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Foundation Helps Unaffiliated Jews Learn Israel’s History — and Defend It

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The Jewish Literacy Foundation has launched an outreach campaign to educate North American Jews about Israel.

As petitions against the Jewish state circulate in academia, and media outlets run stories on racism in Syrian and Palestinian textbooks, one thing has become clear: Education has become a battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The new program will provide at least 1,000 North American Jews with copies of the book “Israel in a Nutshell” over the next six months, and will continue distributing other books from the “Judaism in a Nutshell” series over the next six years.

“Palestinians are funding tremendous resources” on college campuses in “a very well-funded campaign on future decision makers,” said Shimon Apisdorf, author of the Nutshell series and educational director and co-founder of JLF.

Formed in 1999, the foundation publishes a variety of books designed to spark an interest in Jewish community and culture. Its books vary from those on Israeli history to a “High Holiday Survival Kit” to help people get the most out of the Jewish new year.

The foundation is targeting unaffiliated North American Jews, many of whom are on college campuses, so that “people can at least have a framework to understand the news,” Apisdorf said.

“For all the young people on campus, or the vast majority, events like the founding of Israel and Israel’s struggle to survive is a mush of ancient history,” he said. “This generation didn’t grow up with Israel fighting for its existence.”

Apisdorf believes that even unaffiliated North American Jews at least hold a “gut-level commitment” to “see Israel survive.”

“In their heart of hearts, they don’t want to believe Israel is a colonizer, conqueror, and usurper. But they don’t know,” he said.

Some 41 percent of Jews do not feel that being Jewish is important, according to an American Jewish Committee survey from 2000. This statistic is a focal point for JLF’s mission. As Aspidorf explains, “What you don’t know, you can’t love or be committed to.”

Accompanying the book outreach program, JLF is launching a radio campaign in New York and hopes to eventually supply tens of thousands of additional copies of “Israel in a Nutshell” to households and college campuses.

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the Jewish Campus Service Corps and the Birthright Israel program distribute JLF’s books to college students. The organization’s first direct giveaway came over the Internet.

Melanie Gruenwald, associate director of the Jewish Campus Service Corps — whose volunteers work on trying to engage unaffiliated Jewish college students in Jewish holidays and education — called Apisdorf’s books “easy to understand.”

They offer a “fun approach” for college students to engage in Jewish activities, she said, and “deepen their experience over the holidays.”

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