The story behind the “Why Be Jewish?” video

“Why Be Jewish?” – The video put together by Youth 2 Israel, was inspired by a conversation with donors during the 2015 endowment appeal.  While those older members of the community feel so passionate about their heritage and why in their soul they feel Jewish; but what we wanted to know was what our 15-17-year-old students would say?  Is it reasonable to think our youth will choose to maintain their Jewish identity?  So we asked the question…

“Why be Jewish?”

It is a straightforward and poignant question to ask at a time when there are many challenges, outside distractions and influences facing our youth making it easier to become removed from the Jewish community.  The video gives our youth a voice to look at what it takes to Jewish and why you would make the decision to embrace your heritage and culture.

Featuring students from a variety of schools, they ponder the reality of trying to be Jewish in a world filled with obstacles.  The students talk openly about the need to be able to combat anti-Semitism and negative media toward Israel through to all of the distractions of our modern world.  “It can be difficult to want to be Jewish, ” says Jenna, while Joey explains how he felt the need to hide the fact that he was Jewish.

Jewish continuity is a real issue for communities around the world, with assimilation increasingly posing the biggest threat.  While there is no one solution to reversing this trend, the students in the Y2i video believe the answer is greatly influenced by experiencing life in Israel first hand.

The key, according to the students is gaining a first-hand understanding of Jewish history and culture and, most importantly, having a sense of being part of a community.  As Sarah says, “everything changed when I went to Israel.”  Ethan adds, “it’s not difficult to be Jewish, especially after going on the trip.  I have a much wider understanding of what is going on there, and it is not just spitting out facts.”

The video

Students featured in the video come from not only the Jewish Day Schools but also from public schools where the Jewish population is a minority.  To cover a cross section of opinions, Y2i interviewed a collection of students covering those who have participated in Israel programs as well as many who have not.

Jeremy Dunkel, the Chair of Y2i notes, “While the purpose of the video is to tell a story and emotionally engage people in the discussion, it is interesting to note the different reactions from students comparing those who have not been to those who have returned.  It is clear that Israel has a major impact on their appreciation of what being Jewish means.”

As Raelle points out, “there was almost a piece of me missing before I went on the trip.”

The video is not merely a parochial push for Year 10 students to participate in Israel programs, it is a real examination of the question at the heart of the issue of Jewish continuity – “why be Jewish?”.

“Many parents, have already turned their backs on their Jewish identity.  To have teenagers tell a story of self-awareness and the impact it has had on them is extremely powerful,” says Jeremy.

Youth 2 Israel programs are about forging a deeper understanding and appreciation of -our shared heritage.  As the students in the video reveal, it is about community and a sense of belonging.

Jeremy adds, “We want people not just to watch the video, but to have a discussion about it and share it with family and friends.  We want to reach out to anyone who has a Jewish parent and invite them to join the conversation.”