Special to the JTA New Blood in the Zionist Movement
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Special to the JTA New Blood in the Zionist Movement

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Yossi Klein was born in Brooklyn, but he dreams at night of the Holocaust. The tales he is told by his father, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America, reverberate in his dreams and shape his outlook on life. The movie “Kaddish” deals with Yossi’s search for meaning and with his efforts to reconcile the two widely diverging realities.

The premier of Steve Brand’s “Kaddish” is to be screened at the opening ceremony of the first world conference of Dor Hemshech, the World Zionist Organization’s young leadership. The movie’s theme is related to the conference’s aims: to bridge the gap between the old goals, relevant to the generation which founded the State of Israel, and the current problems facing Judaism in different parts of the world.

Some 120 participants from the diaspora and another 60 from Israel will attend the conference, which will take place in Jerusalem between July 29 and August 1.

“The old slogans of Zionism have fossilized,” said Eliezer Sheffer, the chairman of Dor Hemshech, in a recent interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The WZO appears to the young generations as an outmoded bureaucratic organization seated by functionaires who average 60 years old.

“The second and third generations of immigrants to the U.S. have a completely different Jewish consciousness from their forefathers. For them Israel is a fact of life, to be taken for granted. The diaspora is not perceived in a negative light — they can choose to remain there and live in freedom. The family framework is not as close-knit as it used to be, and Jewish education takes a different form.

“The old slogans are therefore outdated. In order to reach young people the goals and the programs must become meaningful to their lives.”


Over the past 10 years, Dor Hemshech has been cultivating a new generation of community leaders between the ages of 25-45, in some 25 countries. “The needs of each are different,” Sheffer observed. “Argentinian Jews, now emerging from eight years of totalitarianism, are adjusting to a new reality. Theirs differs from that of Jews who live in Greece or Turkey, and both bear little relation to the life of the young Jew in North America.”

The aim of the Dor Hemshech conference” is to create a strong force of these people, many of whom are influential in their respective communities, and to encourage a strong militant leadership to develop,” said Sheffer. The WZO needs an infusion of the blood and this creates the right opportunity for change, he believes.

“One factor which makes young people hesitant to join the ranks of Zionist movements in the diaspora is these movements’ affiliation to Israeli political parties. They don’t see why they have to identify” with any of the parties “and why they cannot join a general Zionist movement. Dor Hemshech is an attempt to provide that framework, “said Sheffer.

He does not believe that the ideal relationship between Israel and the diaspora should be based on philanthrophy. Although fund-raising is important, the tie has to be based on ideology, “on a sense of commitment and participation in the country’s future,” said Sheffer.

“Recognition of the fact that the drama of the Jewish people in our times is taking place here, in Israel, changes your life, ” he said. Although aliya is a logical conclusion of this process, Sheffer does not view it as the only one. Creating a strong leadership in the diaspora is an important goal in itself, he feels.


Many Jews in the U.S., Sheffer noted, have little or no Jewish knowledge, and he views this as an indication that the traditional teaching methods have failed.

“Take somebody who studies at a Jewish Sunday school during his childhood. When he reaches the age of 18 — or 21 if he goes to a college with a strong Jewish community — he has no suitable framework to fit into. He simply drops out of the picture. Sometimes he will return several years later, usually when he has small children. By this time, little remains of what he learned as a child,” said Sheffer.

Dor Hemshech is developing programs designed to teach basic Jewish knowledge through modern individualized methods. One of these is a studying manual for the Bar Mitzvah, designed as a question-answer dialogue between father and son. “The program has two aims, ” explains Sheffer. “It teaches the son, and often the father too, about the Bar Mitzvah, and at the same time draws them together, strengthening the family bonds.”

Another program to be discussed during the conference is the computerized study of Hebrew, Judaism and Zionism.


Among the proposals to be debated is the formation of a new settlement in the Jerusalem corridor as a center for Jewish art and culture. Sheffer envisions a settlement, where artists will be able to live on a permanent or temporary basis, and exhibit their works.

He stressed that no decision will be forced upon the forum. Everything is up for discussion: the goals, the programs to be implemented and the structure of the body of involved leaders that will emerge.

“The important thing is that the process doesn’t end here, with this first world conference,” said Sheffer. “What really matters is what will happen after the conference, when the participants return to their communities and begin the process of change.”

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