The 20th century began with a series of pogroms targeting Jews that swept across Eastern Europe and Latin America, the most infamous of which was in Kishinev, Russia. A poisonous anti-Jewish campaign culminated on Easter 1903, as gangs of men, 10 to 20 apiece, stormed through the Jewish areas of the city armed with hatchets and knives. They went block to block and house to house, slaughtering every Jew and raping every woman in sight. Over the next two days they wrought a path of destruction that would be heard around the world, with 49 Jews murdered, thousands wounded and untold number of rapes, and more than 1,500 homes damaged.
For some outside observers, the event was made even more disturbing by the passivity of thousands of Jewish men in the face of a relatively small group of peasants.
After traveling to Kishinev in the wake of the pogrom, the famous Hayim Nahman Bialik penned a poem, “The Slaughter,” lamenting the fact that the “Sons of Maccabees” were “concealed and cowering,” as their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and other family members were raped and killed.
What was the lesson that Bialik and others took from Kishinev? The Jewish People can’t rely on others to protect us. We must fight antisemitism head-on. This became a guiding philosophy of the Zionist Movement, which sought to fashion a “new Jew” that would be able to defend themselves in a self-governed Jewish homeland.
In the wake of the pogroms and the Holocaust, the majority of Jewish People settled in the United States and Israel. In Israel, Jews learned how to defend themselves and fight back with courage and determination. In 1948, against all odds, the Israeli people defeated six fully equipped Arab armies, and today the Jewish People have a state that can defend itself, and provide a shield of defense for Jews throughout the Diaspora.
During the same period, the Jews that immigrated to America became one of the country’s most affluent, influential and accomplished communities. Yet, with all the strength of the Jewish American community and the benefits of a strong and independent Jewish state, we have not been able to stop the growth of antisemitism in our time.
Today antisemites work to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish People and the State of Israel in the media, political institutions, academia, on college campuses and elsewhere, often bleeding from the court of public opinion to physical assaults on Jewish communities.
How can we apply the lessons of the past century for the fight against antisemitism today? Clearly, we must fight the disease head-on, and we must start by understanding who is behind it.
Antisemitism now has three distinct sources: We face antisemitism on the radical Right. This is the heir of traditional Christian antisemitism, rooted in our alleged killing of Jesus, with a legacy extends from the Spanish Inquisition to the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
We face antisemitism from radical Islam – which draws on a tradition of hatred against the infidel, led by the Jews, stretching back centuries. Since the 19th century with Jews started immigrating to Israel, radical Islam has been determined to eradicate the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants, as they occupy a land that the Islamists believe belongs to the Islamic caliphate.
We face antisemitism on the radical Left – which sees Jews and Israel as emblematic of America and Western imperialism and despises us for it.
Too many in the Jewish community don’t recognize this reality. In particular, not nearly enough attention has been paid to the growing alliance between the radical Left and radical Islamists – two groups with seemingly incompatible worldviews.
This strange alliance is encompassed by a new theory called intersectionality – embraced by many on the Left – which calls for the unification of all groups facing discrimination, whether they are Native American, Latino, African-American, LGBT, Arab or Muslim.
Radical Islamists have been able to link their hatred toward Israel, presented as their genuine concern for the Palestinian cause, to the idea of intersectionality, painting Israel as an oppressor that all progressives must fight. In doing so, they work to spread the vilest antisemitic ideas into mainstream discourse.
College students and young professionals in many circles now face a clear choice: exclusion, or joining anti-Israel and antisemitic campaigns.
Working together, radical Islamists and radical leftists have successfully created an alternate reality in which Jews have no rights to self-determination, in which Israel is the greatest violator of human rights in the world, and in which people with extreme regressive views, like Linda Sarsour, are championed as progressive heroes.
Sarsour has a long running association with Muslim Brotherhood, publicly expressed her admiration for the Sharia of Saudi Arabia and for terrorists like Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and recently said that she wants to “take the vagina away” from female genital mutilation victim and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Despite these regressive views and statements, Sarsour is a darling among many who claim to hold progressive ideas.
History shows that antisemites gain power not only by creating more antisemites, but also by getting others to tolerate their ideology.
As extremists like Sarsour build a platform and gain broad acceptance in our communities, we have no choice but to fight them tooth and nail. We must expose the fundamental incongruence between radical Islamic ideas and the progressive movements that they are trying to hijack.
We must make clear that antisemitic ideology is now often masquerading in a more politically correct form of anti-Israel hatred. We must push antisemitism out of the mainstream and into the shadows where it belongs.
The lessons of Kishinev hang over our time. When given the choice to fight back or sit back, I pray that the Jews around the world will take heed of history – and have the courage and determination to act before it is too late.
The author is an Israeli-American philanthropist, national chairman of the Israeli-American Council, real estate entrepreneur and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.
After decades of involvement with more than 100 non-profit organizations, I have learned that philanthropy is about much more than writing checks. In fact, I found that it is actually much harder to give away money as a philanthropist and obtain a high return on your investment than it was to make money as a real estate investor.
There are a range of practices that you must employ to ensure that your philanthropic investments are making an impact. Here are three principles I have learned over the years about being an effective philanthropist.
1.Philanthropic work is a lifetime labor of love
I am often asked what motivates me to work so hard at philanthropy. I always answer, “I don’t work at all.” Philanthropy should not feel like “work.” If you do what you love and love what you do, you’ll get satisfaction out of your charitable endeavors and feel motivated to do even more. Philanthropic work is a blessing, and the more involved you get, the more satisfied you feel.
Once you’ve decided where to focus your energy, stick with it. By developing a lifelong relationship as a donor, you grow with organizations and allow them to focus on the work they do best, instead of having to dedicate all their time and energy to fundraising.
2.Stay focused, but find synergies
With so many organizations doing great work all around the world, it’s easy to spread yourself thin. Instead of dedicating partial attention to many different causes, it’s important to identify the issues that you feel most passionate about and focus your attention there. Whether it is strengthening the State of Israel and/or cultivating your own local community, by picking few primary causes, successful philanthropists are able to develop an expertise that allows us to have an even greater impact on the organizations that we support.
Philanthropists shouldn’t feel as if they need to choose any one single organization to support and treat it like an exclusive “social club.” Effective nonprofits don’t compete with each other. You should look to help them develop synergies to amplify the impact and effect of their joint efforts beyond what any one organization could achieve on its own. By working with multiple like-minded organizations, such as the Israeli-American Council (IAC), AIPAC, StandWithUs, ACT.il and Taglit-Birthright, I have been able to see my time and money make an outsized impact as a result of cooperation between the organizations that I support.
