past month, on college campuses all across the country, SUVs pulled up to the dorms – and more than 300,000 young Jews climbed out.

They found their dorm rooms. They began unpacking their duffle bags. They went to orientation.

And then, many of them found themselves — in the middle of a war.

It is a war that is being fought with ideas and with words. Words like colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.

All of those words, allegedly, about Israel.

There has been anti-Israel activity at (and this is a short list):

Listen to what a young Jewish woman experienced on her first day on campus:

Over the course of an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made, blatantly denying that Jews were native to the land of Israel, and denying the Holocaust…

It brings me back to my old college days.

One of my classmates told me that Theodor Herzl had secret meetings with Adolph Hitler.

Which is interesting – because Hitler was born in 1889, and Herzl died in 1904. Do the math: Hitler was fifteen years old.

But, it did not matter. She just wanted to equate Zionism with Nazism.

Since the day that I graduated from college, many fads have come and gone.

Remember disco? Gone. Remember leisure suits? Gone – thank God. Lava lamps?


There is one fad that is still around.


If we are lucky, our young people will ask themselves:

Why does no other country live with the constant question — as to whether it should even exist?

  • China destroyed Tibet. No one ever says: China has no right to exist.
  • South Africa invented apartheid. No one ever said: South Africa has no right to exist.
  • Great Britain occupied Northern Ireland. No one never said: Great Britain has no right to exist.
  • The United States has tragic racial problems. No one has ever said: America has no right to exist.

This is anti-Semitism. It is growing on college campuses. Last year, a survey revealed that more than half of American Jewish college students say that they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus.

It is time to go back to basics.

First: Israel has a right to exist.

Judaism is not only a religion. It is the faith expression of a people and a nation.

Nations have the right to self-determination in a sovereign state of their own.

The right to self-determination is especially important for Jews – because there have been times when Jews have had nowhere else to go.

That is why when we go to Israel together next summer (subliminal advertising, here), you will hear almost as much French on the streets as Hebrew. Because the Jews of France need a refuge. That is Zionism 101.

Second: Israel’s cause is just.

What is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Palestinian terror did not begin after the occupation in 1967, nor after Israel began to establish settlements on the West Bank in 1970.

The violence goes back – at least – to 1920.

It is simply because Arab nations have refused to accept a sovereign Jewish presence in the land of Israel.

At some point, we should have a larger, more focused conversation about a future Palestinian state.

But it should have already existed! The 1947 partition agreement called for the establishment of a Jewish state, and an Arab state.

But the Arabs would not have it. They wanted the whole thing. And since then, to quote the late Abba Eban: the Palestinians have never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

 And third: Israel is complicated.

 This past week, an Israeli friend of mine wished me shnat dvash – a year of honey.

Why? Because, he said: honey is sweet, but it is also messy. Just like Israel.

We do our young people no favors when we hide that messiness from them.

  • Israel has real social problems. Israel is a prosperous, start up nation. But not for the one third of its children who live in poverty.
  • Israel has real ethnic problems. Israel has lofty ideals, but those ideals have not been fully realized for Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians.
  • Israel has real religious problems. The ultra-Orthodox continue their vise-like clamp upon Israeli’s public and private Jewish life.

But, even with those many blemishes and flaws:

  • Israel is a robust, boisterous democracy. Come to Israel with us next July (more subliminal advertising). You will hear every possible opinion on politics, human rights, the occupation, the settlements – whatever.
  • Israel is one of the few countries in that region of the world that has free elections.
  • Israel believes in human rights for gays and lesbians. Tel Aviv has one of the largest LGBT parades in the world.

Yes, Israel has flaws – like any country. But, if you are searching for a state that approaches the liberal ideal – Israel embodies those ideals.

What do we do about this? How do we help our young people stand up for themselves as Jews?

We now have a choice.

  • We can view Judaism as preparation for an hour on the bima – a bar and bat mitzvah ceremony.
  • Or: we can view Judaism as preparation not for an hour – but for a life.

