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Seth Rogen’s recent comments about Israel are a symptom of the disconnection between North American Jews and their ancestral land. Here are experiences in Israel that could help change this.

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The entrance to the area where the tombs of Abraham and Sarah are located in the Cave of Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Maarat Hamachpela) in Hevron. Ryan Bellerose says groups planning Israel trips should not shy away from including controversial areas in their itineraries | Photo: Dave Gordon

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I have been watching bemusedly as the Jewish world loses its collective mind over the recent statements made by Hollywood comedian and actor Seth Rogen. The reactions are actually kind of amusing. It is as if the opinion of a Hollywood ignoramus famous for playing a sausage in an animated movie, and various stoned idiots, is somehow the most important thing in the world.

Seth Rogen and his statements are a symptom, they are not the problem. To deal with a problem first, we must identify it. The problem is Jewish ignorance and Jewish apathy towards proper education. The problem is the American Jewry and its problematic relationship with Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, and Jewish identity.

You may ask, what does a non-Jew have to say about such things? It is simple. I am a traditionalist. I believe strongly in Indigenous people and our obligation to maintain an authentic identity. I believe that we need to push hard to educate our future generations on the importance of being who we are.

How can you get upset with someone who feels little to no connection with their ancestral land or people, when they have never really had it fostered properly? Why would you blame someone for telling people they were lied to, when they hear the Pallywood propaganda daily, and have never been taught how to see through it? What is the solution? Strong emails and op-eds condemning the ignorance of such people? I don’t think so. All that does is cement positions and prevent dialogue.

I speak every year at a conference for a group called Club Z, which teaches teens how to deal with the propaganda and lies they will be exposed to on campus. It was by meeting several of its supporters that I started learning the differences between the Jewish groups in Diaspora. For instance, the Diaspora groups from the former Soviet Union tend to have a very strong cultural identity, while being almost completely lacking in the spiritual aspect, while American Orthodox Jews have a very strong spiritual identity as well as a cultural identity. Then you have the American Reform community, which can vary from somewhat engaged and Zionist, to completely unengaged and even anti-Jewish. I have even seen people calling themselves rabbis who followed up with statements like, “I am a post-halacha rabbi,” and, “Israel doesn’t hold any significance to Jewish identity.” This is what we are fighting against: not only the Pallywood propaganda machine but often people who are supposedly on our side. Our loudest and most vociferous enemies are not even radicalized Islamists or white nationalists; they are American Jews.

There are some organizations dedicated to educating people about Israel but are still careful not to offend the left-leaning American Jewish community — because frankly, that’s where the donors are.

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To make matters worse, there are supposedly Zionist organizations, like New Israel Fund, that openly fund and support anti-Israel groups, and J Street, which pretends to be pro-Israel, yet has board members who say they want Israel to no longer exist as a Jewish state.

In Canada, we have Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and Jspace, which invited actual terrorist supporters to speak at their events. These groups are the ones who say Kaddish for terrorists. They demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about their own culture and people and hide behind that supposed connection, in order to demonize it.

So-called “Liberal Zionists,” like Peter Beinart and Max Blumenthal openly attack Israel, yet are often excused because they claim to be Zionists.

I recently did some research about the antisemitic and anti-Israel tropes in movies, television, and other entertainment. Imagine my surprise when I found that the most antisemitic and anti-Israel nonsense was written by writers with “Jewish last names,” like Stein, Halpern, Schumacher…

Tel Hebron is not only an ancient archaeological site but a residential Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, the of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs | Photo: Dave Gordon

Some of it is subtle, but some of it is so over-the-top, that it often seems like it must have been written by some neo-Nazi — stories where Israel is found to be the real terrorists framing Muslims, stories where they take long-time villains and make them Jewish tropes, all things that lead to a rise in antisemitism.

Why do I bring that up? Because people spend more time with the media than they do with anything else. Undoubtedly, this will have an effect. To go after this nonsense being spread results in a statement like, “it was written by Jews, so it’s okay.”