3.Put your mouth where your money is
The best philanthropists do more than write a check and move on. They roll up their sleeves and contribute their time, talent, connections, and expertise to actively advance the non-profit’s mission.
This is called “active philanthropy”—and it is a philosophy that I embrace fully. At the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, this means our entire team lends time, energy, vision, and connections to each of our partner organizations. This also ties into finding synergies—bringing like-minded organizations together to create a force multiplier effect.
Philanthropy isn’t an exact science. Every organization is different; every cause is unique. By finding something you love, staying focused, and getting involved, you can make a bigger impact than you could ever imagine.
To view a moderated conversation with Adam Milstein on his philanthropic philosophy, watch the above video or click here.
Over the past several years, the harassment and intimidation that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) groups have brought to America’s college campuses have grown by leaps and bounds. For years, many worthy Jewish and pro-Israel organizations worked to counter this hate, but the problem has only seemed to grow worse.
At UCLA, a Jewish student was almost prevented from joining the student government’s Judicial Board following accusations that her Jewish identity meant she had dual loyalties. At Stanford, a young Jewish woman running for the Student Senate was subjected to a barrage of hostility due to her open support for Israel. At Harvard, Israel’s former foreign minister was derided as “smelly” by a student in a public lecture.
Incidents of physical assaults on AEPI Houses and Jewish students across campuses continue to increase.
On campus and off, we would hear about massive, nationally coordinated, well-funded and professionally organized anti-Israel hate groups staging events and demonstrations, which easily outmatched the small counter-protests organized by local pro-Israel activists.
While many praise the few activists who bravely stood up for Israel, no one seemed to ask why more courageous students didn’t show up to counter BDS.
The fact is that our pro-Israel students are often David against Goliath. The BDS groups are organized by professional agitators on campus – most often doctoral students who are paid to stay on campus for decades for the sole purpose of running anti-Israel campaigns and local Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters. They are supported by a national SJP organization with close to 200 chapters, and support organizations flooded with outside and international funds, such as Palestine Legal.
The problem has not been a lack of support for Israel in America. Pro-Israel conferences and events draw tens of thousands of attendees from all over the country, and millions of Americans are supportive of the State of Israel. Rather, it has been a lack of organizations with a national reach and a grassroots presence on campus with the courage, motivation, know-how, and boots on the ground to be effective.
Some of that changed five years ago, with the founding of a then-small group of pro-Israel student activists at the University of Minnesota: Students Supporting Israel (SSI). SSI was created organically by students who were sick and tired standing idly by as Israel was demonized on their campus. Some of the students were not Jewish, but they all shared unwavering support for the Jewish state and a unique courage to defend it.
Their plan was simple: create a grassroots group that could bring together all the supporters of Israel, of all races and religions, by connecting them on the most basic level with the pure idea of Zionism – that the Jewish People have the right to sovereignty and self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
An idea that – regardless of one’s political camp or cultural background – is hard to object to if not for bias and double standards.
And so, with a dedicated army of advocates, SSI began operating on the University of Minnesota campus. Members of the group became so involved with campus activism that from time to time, 10% of those in student government were also members of SSI. A major turning point came when, for the first time, the student government passed a pro-Israel resolution suggested by its members. This move was revolutionary in light of the many BDS bills that were being considered around the country, and in an environment where pro-Israel groups traditionally worked on reactive campaigns, rather than proactive ones.
Following that first groundbreaking resolution, SSI started adding more chapters across the country, replicating the Minnesota model for proactive grassroots work on campus. With its unapologetically pro-Israel message and committed members who proudly engaged in conversation and build coalitions outside their comfort zone, SSI rapidly grew to include nearly 20 chapters nationwide in only its second year of operation.
When SJP erected an apartheid wall at Columbia University, for example, SSI was there with a taller display right across the street. Returning the following year with its own new campaign, “Hebrew Liberation Week,” SSI completely took the attention from SJP.
Coming into existence during a time when the traditional pro-Israel camp often avoided pressing topics and opted instead to simply showcase Israel’s culture with some hummus and Israeli music, SSI brought forth programs about critical issues, including Jewish refugees from Arab lands, the significance of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, and Israel’s fight against terrorism and its standing with the American people, just to name a few.
SSI celebrated its fifth anniversary this spring. The organization’s achievements are too numerous to list in one article but include hundreds of events, thousands of students reached two national conferences and nearly 50 active chapters nationwide. SSI has put together many programs that pushed the limit of what the pro-Israel camp felt comfortable doing before.
Perhaps most telling is the relative success (or lack thereof) of the BDS campaign on college campuses where an SSI group is present. In four of these situations – each at different universities – every proposed BDS bill was defeated in student government. Even more, all eight pro-Israel resolutions that were introduced by SSI activists at these institutions passed.
With bold messaging, national coordination, a clear vision, effective leadership and passionate activists, SSI in the past five years has emerged as the organization that puts boots on the ground – and the true special forces of pro-Israel leadership.
A vicious sickness known as anti-Semitism has infected people with hate across centuries, cultures, and continents — and Jewish communities have often paid the price for it. In the U.S., after decades of historic declines in anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents, the disease has come roaring back at an exponential rate over the last seven years. According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. grew by more than one-third in 2016 and have jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. Nowhere has this rise in incidents been more pronounced than on America’s college campuses.
How do we explain this astronomical rise?
In no small part, it is the result of a systematic campaign to demonize the Jewish state using the same tactics that have long been used to demonize the Jewish people: the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
In my work as a pro-Israel activist and philanthropist, I’m often asked: is BDS really anti-Semitic? Does it really lead to an increase in anti-Semitism?
If you look at the evidence — and examine the roots, goals, and strategy of BDS — you see that the answer is an unequivocal yes!
Let’s start with the evidence, which shows that anti-Semitism spikes when BDS strikes. One recent report found that on 64 campuses with a large presence of BDS activists, 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred, compared to 198 occurrences that took place during the same time last year, reflecting a 45 percent increase.
