view from central park

Dear Mr. Lauder, this is who we are


The New York Times last week ran an opinion piece by Ronald Lauder, chairman of World Jewish Congress. Mr. Lauder is known for his philanthropy, a prestigious art collector, and as an unwavering friend of Israel. I have visited his Neue Galerie in New York, where I have bought books on prewar Vienna.

Of course, Lauder’s work goes deeper than a beautiful museum. The first time I heard his name was when, as U.S. Ambassador to Austria, he refused to attend the inauguration of Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi. A few years later, I learned about the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation’s efforts to advance Jewish education in Europe.

So when someone of his stature pens an opinion piece in The New York Times, I pay attention.

The article ran this past Monday, titled “Israel, This Is Not Who We Are,” and subtitled “Orthodoxy should be respected, but we cannot allow the politics of a radical minority to alienate millions of Jews worldwide.”

In it, Lauder says he has “always stood by Israel and I always will,” then continues, “but now, as a loving brother, I ask the Israeli government to listen to the voices of protest.”

The criticism feels sincere. Mr. Lauder writes, “This is not the face we want to show our children, grandchildren and the family of nations.”

I humbly feel that Lauder got it wrong. The article seems to use Orthodoxy as the dividing point between right- and left-wing Israelis. That couldn’t be further from reality.

I am proud of the Orthodox community’s Zionism. If there is concern over growing Orthodoxy in Israel, it is because it is generally succeeding in passing Judaism and love of Israel to the next generation. If anything, perhaps others should learn from the community’s success.

That said, Orthodoxy is hardly the glue between right-wing Jews. In Israel, there is a critical mass of young, hip, educated, secular yet culturally-connected, proud, Israel-loving Jews. And the inverse is true as well, though not as prevalent — there are Orthodox Jews who fall on the left of the political spectrum.

The premise of the article is that Israel is losing the support of young liberal Jews.

Sure, that is what has been reported. And unfortunately it is partly true.

But for the most part, the younger generation is stronger and more passionate about Israel than ever. Especially under attack, they have been lit by the fire of justice. Four years ago, as rockets flew overhead, 109 young Jews, through an organization called Gareen Tzabar, made aliyah as IDF lone soldiers on a single Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. This past week, on Nefesh b’Nefesh’s second charter flight of the summer, there were 60!

Yes, many olim are Orthodox. But on my flight, many of the lone soldiers were Conservative, inspired by their role model, Michael Levin, of blessed memory. There were Reform Jews and there were unaffiliated Jews. What they all had in common was a solid Jewish identity, a sense of idealism and passion for Israel.

Just last week, a new fellowship called Zig Zag was launched by Hen Mazzig, a secular Israeli, to fortify young Jews against poisonous anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.

I won’t sugarcoat the tension in Israel, but Mr. Lauder’s suggestion of diluting Judaism to make it palatable to younger Jews is not the right path.

Mr. Lauder wrote, “this is not who we are.” I don’t know what “this” is. But we as a people should be who we are, true to ourselves, to our Jewish history, our Jewish values, and to our Jewish destiny. That is the only way forward.

I echo Mr. Lauder’s call for unity. “We are one people, few in number, and we must stop sowing division among ourselves. Once we are united our future will be boundless.”

Mr. Lauder, I have good news. There are many emerging thirty-something leaders, both observant and secular, who are smart, interesting, passionately proud Zionist Israelis — faces you actually do want to show your grandchildren. I would be happy to introduce you.

Maybe I’ll pop by Neue Galerie in the hopes of seeing you there.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News.