The new generation of American Jews see themselves as "Jews by choice," and place their Jewish identity in a list of other identities, due to their wish to be citizens of the world, Rachel Fish, a Jewish American student activist, told a conference on the future of the Jewish people in Jerusalem on Monday.
The conference, organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI), looked at challenges faced by Diaspora Jewish communities during its first session.
"The notion of kol Yisrael (Jewish solidarity and peoplehood) has become empty," Fish told the conference. "Young Jews do not have a collective identity. In the age of multi-culturalism... young Jewish adults do not wish to carry the burden of Jewish history," she added.
"My generation and future generations are removed from historical events. Palestinianism is the cause celeb on campuses. Zionism is no longer relevant to young Jews in the 21st century," she said, adding: "Jewish nationalism must be reclaimed. We must not wait for others to protect our identity and values."
Fish's comments sparked a lively debate among delegates at the conference. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of a yeshiva in Petach Tikva, admitted that the vast "majority of Israelis don't think about Jews in the Diaspora. I think this institution (the JPPPI) should teach Israelis in order to make them interested, to make them involved with Diaspora Jews."
'We've always been Jews by choice'
Speaking to Ynetnews, Fish said that the Jewish American identity can be reclaimed, but that it would have to be done from an early age. She added that one-time trips to Israel such as Birthright were insufficient to create solid identities.
"We need to make sure that the future generation is included now. The establishment, both the political system in Israel and in the Diaspora, has to recognize that Jewish youths have voices that need to be heard," she added.
"In the age of the world we live in, everything is a choice. One can choose to be a Lesbian, a Jew, a soccer player... being Jewish is one of the many choices, and it's not necessarily number one," Fish said, describing the mindset of young American Jews.
"I have friends who grew up in Jewish homes, who intermarry. They questioned me for marrying a Jewish husband, and asked me, why does it matter anymore? They say it doesn't matter who they marry, their kids will choose either way if they want to be Jewish," she added.
Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the situation described by Fish was "not new" for the Jewish people.
"We've always been Jews by choice," he said, adding: "Jews in every phase in history have chosen, either to assimilate or not, to convert or not. Jews have never been a mass movement. We have always survived because there has been a tenth committed to continuity."
"We have the same thing today," Foxman said, adding that the two main ways to ensure Jewish continuity in the US were "Jewish education which is attractive and affordable," and the Birthright program, which offers every Diaspora Jew a free ticket to visit Israel.
"One third of all those who return from Birthright will always be active Zionists. That is a fantastic investment for 5,000 dollars," Foxman added.