The student governments at 10 of these schools took up anti-Israel divestment resolutions. Of these 10 schools, eight showed the largest increase in anti-Semitism from 2015 to 2016. BDS activity does not merely encourage, but also causes anti-Semitism: at 7 of the 9 schools in the 2015 study that considered or voted on divestment resolutions, there was a drastic decrease in anti-Semitic activity the following year, when no divestment resolution was considered.
Despite this evidence, for the past seven years, many in the Jewish-American community ignored or downplayed the threat of BDS. In opinion pages across the Jewish and Israeli press, you continue to find claims that BDS is not connected to anti-Semitism and arguments that BDS has been beaten or is fading away. When you take the time to learn about BDS and its expansion into mainstream America, you understand how dangerous it is and why we need to fight it.
This movement has roots in anti-Semitic boycotts that began long before Israel was even a country. From the Romans to the Nazis to the anti-Semitic leaders of the Soviet Union, organized boycotts of Jews have a long history. An official, organized boycott of the Jewish community in the area that is now Israel started as early as 1922, more than 25 years before the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948. An official boycott was adopted by the Arab League in December 1945, which became an official boycott against the country of Israel when it was founded three years later, with the goal of isolating the Jewish state from the international community.
Boycott policies have continued to this day, taking different forms over the years. While the strategy hasn’t changed, those behind these today’s anti-Israel boycotts have gotten much more sophisticated.
Over the past 15 years, BDS has effectively branded itself as a human rights movement, hiding its true intentions from the public and obscuring the role of the extremists, racists, terrorists, and radicals behind the Movement.
By 2006, BDS had developed a robust model of operating in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. They focused on a few areas where their movement can enjoy structural advantages, such as the judiciary, academia, churches, and trade unions. They formed alliances with social justice and minority groups, speaking out on totally unrelated issues — from prison reform to global warming — so that they could ingratiate themselves with these new allies and indoctrinate them with their lies about the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
The result? Anti-Israel hate that was once on the margins has entered the mainstream, becoming accepted as a legitimate voice in too much of our political discourse. If you want to see how broadly this hate has spread, take a look at this video shot just this month at UC Irvine, which has become a near-daily occurrence on our campuses.
How did this happen? The BDS playbook developed in the UK has been exported to the rest of Europe and to America, and its success here has followed like clockwork (I’ll speak more about this in my next op-ed).
Many in the American Jewish community ignored this threat when it first emerged. Some have even accepted BDS’ claims that it was simply a human rights movement and had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
Anyone who spends the time to dig a little deeper discovers the truth. BDS has made clear time and again that their goal isn’t to exert international pressure to change Israeli policies: it is to destroy Israel and demonize any that support it.
The maps that BDS groups publish of the region make clear that they seek Israel’s elimination, depicting a single Palestinian state that extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with no trace of the Jewish state. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said publicly that he’s working for Israel’s “euthanasia.” Hatem Bazian — the other major co-founder of BDS in America — has called for an armed struggle, an “intifada,” against the United States and spouted anti-Semitic stereotypes from his pulpit as a lecturer at UC Berkeley.
Those who see BDS for what it is — a sophisticated hate movement committed to the destruction of the Jewish people — are the only ones equipped to defeat it. The time has come to put the delusions behind us, but we cannot be successful without courage, conviction, and unity. If you want to join me in this fight as a philanthropist or volunteer, CLICK HERE to fill out a sign-up form to tell us more about your background and motivation. We will connect you with organizations doing important work in this space, according to your talents and interests. We must stand up and fight BDS now — with all the tools and all the strength that our community can muster — before it’s too late.
Whether you’re a would-be Philanthropist/Social-Entrepreneur or have spent decades being one. You could be worse-off than to read the short biographies of those who’ve been through the journey before.
So we’ve compiled a list of top Philanthropists and Social-Entrepreneurs. It’s a list of influential people at effectively having soft-power and being pro-active, particularly at being socially concerned.
Our Philanthropists and Social-Entrepreneurs list is an automatic algorithm based on social media influence, Klout scores and a secret recipe.
We take into account various metrics from Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Youtube, LinkedIn, and Instagram. This list gets updated once a year. All entries are considered by our admins, and Richtopia reserves the right to accept or forbid people from the list as it deems fit. Please bear in mind we do not measure net-worth, but rather social-worth. This list is not about how rich these people are, but rather how influential they are.
Follow these Philanthropists and Social-Entrepreneurs to keep up with trends. You will also learn what resources they use to stay in the know.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” This quote, attributed to Winston Churchill, has been a secret of the Jewish people for 5,000 years.
Through ups and downs, through unbelievable triumph and unimaginable persecution, Jewish men and women in each generation have found the courage and strength to continue our traditions, protect our values and keep our faith.
Alarm bells have been ringing in Jewish communities about rising antisemitism throughout the US and Europe.
In academia, radical left-wing organizations have launched a vicious campaign of intimidation, discrimination, and attacks against Jewish students, organizations and even professors who identify as pro-Israel.
On the radical Right, Jewish and pro-Israel journalists are targeted and harassed by neo-Nazis. In the international arena, Iran, with P5+1 approval, continues to develop the very nuclear weapons it has threatened to use to eradicate the State of Israel.
How should the Jewish people respond? First, we need to foster the sense of courage in our current and future generations of Jews that we have shown before and still possess.
Yet, building courage begins by instilling pride. The Jewish People have only had the courage to persevere because our predecessors were proud of our history, our heritage, our land, our values and our achievements. If you are proud of your Jewish identity and heritage, you will be willing to fight and defend it. We must empower our children with the perspective to go out and fight for their dreams and contribute solutions to the challenges facing Jews worldwide.
This is why our family foundation invests in Jewish leadership programs that bring the young generations together around Jewish “pride of ownership” and foster a deep connection to the State of Israel. Strong families, and strong educational, cultural and social communal institutions are critical for educating the next generation with pride and confidence.
We must teach our children to be proud of their Jewish heritage and the history of the Jewish People, who, despite our tiny numbers have been able to contribute extraordinary things to the world, such as monotheism, Judeo-Christian values, modern economic theory, the foundations of psychology, the theory of relativity and more modern inventions such as Google, Facebook, Waze, Checkpoint and Mobileye.
Although we are less than 0.2% of mankind, 22% of Nobel Prize laureates are Jews. Jews constitute 12% of the US Senate, three of the nine US Supreme Court Justices are Jewish as are a large percentage of leaders in arts, business, entertainment and many other fields.