That’s our problem: ignorance and apathy that lead to a disconnection. Young Jews with all the hallmarks of Jewish identity — the intelligence, the inquisitiveness, the literacy, the strong urge to fix the world — but with some key things missing, the biggest one being an honest connection to their people. They have been turned, so to speak.

So what’s the solution? There is no easy or simple fix, but we begin with a few things. I wish that having a “good Jewish education” was enough, but in my experience, it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t change anything.

Groups like Club Z are imperative to fill the gap, but they are for high school kids. They teach strength in identity and Zionism, which for Jewish people is intertwined. Groups like StandWithUs and Hasbara Fellowships do good work in the community and on campus.

But often they and other organizations are duplicating efforts, and haven’t really had enough of an effect, because there is too much competition in the advocacy world and not enough cooperation.

Birthright, in concept, should be helping with this, but Birthright, in practice… not so much. It would be incredibly easy to start tailoring Birthright trips to foster connections, but far too many of these trips cater to specific groups instead of fostering connections to the Jewish people.

There are trips for LGBTQ+ people, trips for foodies, trips for history buffs, but there are no trips geared specifically towards fostering connections with Jewish Indigenous status. Why is that?

So I came up with a few suggestions that would use current infrastructure to start attacking the problem head-on. These suggestions first appeared in my blog at Israellycool in 2017.

Remnants of the 1,5000-year-old synagogue in Susya in the Southern Judean mountains behind the Green Line | Photo: Creative Commons (ד"ר אבישי טייכר)

The Birthright (or equivalent trip) itinerary needs to change. First, it’s great to take the kids to Yad Vashem, but you shouldn’t lead off with that, and it should be a small part of your programming. Don’t avoid controversial places. Take the kids there and give them a solid, intelligent analysis, along with time for questions and answer periods. Don’t pack too much in, and give the kids time to process what they have seen.

I would take them to places like Beit El, and the valley where Judah Maccabee died. I would take them to places that show innovation and amazing accomplishments, but I would focus more on places like Susya where they found a 1,500-year-old synagogue.

I would take them to Hevron, King David’s first capital, and where lies the graves of Abraham and Sarah. I would take them to Safed where they can see for themselves the old city being excavated. I would not shy away from showing them checkpoints, or where terrorists struck: the Dolphinarium, Mike’s Place, Sbarro. I would show them Sderot where children play in bomb shelters. I don’t want to hear excuses about security — organizations like Aish HaTorah, StandWithUs, and ZOA take groups over the Green Line. There are challenges, but truthfully there are always solutions.

We would have Shabbat twice because nobody who has ever had a Shabbat in Hevron has ever been disappointed. I would want the kids to forge that connection with Israelis. The second Shabbat would be with an Israeli family, and I would break the group up — some would do it in Petah Tikva, some in Beit Shemesh, some in Karnei Shomron, some in Haifa — and the following Saturday, we would all sit and talk about it. Some of the best friends I’ve made in Israel are all people I met online and spent Shabbat with later on.

We would meet with Arabs, Druze, Ethiopians, and other minorities. I would want them to ask Israelis questions about their lives, and for a while, not focus on the conflict. What do Israelis care about? How do they live their lives?

I would take them to some beautiful natural places near the Lebanon border, to the grottos, Ein Gedi in the south, Mitzpe Ramon. They should see the wonders of the land God gave them, their ancestral home, and they should hear it in that context. I would want them to see Israel, not just tourist traps, or Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so when they go home, they will at least understand that Israel is complex and stunning, at the same time.

These suggestions worked for me, and I am not Jewish. I developed a connection to the Jewish community, and I believe this would change the paradigm with American Jews. Focus on truth, real people, layered interactions, off the beaten paths, tradition, and history, and you would see far fewer Seth Rogens.

Ryan is Metis, was born in High River, Alberta, and was raised in Paddle Prairie, Alberta. Ryan was one of the first people to put forward the Indigenous Argument in regards to Jews in the Middle East. His many articles have helped change the discourse.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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