On the eve of Israel's 62nd birthday, it is easy to get caught up in the political, diplomatic and religious struggles of the state. In this era of a nuclear-ambitious Iran and growing intransigence among Israel's Arab neighbors, these issues are obviously critical. But to focus on them alone misses something much more fundamental — how we as Jews in the United States relate to the Jewish homeland.
Six decades after the fulfillment of the Zionist dream and the birth of the State of Israel, we must take seriously the ever-dwindling connection that defines our relationship.
This diminishing bond — particularly, but not exclusively, among younger Jews — is hardly news. The results of the 2009 "Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia" only confirm what has been documented in numerous national studies: The solidarity that we once took for granted, especially among those who lived through the Holocaust and the nascent years of the state, is no longer automatic.
In our five-county region, the study found a precipitous drop in the level of connection between those over 40 and those under 40. Whereas 45 percent of Jews over 62, and between 40 and 61, said they felt "very" attached the Israel, only 25 percent of Jews under 40 said they felt the same.
The study also confirms what has long been apparent — the more observant you are, the stronger your connection to Israel is likely to be. It is still the Orthodox community that consistently demonstrates its commitment by sending its youth as a matter of course and visiting with impressive regularity.
With the richness of American Jewish options available for those who care to partake, the axiom of Israel as the sole spiritual center of Jewish life no longer pertains. That, however, in no way diminishes the central importance of Israel to all Jews. It's our living history and our heart wrapped up as one. Anyone who has not experienced it for themselves is missing something essential.
So this Yom Ha'atzmaut, let's pledge to strengthen our connections in ways big and small. Plan a Bar or Bat Mitzvah journey for your family. Sign up for a synagogue, school or organizational mission. Pick from a multitude of summer programs for your teenager, or encourage your college student to get in on Birthright Israel while the best Jewish-identity-building bargain still exists.
While classes and cultural connections also count, there is no substitute for a visit to plant lifelong ties or to solidify them if you've already been. As a community, we need to ensure that cost does not prohibit the ability to take that journey.
Without that reinforcement, we're unlikely to maintain the critical mass of Jews who care enough to stand up for Israel politically and financially. Not only will Israel suffer under such a scenario, we, too, will be bereft of a central component of our Jewish peoplehood — our link with the State of Israel.