We must teach our children to be proud of the State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, which has not just survived but thrived in the face of constant threats. With no natural resources, Israel has become start-up nation, a high-tech hub, a global water technology powerhouse and a beacon of hope and innovation.
Israel is the living, breathing embodiment of courage. It is the homeland of a people who achieved miraculous military victories in 1948, 1967, 1973, launched the daring Entebbe operation that rescued Jewish hostages from terrorists in Uganda and oversaw Operation Solomon to airlift 14,500 Ethiopian Jews out of harm’s way to Israel.
It is the place where a brave and determined people formed a new identity, revived an ancient language, turned swampland into farmland, seawater into drinking water and built a thriving knowledge- based economy – against all odds.
Israel’s success is rooted in the young country’s willingness to take risks – in an understanding that failure is nothing shameful, but merely an opportunity to learn and move on to your next success.
With all the challenges Israelis face – wars, political conflicts, lack of wealth and natural resources – they respond with courage and tremendous pride in their history, heritage, culture and society.
It’s no wonder then, with such a strong sense of pride and courage, that Israelis are known to be some of the happiest people in the world – ranking extraordinarily high, year after year, in the annual World Happiness Report.
What can the history of the Jewish People and the Jewish state teach us? The most powerful antidote to antisemitism will come from within our own community. As pro-boycott and anti-Israel groups seek to intimidate supporters of Israel to remain silent – and drive a wedge between the State of Israel and the Jewish People – we must remember that pride and courage are the only productive response.
So, just as we instill the value of education and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), let’s also remember to take action to inspire courage and pride in our heritage, in our history, in our culture, in our land, and in our people.
We must communicate to the next generation that tremendous pride and willingness to stand up, speak out, and when necessary, fight back to protect ourselves when our faith, our values, and our homeland are under attack.
Nothing less than the future of the Jewish People is at stake.
The author is an Israeli-American philanthropist, national chairman of the Israeli- American Council, real estate entrepreneur and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.
Jewish leaders and philanthropists are currently engaged in an intense and crucial debate. There is growing concern that Jews, particularly the next generation, are disconnecting from their Jewish heritage and from the state of Israel.
The now infamous Pew Study, titled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” found that approximately two-thirds of American Jewish millennials do not feel a strong connection to Israel. In another recent study, published by Brandeis University, fewer than half of Jewish college students could correctly answer even the most basic questions about Israel.
In the face of these trends, how can we invest our philanthropic dollars more effectively to strengthen the US-Israel alliance, and ensure that future Jewish generations maintain their special affinity with Israel?
To respond to this challenge, there are two important principles that we must embrace.
First, we must better understand our target audience.
Millions of philanthropic dollars are currently invested under the assumption that today’s Jewish community is the same one that existed 40 years ago.
Changing this mindset begins with recognizing that there is not a single, homogeneous American Jewish community — but rather a cluster of communities that have changed rapidly over the past 40 years because of three big trends: assimilation, intermarriage and immigration.
Furthermore, we have seen significant waves of Jewish immigration from Israel, Iran and Russia. These people are not properly represented in recent studies of the Jewish community.
Interestingly, the declining number of people who identify as Jewish by religion is correlated with the declining affinity to Israel. Among those who say that they are Jewish by culture, 55 percent say they aren’t very attached to Israel (and only 12% say that they are very attached to Israel). For those who have completely left the faith, these numbers are much lower.
By contrast, among those who say they are Jewish by religion, 86% feel somewhat or very attached to Israel.
So, what should we do with this information? How can we use these insights about our changing Jewish community to make more strategic decisions about where to invest our limited resources?
This question brings me to my second principle: We need to look for low-hanging fruit, and invest in programs most likely to reach those who will be receptive to our message.
Here are some criteria that we should consider as we allocate resources:
Age: We’ll have the most success influencing the minds’ of younger audiences. Moreover, by increasing the Jewish knowledge and connection to Israel among the younger generation, we can reach not only these individuals, but also their children and grandchildren.
Affiliation: The data shows that those who define themselves as Jewish by religion are more likely to have a strong connection to Israel. But the Orthodox community already has many structures in place to engage its members on Israel. We need to focus on innovative programs to connect non-Orthodox Jews with Israel.
Support for Israel as the state of the Jewish people:We should seek to identify those people who support Israel, but who are not religiously engaged. It is important to attract Jews who have a marginal connection to Israel, but it is even more important to reach those with a deep passion for Israel, and help them become and remain involved with Judaism.
American Jewish immigrant communities:We should reach out to Jewish immigrants, specifically Russians, Iranians and Israeli-Americans. These groups are already committed Zionists, but they are new to the American diaspora, and as a result, don’t always have the tools to pass on their Jewish and pro-Israel values to their children. Each dollar invested in them can go a long way.
To see how this might work in practice, let’s examine the work of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), which has shown how investing funds in Israeli-Americans can unleash an extraordinary untapped resource to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.
By systematically identifying and investing in target groups that are uniquely suited to advance our philanthropic priorities, we can make progress on a wide range of issues, such as Israel advocacy, global diplomacy and Jewish education.
Our Jewish community faces rapid changes, enormous challenges and exciting opportunities. To overcome the obstacles in our path and realize our full potential as a people, we need to invest smarter.
The return on our investment will be nothing less than a vibrant Jewish future.
The author is an Israeli-American philanthropist, national chairman of the Israeli-American Council, real estate entrepreneur and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation. A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.
THE DAYS OF SHAME ABOUT LIVING IN AMERICA ARE OVER. BUT CAN THIS DIVERSE GROUP OF IMMIGRANTS HOLD ONTO THEIR CULTURE? AND IS THERE A CHANCE THAT THEY CAN BECOME A UNIFIED POLITICAL VOICE?
When she moved to New York in 2003, Shelly Oria did her best to imitate Americans. She learned to hold doors, to be less aggressive in conversation, to smile at people she passed on the street. The rhythms of American life were new and lovely, but they did not come naturally. Then there were the day-to-day challenges: opening a bank account, getting a cellphone plan, signing a lease, learning that “credit history” really means “American credit history.” When you’re new in America, she says, everything goes wrong, and everything gets stuck.
But her stint in the United States was only temporary, she told herself. She would get her MFA, become a writer and then return to Israel, where her family had moved when she was a few weeks old, and where she had grown up and served in the military. If she were really an Israeli, she would go home. After earning her degree, Oria did just that, only to discover that Israel no longer felt like home. She had thought she was more Israeli than American, but maybe she had it backwards. She landed back in New York in 2009, this time for good.
