Welcome to the Jewish generation X, an afterthought to the drama that is Jewish history. Welcome to the post-Holocaust, post-Zionist, post-modern, post-bothered generation.
As a Jew growing up in the final quarter of the 20th Century, I often asked myself what was left to achieve? Sometimes I wished I had been amongst the Israeli paratroopers who touched the Wall for the first time, or the pioneers who made the desert bloom. They lived in a heroic era, a time of inspiration, challenge, and struggle. I lived in North London.
Young Jews all over the world are grappling with the same existential question. They have more opportunities than ever, yet do not know what they are living for. Great Jewish battles have been fought and won, but the victor's children wonder what was the point. The mass of Jewish youth is disillusioned and apathetic.
The Holocaust may be a reason not to assimilate, it certainly is not a reason to be Jewish.
The role of our educational endeavors, therefore, must be to provide purpose and definition for our own Gen-X. Judaism must be presented not as a housebound post-historical phenomenon, but as a vibrant and profound vision that challenges today's Jews on the stage of history. We must switch the focus of communal education from the story of the past to the challenge of the future.
We have been far too slow to recognize that without positive reasons to be Jewish, young people will simply drift away. The Holocaust may be a reason not to assimilate, it certainly is not a reason to be Jewish.
SIGN OF EXCELLENCE
So in the story of the future, what will be the chapter of our Gen-X? What is the unique historical opportunity that presents itself to today's Jews?
The answer is Jerusalem. We are the generation that returned to Jerusalem, and we must be the generation to internalize its messages:
- Jewish self
- Jewish unity
- Jewish meaning and purpose
Possibly the most profound image of this generation is that of the three paratroopers gazing up at the newly liberated Western Wall in 1967. It is an encapsulation of the dreams of our people for two millennia. It stirs within me the prophet's words: "When God shall return the captivity of Zion we will be as dreamers" (Psalms 126:2).
The biblical name of Jerusalem is Zion. The return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland was a return to Zion. In Hebrew, tziyun is a signpost. Meztuyan means excellent. Thus, Zion as the focal point of the Jewish people is supposed to be a signpost of excellence.
EYE OF THE UNIVERSE
Jerusalem has always been a source of unity for our people. Three times a year -- on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot -- we made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The result was a replenishment of national focus and oneness. Three times a day, we face Jerusalem and remind ourselves that wherever we may be, we are part of one people.
One of the most poignant images of Jerusalem is the Talmudic analogy of the world to an eye.
The white symbolizes the oceans, the iris -- landmass, the pupil -- Jerusalem, the face in the pupil -- the Temple.
The epicenter of the Jewish world is the Temple. There are two instances in which we see a face in the pupil: when we look in the mirror, and when we look another person in the eyes. This is Jerusalem. To look oneself in the mirror needs honest introspection. The function of the Temple was to "come home" to where you were created, and to look in the mirror and ask: What am I living for? What is it to be a human being? What is it to be a Jew? Especially in 2001.
Judaism has answers. It is what Generation X wants and needs to know.
TOWARD THE FUTURE
The message of Judaism, with Jerusalem as its focal point, is not limited to the individual. The duality demands that we look one another in the eye. We do not have to always agree. Yet the Generation of Jerusalem must at least look one another in the eye with integrity and openness, honesty and love.
It we do not have this, then we do not have Jerusalem. The Jewish people lost Jerusalem 2,000 years ago over the inability to love and respect each other. Our ownership of Jerusalem is predicated upon mutual brotherly love.
The ultimate challenges of the People of the Book have never been physical ones. We needed to drain the swamps and to win the wars in order to survive. But survive for what?
This is the generation for which our ancestors yearned. We made it. Let us replace the blankness of "X" with the glory of "Jerusalem." Let us teach our children to look in the mirror, to find real answers, and to look every other Jew in the eye and commit to building together the glorious destiny of Jerusalem.