By Eli Ajzenman
How do you know you have been a successful Jewish parent? The answer, I am told, is if your grandchildren are still Jewish.
The theme of the night was ”Israel 2009 and Beyond in a World of Uncertainty”. A panel of guest speakers included Etan Dorey (Friends), Jamie Hyams (AIJAC), Joe Krycer (JNF Victoria) and Ginette Searle (State Zionist Council of Victoria).
The theme seemed adequate enough, given the situation in which Israel and Jews around the world find themselves — the highest level of attacks on Jews since those in Germany before 1939.
The constant barrage from academia, NGOs, UN committees, usual enemies of the Jewish state such as Syria and Iran and ashamedly many so-called Jewish intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, makes for a frightening sense of a world intent on remedying its ills with a good old-fashioned pogrom.
Although this time around it’s about destabilising and eliminating Jewish influence around the globe for the most part, and in the Middle East specifically.
I digress. What did this eminent panel of speakers come up with to present to a full house (average age of 50) expecting to hear some deeper insight into the future of Israel and Jews in general?
One would expect an audience attending this type of meeting would undoubtedly be, for the most part, well read and informed.
One would have expected the speakers to provide some unique perspective, some allegorical evidence, perhaps an unexplored vision of possibilities with a smattering of post-2009 scenarios.
But what was delivered was a banal, stereotypical, uninspired and, worse still, unprepared set of speeches. Etan Dorey insulted us by reading most of his speech from a Jerusalem Post op-ed piece directed at new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before her arrival in Israel.
Jamie Hyams was no more inspiring or prepared as he provided us with an assessment that was mostly from published material on the JAC website.
Joe Krycer, in a paid political advertisement, blatantly used the night as a promotional vehicle for the work of the JNF, sneakily bridging the night’s theme with reference to the co-operation between Jordan and the JNF on water, stressing economic inter-dependence as a unifying force for peace and stability. A nice segue twixt the two, but only just.
Ginette Searle rounded off the pedestrian evening with an exploration of relationships between Israel and its diaspora. There was some reference to what inspired her as a youth (the Entebbe rescue) and the work the Zionist Council has been doing with youth. But I can’t remember much more of what she said because it had so little relevance to the night, and I switched off.
Finally, it was at question time that something stirred the grey matter — a question from a concerned mother. It had nothing to do with the theme specifically but what it did do was highlight an immense, hidden problem in our community and, I suspect, all Jewish communities.
Directing the question at Searle, she asked what the Jewish organisations were doing to support students, specifically at universities, in combating constant verbal attacks by left-wing political, but not necessarily Palestinian, agitators.
Her daughter was unable to fend off these well-versed and highly motivated students with a knowledgeable response she could confidently rely on. She had for two weeks asked for guidance from Jewish organisations. But the only help she had received was from two non-Jewish students in the students’ union.
Growing up at a time when Israel was seen as the miracle of the Mideast, and post 1967 and certainly after Entebbe, being a Jewish youth was a very proud place to be. I remember how active and steadfast the Australasian Union of Jewish Students on all campuses were well organised and active.
When in 1973 and onwards Jewish “refuseniks” sought to emigrate to Israel, the calls of “let my people go” bellowed from campuses around the world,it seemed that standing and being counted as Jew was as natural as waiting in line for a tram.
Sadly those days of high expectations are gone. Many of our children go through school, even Jewish day schools knowing very little about Israel, and even less about the politics of the conflict and the history behind it.
Like most of the world their views on Israel are tarnished by the biased media onslaught, so much so they question their own allegiances.
When you have prominent Jewish writers and academics supporting calls for Israel to be classed as a racist state, when the news is consistently filled with untruths and half truths, it is understandable that our youth are at best embarrassed and worst unable to defend themselves and Israel’s policy.
Despite the programs which send some on trips to Israel and Europe in the hope of inspiring their identity, many others never get the opportunity and seem to have fallen into an identity void.
Why, in only 2 or 3 generations, have our Jewish youth gone from standing up and not only being counted but being able to verbalise and demonstrate a knowledge of the events, to finding themselves on the back foot, seeking help.
Somewhere we, the previous generation, have failed to instill in them a passion that was once so part of our social character.