Every year, I ask our confirmation students: what are your deepest questions about life?

Their answers:

  • What is God?
  • Why do people hate Jews?
  • Why should there be an Israel?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why do we pray?

Our young people hunger for wisdom.

This is why I teach every kid in our religious school who is over the age of twelve. So that we know each other, and so that we can together learn that wisdom.

What am I asking – actually, imploring – our parents to do?

Do whatever it will take to ensure that your kids stay in Jewish education and youth programs until twelfth grade.

And then, send them to Jewish summer camps, and/or High School in Israel – whatever you can do.

Shimon Peres, the late past president of the State of Israel, and past prime minister of the state of Israel, said this:

We have existed for 4,000 years — 2,000 years in diaspora, in exile. Nobody in the Middle East speaks their original language, but Israel. When we started 69 years ago, we were 650,000 people. So, we are maybe swimming a little bit against the stream, but we continue to swim.

Today, I announce the start of a new movement in Judaism — Salmon Judaism.

In that movement, our young people will swim against the stream.

They will stand up for our truths, our story, and for our people.

Will they be ready?

(adapted from my Rosh Ha Shanah morning sermon at Temple Solel)

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • “Will young Jews stand up for Judaism?”

    You mean “Will young Jews stand up for Israel?”

    And people wonder why people keep equating Israel with all Jews as a whole.

    The religion isn’t the ethnicity which isn’t the country. Why does this constantly need to be spelled out, even when the author is Jewish themselves??

    Also: China has no right to exist.

  • I don’t doubt there are pockets of anti-Semitism in America, even on our campuses. But conflating robust criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism isn’t going to be taken seriously by today’s young people. They know Jews, they date Jews, many of them will marry Jews. But they will be asking big, big questions of Israel. And comparing some if its actions with other bullying regimes. And by the way, they are joined by some portion of the Jewish community ie, Jewish Voices for Peace.

    Netanyahu comes to America and thumbs his nose at a popular president. No surprise that young people are going to raise pointed questions. And yes, we know the “whole” story — we know that violence and absolutist comments are found on all sides. But this language of “war,” and the assumption that we are either “with you or against you,” is only going to make young people more frustrated. Don’t bury this statement “Israel has lofty ideals, but those ideals have not been fully realized for Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians.” Put it at the beginning, and you’ll have more conversation partners, and more respect.

  • “Shem — a mythical ancient Israelite Hogwarts Academy.”
    That’s funny.

    In many ways it’s so bizarre to me that humanity seems to have picked out just a very few human tribes to demonize, hate, blame and persecute over the course of centuries. Centuries! Really, it makes no sense at all. Maybe this is where the phrase, “Haters gonna hate” originated. (My understanding is that Gypsies/Romany are on the list too.)

    Being one of those groups, in this case, Jews, has to have a huge effect on the cultural psyche. It’s a case where paranoia is well-earned. I think of it as similar to the collective historical memories of women, with centuries of persecution walking with us too.

    It makes a difference in the entire group, those who deny the cultural memory as well as those who face it. Even with that in mind, I’m very troubled by what I hear from neutral sources about Israeli treatment of Palestinians. The original 2 nations plan seems like the best solution. Perhaps it will become more likely after Israel dumps Netanyahu. He’s terrible.

    Rabbi Salkin, thank you for an interesting article which has led me to much pondering.

  • This article is such thinly-veiled propaganda that it does not deserve a response.

    Israel does not equate Judaism. Israel is a political entity. Judaism is a religion practiced worldwide. Less than half of the followers of Judaism live in Israel.

    The author has also conveniently neglected to mention the Jews both in Israel and abroad who are categorically opposed to the Netanyahu government on the grounds that their militarism is threatening the peace and security of Jews everywhere.

    People like the author of this article have done more to engender antisemitism across the world than any number of BDS groups. It is because of people like the author that Jews like my family were persecuted and killed. Because a small number of extremist Jews refuse to separate faith from the state and the rest of us have to suffer as a result.

