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"One of the most urgent tasks confronting American Jewry in the postwar world is the problem of planting Jewish cultural roots deep in the soil of America," declared Paula Ackerman, chair of the National Committee on Religious Schools, an arm of the Reform movement's National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, in 1945. "Each of us must share the responsibility of seeing that American Jewish youth is not 'lost' to Judaism, of concerning ourselves today with the religious education of our children who will become the Jewish leaders of tomorrow." (1) Ackerman could not have known it at the time, three years before the establishment of the Jewish state, but the Reform movement would soon turn to Israel as a key tool in this quest to instruct, inspire, and retain its young people. This essay traces the advent of a robust Zionism in the Reform movement's informal educational spheres and argues that Zionist Reform educators successfully positioned engagement with Israel as a prime means of deepening young people's Jewish and American identities in the first postwar decades. The growing centrality of Israel to Reform youth in the postwar period seems particularly remarkable considering the Reform movement's historically checkered relationship with Zionism. The relationship between Jewish religious belief and practice and Jewish nationalism had been politically and ideologically fraught since the late nineteenth century, not only within Zionist circles, but also among the full range of Jewish religious spokesmen and thinkers, from the ultra-Orthodox to the radical Reform. (2) Opposition to Jewish nationalism was a hallmark of official Reform ideology in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a stance softened but not fully resolved in 1937, with the Central Conference of American Rabbis' adoption of the Columbus Platform, with its proclamation of support for the upbuilding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Sectors of the Reform rabbinate and laity remained indifferent--and in some cases hostile--to Zionism, particularly in the South, small-town Midwest, and portions of the West well through World War II and the immediate postwar years. (3)

September 1
American Jewish Historical Society
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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