Magazine article Newsweek

A Dangerous Place: As the Violence in Israel Keeps Young American Jews at Home, There Is Fear That a Generation Will Lose Touch with Its Heritage

Magazine article Newsweek

A Dangerous Place: As the Violence in Israel Keeps Young American Jews at Home, There Is Fear That a Generation Will Lose Touch with Its Heritage

Article excerpt

Byline: Seth Mnookin

In January, Hannah Janal went to Israel for a 10-day trip sponsored by Birthright Israel, a group that foots the bill for any 18- to 26-year-old who wants to visit the country. Before the trip, she says, she was merely a "High Holidays" Jew--she went to synagogue only on the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. Her connection to her religion was tenuous. "Now I feel like I want to stand up and sing out how much I love Israel," says Janal, 20. "I care so much. I love it."

These days, perhaps more than any other time in the history of the Jewish state, Janal is a rarity. The Hebrew University bombing last month seemed to confirm every parent's nightmare about sending a child to the Holy Land: five of the seven people killed were American. But that bombing, for all its horror, likely won't have much of an impact on the number of American teenagers traveling to the region. That's because many organized trips to Israel were already down 80 to 90 percent from 2000, before the current wave of Palestinian violence started; a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency for Israel that helps other organizations plan and run tours says the number of North American teenagers it's bringing over has declined from 6,460 in 2000 to just 200 this year.

After decades in which a formative trip to Israel was seen as a way to cement Americans' connection to their religion, this precipitous drop has Jewish leaders panicked. "Our biggest fear is that we're going to have an entire generation of kids that may not have any real connection to Israel," says Jules Gutin, the head of youth activities for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Jewish activists warn that the dwindling number of Jewish teens visiting Israel is already having an effect. Jewish summer camps are discovering that fewer of their counselors have spent time in Israel. Rabbi Shaul Feldman looks down the road and sees more trouble: "It could be within 20 or 30 years that the heads of the federations here in North America are going to be leaders that never went to Israel. …

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