Class to explore Israel’s importance

Posted Monday, Oct 15th, 2007

Rabbi says lessons couldn't be more timely as younger people losing touch
By CAROLYN CLICK - [email protected]

Every weekday, Rabbi Hesh Epstein enters a classroom at the Columbia Jewish Day School and teaches eager children about their Jewish heritage, law and culture.

That comes naturally to the students, who are immersed both in traditional academics and in the 3,000-year history of the Jews, from Abraham to the creation of the modern state of Israel.

“You see the children are very engaged about the process,’” Epstein said Friday, as he dissected the meaning and uses of the etrog, a citron fruit that is part of the Sukkot festival.

But a new study finds that Jewish Americans younger than 35 are increasingly detached from the idea of Israel as their psychological home and less inclined to view their identity through an ethnic Jewish lens.

The report by authors Steven Cohen, of Hebrew Union College, and Ari Kelman, a professor of American Studies at California-Davis, is troubling to Jewish leaders like Epstein, who worry about the younger generation’s loosening bonds.

That’s why Epstein is excited to be teaching a class on Israel that will explore the spiritual connection between Jews and Israel.

The six-week course, beginning Nov. 1, is open to the public.

People of a certain age remember the struggle over the founding of Israel after World War II and the wars with Arab neighbors that followed, Epstein said. Often, they have family ties to the Nazi Holocaust and understand what it means to have a safe haven from persecution.

Epstein hears that each week when he meets with a group of older Jewish men who call themselves the “Romeos,” for Retired Old Men Eating Out.

“When Israel is in danger, they’re stressed,” Epstein said. “Their level of devotion is palpable,” but they are troubled by the fact that their children aren’t as concerned.

The Cohen-Kelman study finds that only 54 percent of younger Jewish Americans “are comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state,” and fewer than half would view its destruction as a personal tragedy.

Younger generations are swayed by current events, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Israel often is portrayed as a heavy-handed occupying force.

“Israel is not the David to the Arab Goliath anymore,” he said.

The Jewish Learning Institute course Epstein will teach wasn’t planned to coincide with the study’s release, but he believes it couldn’t be more timely.

Although there will be limited discussion of modern politics, Epstein said the course is mainly aimed at dissecting the spiritual value of Israel.

After every Passover, Jews say, “‘Next year in Jerusalem,’” Epstein said, “and we’ve done that for 2,000 years. ... We know that we feel that way, but why do we feel that way?”

Reach Click at (803) 771-8386.


Rabbi Hesh Epstein teaches children at the Columbia Jewish Day School, but will soon teach a class about Israel at the Columbia Jewish Community Center in Northeast Richland. Photo by:   
RICH GLICKSTEIN/[email protected]

Rabbi Hesh Epstein teaches children at the Columbia Jewish Day School, but will soon teach a class about Israel at the Columbia Jewish Community Center in Northeast Richland.


The Jewish Learning Institute, the education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, is offering a six-week course beginning Nov. 1:

• The class, on six consecutive Thursdays, will be 7-8:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 306 Flora Drive, Columbia. Similar classes will be held in 250 other American cities and around the world.

• Fee is $60, waived for those younger than 30.

• More information: Visit or call Rabbi Hesh Epstein at (803) 467-3456

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