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Encounter alumnus Ari Hart is a cofounder of Uri L’Tzedek and a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

In his recent column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine (“The I’s have it,” October 16), Daniel Gordis informs us that out of all the chal­lenges facing Israel and the Jewish world today, this is the real crisis: America’s “unfet­tered indi­vid­u­alism” is corrupting the minds and souls of young American Jews, leading them to abandon Israel.

To try to prove this epidemic of self­ish­ness and indi­vid­u­alism, Gordis cites several exam­ples of young American Jews, chal­lenged by their rela­tion­ship to the State of Israel, who seek to hear a multi­tude of voices and perspec­tives on the situ­a­tion, or act on deeply held values and prin­ci­ples to try to create change. Gordis may find some of those values and prin­ci­ples misguided, coun­ter­pro­duc­tive or even dangerous. But self-centered and indi­vid­u­al­istic? Since when did chal­lenging ideas and commu­nity norms become pampered, selfish behavior?

Given my expe­ri­ences as a member of the exact gener­a­tion Gordis takes such issue with, I tried to think about who exactly these young “me” Jews might be.

Maybe they are the thou­sands of young American Jews answering the Jewish call to pursue justice by teaching in inner city schools, advo­cating for the rights of pris­oners or providing health care in the Third World? Perhaps they are the Jews who care so deeply about God’s creation that they bicycle to work, compost their waste and metic­u­lously track their carbon outputs. Maybe they are the Jews who travel each summer to coun­tries in Eastern Europe to help strug­gling Jewish commu­ni­ties thrive and grow. Or perhaps they are the thou­sands of Jews on college campuses, responding to “Never Again” who mobi­lized and advo­cated for stop­ping the geno­cide in Darfur. Are they the ones?

Gordis may wish that more of this tremen­dous energy and acting beyond oneself was directed toward helping Jews in Israel. That might have been a valid critique, and one that I struggle with person­ally in thinking about my own activism. He failed to do so, and instead attacked the char­acter and motives of thou­sands of Jews he does not know.

When Gordis asks, “Why are American Jews aban­doning Israel?” he needs to under­stand the following cogni­tive and emotional disso­nance facing many young, talented, passionate and inspired American Jews: These Jews have dedi­cated them­selves to working on fixing the suffering and oppres­sion in their commu­ni­ties at home and abroad. It is a vital part of their Jewish iden­ti­ties. In turn, they are very uncom­fort­able with the feeling that a Jewish state is respon­sible for the suffering and oppres­sion of another people, directly or indi­rectly. If Gordis wishes to reach these people, he needs to openly and honestly deal with that discon­nect instead of attacking them for being selfish.

Unfortunately, the percep­tion of many young Jews is that Jewish insti­tu­tions are not inter­ested in seri­ously dealing with that disso­nance, and that communal Jewish life is not a safe space for engaging in some of the Jewish ques­tions that matter to them most. The percep­tion among many young, progres­sive Jews is that Jewish insti­tu­tions push an over­sim­pli­fied, heavy-handed, us-or-them approach to Israel and Jewish iden­tity. That’s one reason why many young Jews who live to make the world better for others often turn outside the Jewish commu­nity to do so.

Gordis, writes: “In today’s indi­vid­u­al­istic America, the drama of the rebirth of the Jewish people creates no goose bumps and evokes no sense of duty or obligation.”

Jerusalem of Gold” sends shivers up and down my spine every time I hear it. When I hike through the Golan, tracing the foot­steps of my ances­tors, I often want to burst into tears at the sheer beauty and impos­si­bility of it all. But yes, I do struggle. The Jewish values I hold dear — pursuing justice, loving the stranger, fighting for the poor and under­priv­i­leged — do not always appear to be prior­i­tized by the State of Israel in policy or culture. And that discon­nect causes me great, great pain.

Mr. Gordis, I am training to be an Orthodox rabbi. It is my profes­sional and personal goal to serve the Jewish people for the rest of my life. Few things give me greater joy than learning a page of Gemara with someone for the first time, reaching out to bring others to my Shabbat table, distrib­uting gifts to the poor on Purim or spending the holi­days in Jerusalem. However, if I see a film you don’t approve of, oppose partic­ular poli­cies of the State of Israel or iden­tify as an American, does that mean that I’ve “given up on Israel?”

Couldn’t one even argue that critique and chal­lenge are funda­mental Jewish values and might actu­ally help to preserve and strengthen the Jewish people as we move into more and compli­cated moral and ethical terrain?

At the end of his piece, Gordis writes that “a gaping chasm threatens the American-Israeli rela­tion­ship, and we’re basi­cally doing nothing.” If Gordis is right about the chasm, isolating giving, creative, inspired and moti­vated American Jews through unfounded and frankly silly attacks like this isn’t “basi­cally doing nothing” — it’s making the problem worse. Let’s get real, and God willing, get better.

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