These days, Oria is drawn to the idea of living in the gray. “It’s a Western culture disease, that sort of black-and-white, either-or way of thinking,” she says. “On some level I’ve always been both, and I think will forever be both.” Her first book, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, is full of Israeli characters living in America, exploring the either-or and neither and both. “There are two Mes,” Pie, one of her characters, explains. “Me No. 1 is the Israeli who was taught that being tough and being strong are the same thing,” while “Me No. 2 is a woman who successfully impersonates an American.”
In recent years, Oria, now 38, has found a new term to describe herself: She is not an American or an Israeli, but an Israeli American. She’s not sure whether it’s an official term, but it’s a word she’s glad she has. When she fills out paperwork, she checks “other” and writes it in.
It’s not a new designation: As early as the 1960s, The New York Times was using it as an adjective, as in an “Israeli-American construction engineer” or a gallery of “Israeli-American artists.” But in the past few years, its usage has exploded. It’s a progression that seems natural to Ira Sheskin, an expert on Jewish demography at the University of Miami and director of the Jewish Demography Project, which published an extensive study on Israeli Americans in 2010. “We have Serbian Americans, black Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc.,” he says. “So, now we have Israeli Americans.”
In the early years of statehood, many Jews flocked to Israel and few left. Those who did leave were generally not Israeli-born, says Lilach Lev Ari, director of research and evaluation theory at Oranim College in northern Israel who studies Israeli immigration patterns. They had few ties to the new state, and people understood when they left in search of better lives. But in the 1970s, when the Israeli-born started departing in large numbers, they were almost universally condemned. The reality of Israeli emigration—that after such a long struggle, Israeli citizens would actually leave—was jarring. “They betrayed all the values they were raised upon,” says Lev Ari. In 1976, Yitzhak Rabin went on national television and called these immigrants “nefolet shel nemushot”—which translates roughly to “leftover weaklings.”
The stigma stuck. It even had its own name: yerida, or “descent,” as opposed to aliyah, or “ascent,” the term reserved for those who move to Israel. Israeli expats felt this shame and often kept their status vague: In a survey from the early 1980s, half of Israelis planning to move to America described their decision as “temporary” or “commuting,” rather than “emigration.” But as years passed and many of them stayed, the stigma began to weaken. In a 1991 interview, Rabin retracted his “leftover weaklings” comment. “What I said then doesn’t apply today,” he said, adding that “there is no point in talking about ostracism.”
Why the change? “The idea was people were leaving anyway, so why act in a hostile manner toward them to discourage them from returning?” says Steve Gold, a sociologist at Michigan State University and an expert on the Israeli diaspora. In the 1990s, the Israeli government developed benefits and services for those who chose to return, and it encouraged those who didn’t to continue to be involved in Israeli life.
Still, old resentments linger. In 2011, Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption created a now-infamous ad campaign, hoping to guilt Israelis abroad into coming home. In one of the ads, a little boy, done with coloring, turns to his father. But Dad is asleep in an easy chair, an Economist draped over his chest. “Daddy?” the boy calls, to no avail. A pause. He tries again, this time in a whisper: “Abba?” Dad’s eyes open at once. The artwork is admired; hair is affectionately ruffled. The scene fades, and a narrator says in Hebrew: “They will always remain Israelis. Their children won’t. Help them return to the land.”
When the ads aired, they were met with immediate backlash. “The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic,” journalist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote at the time. The ministry pulled the campaign—and even offered an apology.
The flow of Israelis to the United States has continued. Today, the majority are highly skilled: 43 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree. They come to move up the socioeconomic ladder, and they generally succeed. Of those between 24 and 64, half are employed as managers or professionals. Compared to immigrants from economically similar countries, Israeli immigrants thrive in America.
Still, immigration is isolating. Israelis generally cluster together in areas such as New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, where they organize their own community centers, Hebrew schools and cultural activities. They often feel out of place in American Jewish life, where Jewish identity is usually built around a religion, not a state. In Israel, Judaism and Jewish culture are the backdrop, and it’s not necessary to actively maintain a Jewish identity. “To work with Israelis, you kind of have to be an Israeli,” says Brocha Yemini, who assists Israeli emigrants at the Chabad Israel Center in Los Angeles. She sees many young, ambitious Israelis who come to America on their own, and she knows the experience can be lonely. For the first few weeks, they get by on adrenaline, and then suddenly, it hits them. When they reach out, they want a support system and a home away from home.
For many years, Israelis in the U.S. showed little interest in joining American Jewish organizations. But with time, some of these groups have developed a deeper understanding of Israeli Americans. In 2009, for example, the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto opened a new division called Israeli Cultural Connection, which offers Israeli-style holiday celebrations, career workshops and after-school Hebrew programs. “What we do is first try and make a home away from home for them,” says director Ronit Jacobs. Once they’re drawn in by programs designed specifically for them, “we’re able to open up a gateway to the Jewish American community,” Jacobs says. Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has a similar strategy: “We meet you where you are; we don’t expect you to go where we are.”
For these groups, the goal is helping a fragmented population find its footing. But now, an ambitious national organization hopes to transform the immigrant community—which one of the organization’s cofounders has called “the greatest untapped resource for telling the story of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the United States.”
In 2006, Ehud Danoch, then the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, organized a rally to demonstrate support for Israel during its war with Lebanon. But even though Los Angeles has one of the largest Israeli populations in the country, very few Israelis showed up. Danoch was disappointed. “You would have thought 30,000 Israelis would have been on the streets,” he said at the time. “I thought to myself that there is no correlation between the number of Israelis that live in Los Angeles and the actions that are being taken by them.”
Hoping to brainstorm a way to bring Israelis together, Danoch assembled a group of Israeli business leaders, which included real estate investor Adam Milstein and tech entrepreneur Shoham Nicolet. In 2007, this group established the Israeli Leadership Club, with $30,000 in seed funding and big dreams for the future. In 2013, the group made the strategic decision to add “Israeli-American” to its name. “The minute that you call yourself American means you need to start building a community here, because you’re not going to go back tomorrow,” says Nicolet, the group’s CEO.
