Youth and the Language of Love

November 17, 2012 by Michelle Coleman
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How do we engage diaspora youth with Israel? This was the question posed by Israeli writer and media commentator David Hazony at the Zionist Federation of Australia’s biennial conference on Sunday…writes Michelle Coleman.

MIchelle Coleman

It’s a very valid and timely question, given that Jewish youth today know a different Israel – a strong, modern Western state that is a world leader in many different fields. The image, according to Hazony, of a tiny threatened Jewish enclave in the Middle East is no longer true, and a focus on threat and fear no longer resonates with younger generations. Rather, Hazony believes the answer is to engage Jewish youth via Israel’s many achievements and vibrant culture i.e. the answer is no longer fear for Israel, but love of Israel.

While there are those who will argue – and not unjustifiably – that anti-Semitism and Iran’s nuclear program are very real and current threats, Hazony gives us a lesson in marketing that is neither new nor unique to Israel.

Think back to the advertising of yesteryear. We were told to buy an expensive face cream or we would no longer remain attractive to our husbands, select a particular cereal or our children would not be healthy, and use a brand name cleaning product or our homes would not be truly clean. Put simply, we were motivated by guilt (and the plethora of Jewish advertising executives had no doubt learned to do it extremely effectively from their Jewish mothers!).

Compare to this what we learned about Israel. We need Israel to prevent another Holocaust, donate to Israel to or Jewish lives will be at risk, if you don’t advocate for Israel the fledgling state may not survive. Not unlike the general approach to marketing, we were motivated by fear and guilt.

But modern marketing has evolved. Think how many ads you now see, which promote luxury brands with the message, “because you deserve the best”. We no longer need consumables to avoid some type of future catastrophe; we buy them because we are worth it! Fancy cars, larger houses, regular holidays, the latest iPhone – these are all things we deserve, and there is no shame in indulging ourselves. (My favourite, by the way, is the doggy day care where each canine attendee has his or her own couch and television. Even our dogs deserve the very best!)

So if this is the general trend in marketing, why do we continue to try to engage youth in Judaism and the Jewish community with fear and guilt? The importance of engaging the youth is widely acknowledged by our community organisations, but they generally continue to try to do so with the same methods that inspired them to get involved several decades ago. And surprise, surprise, it doesn’t work!

There are some exceptions, but as a whole community institutions still have a long way to go. It’s not enough to pay lip service to the concept of engaging youth, nor is it sufficient to say you’ve done your bit by engaging a token young person on your board or starting up a facebook page. If the motivators are the same, it will fail.

Rather, community organisations need to update their strategies and speak to youth in a language that will inspire them.

Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Mount Scopus, gave a talk last year titled “Why be Jewish?” With apologies to the Rabbi for reducing his eloquence and wisdom to a single sentence, his answer resonated: “because it’s beautiful”. Not so that there will be Jewish continuity, not so that our heritage will survive, not so that your great grandmother who was in the Holocaust will not have suffered for nothing. Because it’s beautiful. Simple.

It’s the message that Hazony was espousing. Our heritage is beautiful, exciting, enriching and relevant, and that is why in this free market of identification our youth should identify as Jewish. The answer is love not fear.

Michelle Coleman is a journalist, communications specialist and former Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.



One Response to “Youth and the Language of Love”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Your rationale is quite mixed, and, I feel sure, comes from a good place. I fully agree that attempting to motivate people by using those destructive elements fear and guilt is both unhealthy and counter-productive. However, let’s not go the other extreme and wax lyrical about modern marketing methods and consumerism. Fancy cars, large houses and expensive holidays are not, in my view, deserved by anyone – there’s no entitlement to them. If you can afford them, then well and good, enjoy them. But don’t make the mistake of measuring yourself as a person by them or thinking because you have them they’re a right. Contemporary consumerism and the advertising that promotes it and solicits those who might be in turn ‘consumed’ by it, is becoming a modern plague of huge proportions. This is not said by me as a wowser, but more with the belief that the real beauties of the world lie elsewhere, in the natural world, in art and literature, in learning and thinking, in actual contact with our fellow human beings rather than digital, and many, many other areas.

    As people what we do with our time while alive is valuable and our choices affect what we become in the world and within ourselves. To indulge oneself, luxuriate for a time, is a wonderful thing to do. But a life spent in indulgence, entertainment and amassing consumer goods, will I am sure result in boredom rather than happiness and prevent growth. I think both you and David Hazony have got it wrong, or at least made it too simplistic, with a call to beauty only. I see the great beauty in Israel, and love it. I also see the very real problems and the legacy upcoming young people inherit as a result of decisions made and their own experience in the world. It’s complicated and should be presented as such. Beauty should not preclude acknowledgement of the co-existence of ugliness in life. Without the two, you couldn’t even make the comparison that allows you to find something beautiful. Please, let’s not have a slick advertising campaign that uses ‘beauty’ too flamboyantly or romantically to be real in order to attract young people to Israel. They wouldn’t last five minutes in the country if they truly believed it. In that regard it would attract the wrong people. Out of respect to your youth, I won’t comment on the effect your description of the doggy day care centre had on me, suffice to say it was highly negative.

    With respect to the Rabbi, in answer to the question “Why be Jewish?”, I would say because you are Jewish. We have everything to be proud of in being Jewish and we can also be proud of Israel for how it has prospered and developed. However, never let us forget those who went before us and never let us forget the responsibility that comes with life, that flip side of the coin to ‘rights’.

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