    You should be ashamed, Jeffry Salkin. You should be ashamed for trying to deceive your own people. You should be ashamed for assuming we are fools. You should be ashamed that people like you are making this world less safe for Jews.

  • This article didn’t conflate robust criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It criticized the use of classic anti-Semitic tropes to criticize Israel. If criticizing Israel were the only goal, why are Jewish students prevented from serving on student councils? Why the Holocaust denial? Why the insistence that Palestinians have the right to self-determination but not Jews? Why the claims that Jews are not native to the land on which Israel sits? JVP, like the rest of the organized BDS movement, is opposed to a two-state solution. That means it’s opposed to Israel’s existence. That’s not criticism, it’s destruction.

  • Not true. From their website:

    We support any solution that is consistent with the full rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, whether one binational state, two states, or some other solution. It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. However, we also believe it is our obligation to offer honest analysis about the diminishing likelihood of a two-state solution given decades of Israeli settlement expansion and the current Israeli leadership’s open resolve to block the creation of a Palestinian state.

    I’ll say it again, we’re getting tired of the overwrought suggestion that if we insist Israel is wrong in its current policies, we must be for its “destruction.”

  • If that’s JVP’s current position then I will gladly stand corrected. Nowhere did I suggest that an insistence that Israel is wrong in its current policies equals a call for its destruction. I believe Israel is wrong in many of its current policies, including those concerning Palestine, but I am a strong supporter of the State and consider myself a Zionist.

  • The JVP website. There it is. Google away if you think you can show it is any different than its ever been.

    Which means the so-called “Zionists” aren’t the only ones who support justice for Israeli Jews, thought they pretend to be. I cannot call myself a strong supporter of the State as it currently behaves. But that doesn’t mean I am calling for its destruction.

  • JVP supports BDS. End of story, and from JVP’s own website: In addition, I’ve heard JVP college students yammer about One-State Solution, and how Israel “can be permitted to exist, but not as a Jewish state.” As such, JVP teaches Jewish students to condemn Israel to someday become just another Muslim-majority, Jew-hating nation of the Middle East, so that it will no longer be safe sanctuary to Jews worldwide, before they are old folks. JVP is a crock; it’s just BDS with Jews belonging, so BDS can point and say, “See? Even some Jews agree.” Oldest trick in the book.

  • Speaking strictly from the perspective of a Native American who is heir to DNA that has now been established to have been present in N. America as far back as 18 thousand years at a minimum and actually an antiquity that the Jews would LOVE to possess if they only possessed a distinctive DNA. But the question that come to mind here is simply: Why would anyone need to “stand up FOR Judaism”?
    Do the “Jews” not present themselves as the “Chosen Ones” of the deity that was invented by “Jews” sometime in the late Bronze or early Iron age?
    If this is indeed the case then; “why not let their God take care of his chosen ones”? He chose them; right?
    Or so it is written in the narrative fiction written by Jews in their Torah and Talmud and other script.
    This is one of the great questions that the Europeans brought to our people beginning in 1492, and yes, there were Jews who participated in the invasion. Indeed the oldest continuously occupied city in the USA is Santa Fe N.M. which was settled in 1610 by Ashkenazi Jews.
    One would think that the “Jewish State of Israel” would be ashamed to take “handouts from the Americans” at this point a minimum of 5 billion annually actually. One would think that being “people of faith” it would seem logical that their “faith” would carry them through any difficulty as would their ‘deity’ and they would be ashamed to take money from those Americans. Especially considering the fact that the Americans are presently illegally in possession of more than 60% of their geographic territory as a result of violating their own Constitution Art 6, “all treaties are supreme law”, and much of that ‘revenue’ is a result of their illegal possession. One would think that tainted money for “Gods Chosen Ones” would be unacceptable to their “God”……….”he” has remained silent thus far and after all…….. this IS America—-right?