The name change worked, and today the Israeli-American Council is the largest Israeli-American group in the U.S. Ten years in, it has regional branches in cities across the country, including Washington, DC, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Since 2014, it has hosted an annual conference in Washington, which in 2016 attracted more than 2,000 people and an array of political and cultural luminaries. Through cultural events, youth groups and language lessons, the group hopes to help Israeli Americans cultivate a distinctive sense of identity—and a voice in the global Jewish community. The IAC believes that Israeli Americans can strengthen the American Jewish community and Israel by serving as a bridge between the two. “We have a lot to give,” says Milstein, the group’s national chairman. “By organizing around our new Israeli-American identity, we believe that we can be a gamechanger here in America.”
Judea Pearl, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1936 and teaches computer science at UCLA, says that the IAC plays a critical role in the Jewish world. “IAC provides the institutional umbrella and the intellectual and cultural expression of the many contributions that Israeli Americans can make to Israel and to American Jews,” he says. “More importantly, it is an invaluable resource of a community of committed individuals who are well informed about the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and who care unabashedly about the future of both.”
One reason for the IAC’s phenomenal growth has been the largesse of its donors. Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor, helped support the group in the early years but pulled away from it in 2015 over political disagreements. These days, the IAC is largely funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has so far donated as much as $50 million. One of the Republican party’s biggest donors, he is a divisive political player. In recent presidential elections, candidates have traveled to Las Vegas to compete in what’s known as the “Adelson primary,” and in the 2012 election, he spent nearly $100 million in support of Republican candidates. He spent less in 2016, but his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was one of the only American publications to endorse Donald Trump. He also owns and subsidizes the free Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom, which is considered to strongly favor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions.
Adelson’s support has fed suspicions that the IAC has political motives. At first, Yehudah Mirsky, an associate professor of Near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, was concerned. Although the group was ostensibly focused on Israeli culture, he says, the political dimension was hard to miss. “One got the sense that this is an organization by and for people who support the Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu.” But over the past year or so, Mirsky, who lived in Israel for ten years and has attended IAC activities with his Israeli wife, says he no longer feels like he’s participating in something political. “It’s an anecdotal observation from someone who thinks about these things for a living,” he says.
When Ranit Mishori, a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, first heard about the IAC, she was intrigued. She grew up in Israel and moved to the U.S. in her 20s. But after learning that the group was funded by Adelson, she decided it was not the place for her. “I am pretty certain that it has a political agenda to support the current Israeli government,” she says. “For many Jews, supporting Israel means supporting the current government, and I don’t subscribe to that.”
Officially, the IAC is bipartisan. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and it cannot make political endorsements. “I have no chance to succeed if it’s leaning to the right or left,” Nicolet says. “And my board feels the same. We need to be very inclusive.” Milstein says that the council is meant to complement AIPAC, not compete with it. The IAC’s partner advocacy group, called the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, however, plays by different rules. As a 501(c)(4), it is still bipartisan, but it is allowed to lobby more directly for pro-Israel policies.
The idea is that supporting Israel should be a bipartisan issue. “There is no left or right,” says Ilan Sinelnikov, president and founder of Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel campus group. “It’s about, do you think that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state?” Sinelnikov moved from Israel to America in 2008, and he believes that Israelis abroad have a responsibility to fight for their country. At the Israeli airport, he remembers signs on some Israeli planes that read: When you leave the country, you become Israel’s ambassador. Sinelnikov takes that message to heart. “We are the face of Israel here, and people see us that way,” he says. “The Israeli-American Council of course answers a lot of cultural needs, but at the same time, as Israelis, it is our responsibility that we defend our country.”
Nathan Guttman, an Israeli American who has reported for Haaretz and the Forward, has been observing the IAC since its inception. “You can see two forces of this organization,” he says. On one hand, it’s trying to be “a grassroots communal organization that’s basically out there to give Israeli Americans a cultural home within the Jewish community.” On the other hand, “there’s another force trying to harness them for political goals.” Without the political dimension, says Guttman, he’s not sure that donors would be as enthusiastic about supporting the group.
Central to any discussion of Israeli-American identity and power is a simple question: How many Israeli Americans are there?
“It depends,” says demographer Ira Sheskin, “on how you define Israelis.”Personal identity, he says, can be notoriously hard to define and makes a poor topic for objective analysis. For example, Sheskin once knew a woman who moved to Israel from Miami Beach. After raising three children, she moved back to the U.S. Six years later, she returned to Israel with her daughter and then came back to the U.S. to take care of her elderly parents. Is she an Israeli? It depends on whom you ask. As of 2008, Sheskin estimates there were 136,000 people living in the U.S. who were born in Israel. When you add in people born elsewhere, but who either speak Hebrew at home or claim Israeli ancestry, that number jumps to 329,000. Sheskin admits his numbers may be off by a few thousand. But even when “Israeli American” is defined liberally, it would be tough to convince him of a number higher than 450,000.
Other estimates, based on broader definitions, are higher. The IAC counts anyone who emigrated from Israel, American-born children with at least one Israeli parent and Americans born to American parents who visit Israel and feel as if it’s a part of their identity.Adelson himself suggested a wide range during an address at the 2016 IAC conference. “Nobody really knows how many [Israeli Americans] there are, but there are estimates of 600,000 to a million,” he said. “That is a very big number that has not been patched together to work for their true interest.”
Analysts know even less about Israeli Americans’ political leanings. They are rarely acknowledged as a discrete group in American political data sets, and even examining overlapping data yields little. In the 2016 presidential election, 71 percent of American Jewish voters cast ballots for Hillary Clinton and 24 percent for Donald Trump. American Jews living in Israel, however, preferred Trump (49 percent) to Clinton (44 percent), according to a poll from iVote Israel and Keevoon Global Research. But because most of these absentee American voters had lived in Israel for more than 15 years, they might have little in common with Israelis who left Israel decades ago.
What analysts do know is unreliable. When Uzi Rebhun, head of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzed data from the 2013 Pew Research Center study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” he found that 29 percent of Israelis in America are Republicans, 39 percent are Democrats and 32 percent are Independents. At the same time, 31 percent are conservative, 37 percent are moderate and 31 percent are liberal. But these numbers are based on a sample of only 56 respondents, making them statistically inconclusive. Adelson has his own method of determining the political leanings of Israeli Americans, which he mentioned offhandedly at the 2016 IAC conference. He measures the applause he hears when speakers discuss liberal positions: “From what I hear in the crowd,” he said, “the applause represents about 25 percent of the people, or a third.”
