By Leah R. Harrison
Keren Fraiman and David Bryfman took on the challenge of unpacking the relationship of American teenagers and young adults to Israel during a breakout session at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism biennial Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3, at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
The topic baffles and bewilders older Jews who grew up with the backdrop of the Holocaust and new Israeli statehood, and it requires the understanding that younger American Jews grew up in vastly different circumstances.
While the faith in and devotion to Israel have been historically steadfast and absolute for many Americans, the allegiance of Generations Y (those in their 20s and 30s, often referred to as millennials) and Z (teenagers, born in 2000 and later) is much more nuanced.
For the USCJ audience, the emphasis placed on tikkun olam (repair of the world), human rights, and social justice and activism among Conservative Jewry profoundly influences people’s worldview. No longer directly exposed to the issues of survival and the necessity for a Jewish homeland, young Jews coming largely from liberal or socially progressive backgrounds and universities naturally struggle with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, equal rights at the Western Wall, and disputes between the Diaspora and Israel regarding religious observance and Israeli government.
Bryfman, the chief innovation officer at the Jewish Education Project, a Schusterman fellow and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, said: “Non-Orthodox Jews are liberals. … There are exceptions, but I’m a sociologist, so I look at generalizations.”
Some Orthodox youths are liberal, he said, but in the range of 90 percent of social progressives will vote liberal on all major issues.
“Popular culture cannot be underestimated,” he said. Young people get their news from social media, where they only follow people whose values, opinions and beliefs run in tandem with theirs.
By the algorithm of social media, Bryfman said, “your news cycles are fed by people only like you. It’s called confirmation bias. So now you’ve got young Jews, social progressives, only learning from people like them about the world in which they live today.”