There is a reason why the voting patterns of Israeli Americans are of interest. In the U.S., Israeli Americans have the potential to become an influential minority, but in Israel, should they vote in large numbers, they could sway election outcomes. Currently, most expats are not allowed to vote by absentee ballot in Israeli elections and must fly back to vote in person. Most don’t, but if they did, some believe they would vote for Netanyahu. Netanyahu likely thinks this too, since he has consistently pushed for absentee voting in Knesset elections. Legislation to change the absentee voting law appears every few years but has not passed. These initiatives have been controversial in Israel, where critics argue that they are an attempt to strengthen the Likud, says Lev Ari, the Oranim College sociologist. But the underlying assumption that Israeli expats support Netanyahu isn’t supported by evidence. “It’s just a rumor,” she says. “It’s based on nothing.”
In reality, Israeli Americans’ politics—and their connection to Israel—depend on many factors, including what their political views were in Israel, how old they were when they moved and how long they have lived in the U.S. Those who emigrate as children—Lev Ari calls it the one-and-a-half generation—have a particularly complex ethnic identity. Second-generation immigrants tend to have stronger ties to America, while their parents, who arrive as adults, are likely to feel a greater connection to their Israeli identity, even after many years in their new home.
Tamar Biala does not like the term “Israeli American.” She doesn’t see herself as someone with a split identity but as an old-fashioned Zionist, who thinks Israelis should stay in Israel to make it better. But then she wonders: “What right do I have to say this when I am here? I’m so confused.”
Biala is married to Brandeis professor Yehudah Mirsky, and the couple came to the U.S. four years ago for his job. When the IAC first asked her to teach a weekly Torah study class for Israeli Americans, she didn’t want any part of it. She didn’t want to participate in what she thought of as normalizing the yerida. In her mind, Israelis who left Israel were angry with their country and in search of easy lives, and she didn’t consider herself one of them. But when she got to know the members of her study group, she found that it wasn’t quite so simple. “They’re all brokenhearted for being in America,” she says, “and they all have complex stories.”
As time passes, her views evolve, and she now acknowledges that a dual identity is better, at least, than becoming wholly American. Nor does she judge Israeli Americans as harshly as she once did, though she makes it clear that they aren’t her people. “I can’t believe I’m here, and I hope it won’t be for long,” she says. “I want to raise my children to be as Israeli as possible.”
But as she spends more time in America, she’ll be statistically more likely to change her mind and adopt a hybrid identity. Of those who have been in the U.S. for less than five years, only 17 percent self-identify as Israeli Americans, according to the IAC. But after 20 years, that number jumps to 73 percent.
Even Israeli Americans who are here for life remain inextricably connected to their homeland, and many want to pass on their Israeliness to their children. Fiction writer Shelly Oria does not have children, but if she does one day, she would want them to visit Israel, to build a strong relationship with their Israeli relatives and to understand what living in Israel is all about.
Oria is less concerned with the larger mission of keeping Israeli identity alive for future generations. Her interest is more personal. “You want to be known by your kids,” she says, “and I don’t think anyone can know me without knowing Israel.”
The return on our investment will be nothing less than a vibrant Jewish future.
Jewish leaders and philanthropists are now engaged in an intense and crucial conversation. There is growing concern that Jews – particularly the next generation – are disconnecting from their Jewish heritage and from the State of Israel. The now infamous Pew Study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” found that approximately two-thirds of American Jewish millennials report that they do not feel a strong connection to Israel. In a recent study published by Brandeis University, fewer than half of Jewish college students could correctly answer even the most basic questions about the Jewish state.
In the face of these trends, how can we invest our philanthropic dollars more effectively to strengthen the special US-Israel alliance, and ensure that future Jewish generations maintain their special affinity to Israel? In response to this question, there are two important principles that we must embrace.
First, we must better understand our target audience. Many millions of philanthropic dollars are now invested under the assumption that today’s Jewish community is the same as the one that existed 40 years ago, limiting the return on investment of many initiatives.
Changing this mindset begins with recognizing that there is not a single, homogeneous American Jewish community, but rather a cluster of communities, which has changed rapidly over the past 40 years because of three big trends: assimilation, intermarriage and immigration.
Over the past 40 years, we have seen significant waves of immigration from Israel, Iran and Russia. Their numbers are not properly represented in recent studies of the Jewish community. Taking their numbers into consideration, out of approximately 10 million people living in America born to Jewish parents and/or grandparents, only half see themselves as Jews by religion today. The remainder have either completely left the faith or view their Judaism as a cultural identity instead of a religious one.
Interestingly, the declining number of people who identify as Jewish by religion is correlated with declining affinity to Israel.
Among those who say that they are Jewish by culture, 55% say that they are not very attached to Israel, while only 12% say that they are very attached to Israel. For those who completely left the faith, these numbers are much lower. This is a stark contrast to those who say that they are Jewish by religion, among whom 86% say that they are somewhat or very attached to Israel.
In other words, as Jews disconnect from their Jewish heritage, their affinity to Israel often declines as well.
So, what should we do with this information? How can we use this insight about our changing Jewish community to make more strategic decisions about where we invest our limited resources? This brings me to my second principle: we need to look for low-hanging fruit, investing more resources in target populations for whom additional funding for programs and initiatives can have an outsized impact in strengthening the US-Israel relationship.
Here are some criteria that we should consider as we allocate resources.
• Age: Those below 40-50 years old are more likely to be developing their set of core values and beliefs. Moreover, by increasing the Jewish knowledge and connection to Israel among the young generation, we can not only impact these individuals, but also their children and grandchildren.
• Affiliation: The data shows that those who define themselves as Jewish by religion are more likely to have a strong connection to Israel. With so many focusing on the unaffiliated or “cultural Jews,” we can’t lose sight of this base. The Orthodox community already has many structures in place that are engaging a strong majority of their next generation. We need to focus on innovative programs to connect non-Orthodox Jews (including Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular Jews) to Israel.
• Support for Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People: We should seek to identify those who have proven their commitment to advancing the vision of Israel being the homeland of the Jewish people, but who may not have a clear and structured path for remaining religiously engaged. It is important to attract Jews who have a marginal connection to Israel, but it is even more important to provide a path for those with a deep passion for Israel to become and remain Jewishly involved.
• American Jewish immigrant communities: The criteria outlined in the three concepts above are particularly relevant to recent Jewish immigrants, Russians, Iranians and Israeli-Americans. These groups are already committed Zionists, but they are new to the American Diaspora and as a result don’t always have the tools to pass on their Jewish and pro-Israel values to their next generations. Each dollar invested in them can go a long way.
Take the work of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), which has shown in recent years how investing in Israeli-Americans can unleash an extraordinary untapped resource to strengthen the US-Israel relationship and strengthen Jewish heritage.
Many young Jewish Americans are attracted to the IAC activities to absorb Israeliness and pride in their Jewish roots.
By systematically identifying and investing in target groups that are uniquely suited to advance our philanthropic priorities, we can advance progress on a wide range of issues, whether it’s in Israel advocacy, global diplomacy, or Jewish education.
Our Jewish community faces rapid changes, enormous challenges and exciting opportunities. To overcome the obstacles in our path and realize our full potential as a people, we need to invest smarter.The return on our investment will be nothing less than a vibrant Jewish future.
The return on our investment will be nothing less than a vibrant Jewish future.
The author is an Israeli-American philanthropist, national chairman of the Israeli- American Council, real estate entrepreneur and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.
Although we are less than 0.2 percent of mankind, the Jewish People have been able to accomplish extraordinary things because of our belief that the impossible could be achieved.
Hanukkah, our Festival of Lights, is fast approaching.
In recounting the heroic story of the Maccabees, the Jewish rebel group that lived in the Land of Israel in the second century BCE, we are reminded that our freedom isn’t guaranteed. And as we look out at a world filled with serious challenges facing the Jewish People, the lessons of history call us to action.
During the time of the Maccabees, the Land of Israel was dominated by Greek armies. Many Jews, especially the cosmopolitan elite, sought to assimilate into the Greek culture as a road to political and economic power.
The Maccabees – a small group of Jews determined to protect their Jewish identity and homeland – used their wits, courage and determination to defeat the Greeks and establish a free Jewish nation in our homeland, notwithstanding their tiny numbers and inferior weapons.Today, in the face of challenges, how can we find inspiration in the Maccabees’ example? How do we redouble our commitment to strengthen and secure the future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel? During this season of giving, what are the most important gifts that we can give to each other – so that future generations will live in freedom, security and prosperity? With these questions lingering in my mind this holiday season, I have put together a list of the eight greatest gifts – one for each night of Hanukka – that we must give in every Jewish family so that our people will continue to thrive.
Gift one: Pride
There is nothing more powerful than understanding who you are and taking pride in where you come from.
If we can’t instill Jewish pride in our next generation, there will no one left to carry on our tradition and face our future challenges.
Every day, I feel incredibly fortunate to be a Jew – to come from a tradition that is the original source of the Western values, and to be a part of a people who, while tiny in numbers, have accomplished extraordinary things in so many fields.
I am proud to be connected to Israel, our Jewish homeland, a country that became independent against all odds and serves as a beacon of light and innovation, making the rest of the world a better place. Through education, community involvement and family heritage, we must foster a sense of pride in being Jewish and a pride in the State of Israel, in our children and grandchildren.
Gift two: Courage
The State of Israel, the Jewish People and the Jewish faith have only survived because Jews were willing to stand up and fight for what they believed in when our Jewish homeland, our people, our traditions and our values were threatened.
It’s not always easy or convenient to be a Jew, or to be a supporter of Israel. Yet, when enemies like Iran and Hamas threaten the existence of Israel, or antisemites seek to spread vile hatred against the Jewish people, we need the courage and conviction to stand up and speak out.
Persistence Alongside courage, the Jewish People also need to be consistent and persistent. It’s not enough stand up once; we need to cultivate a next generation that has the strength and will to stand up, again and again, and fight against our detractors. Whether you are building a business, working toward a degree, raising a family, or advocating for your community, the ability to work hard and keep going strong in the face of adversity may be the single most valuable skill.
Gift four: Knowledge
Over the course of centuries wandering as a small and stateless people, we learned to invest in the greatest resource: knowledge. The Jews have prioritized education above all else. Although we have been the underdog for much of our history, our infatuation with learning has enabled us to succeed. Today we must continue this investment, imparting the knowledge that not only gives our children the ability to thrive in 21st-century careers, but also that grounds them in Jewish wisdom, provides a moral center and makes them committed to family and community.
Gift five: Innovation
The Jewish propensity to innovate has driven inventions ranging from ethical monotheism to the Theory of Relativity to Waze. This has been the secret sauce of Jewish survival, allowing us to adapt and succeed in a wide range of cultures, countries and eras. Empowering our children to think outside the box will be critical for their success in our modern information era, and for the survival of our communal institutions, which must adapt to remain relevant for the next generation.
Gift six: Belief in the Impossible
Although we are less than 0.2 percent of mankind, the Jewish People have been able to accomplish extraordinary things because of our belief that the impossible could be achieved. From Joshua’s conquest of the land, to the Maccabees overcoming the Greeks, to the newly formed State of Israel defeating six Arab armies in 1948, we have held the belief that the impossible can be achieved against all odds. We must empower our children with this perspective, as they go out to fight for their dreams and contribute solutions to the challenges facing Jews worldwide.
Gift seven: Brotherhood
In the Talmud it says that each member of the Jewish People is responsible for the rest.
In times of persecution, the Jews always knew how to unite and support one another. In response to the many threats facing the State of Israel, the Israeli people join together as one big united family that cares for and protects each other, in times of war and peace. We are infinitely stronger when we are united – religious and secular, in Israel and in the Diaspora, old and young.
Instilling this sense of brotherhood in our children gives them confidence that their extended family – the Jewish family – is behind them and compels them to action when other Jews need their help.
Gift eight: Passion
Discovering and channeling your passion in life to make a difference in the world is the key to personal fulfillment. If you don’t make each day matter and don’t have passion for how you spend your time and resources, you don’t have much at all. Each and every day – not just on Hanukka – I strive to give my children and grandchildren the encouragement to discover their passion and purpose, and the support to channel that passion into careers, families, leadership, community and the country in which we all live.
This Hanukka, let us give and inspire all eight of these gifts – and many more – to enrich the lives of our young generations, strengthen our families and secure our common future. By uncovering and unleashing the light in all of us, we can continue the miracle of Hanukka, year after year, writing a new chapter in the ancient story of the Jewish people.
The author is an Israeli-American philanthropist, national chairman of the Israeli-American Council, real estate entrepreneur and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.