Wednesday, 21 Aug 2019 - 20 of Av, 5779
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“We need to talk … ”JFNA 2018 brings critical dialogue to Israel in attempt to bridge cultural and political gaps

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Much of American Jewry’s primarily liberal communal leadership has taken vocal odds with policies of Israel’s conservative coalition government relating to key religious issues, the protection of minorities living in Israel and an inability to reach a peace agreement with Palestinians. And many Israelis have taken odds with the progressively divisive tone of American Jewish criticisms.

By Alex Traiman,JNS 

In a greater attempt to be heard by Israel’s ruling establishment, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) held this week their annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv with the theme, “Israel and the Diaspora: ‘We need to talk.’ ”

In recent years, much of American Jewry’s primarily liberal communal leadership has taken vocal odds with several policies of Israel’s conservative coalition government relating to key religious issues, the protection of minorities living in Israel and an inability to reach a peace agreement with Palestinians. Many Israelis have taken odds with the progressively divisive tone of American Jewish criticisms.

While previous delegations of the roving annual General Assembly, which is held in Israel every five years, have focused on ways in which the Diaspora community could better support a maturing Jewish state, the 2018 General Assembly has carried an undercurrent of disapproval.

Throughout the Tel Aviv Convention Center, infographics revealed sharp differences in attitudes between American Jews and Israelis on key issues.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed the nearly 2,000 attendees of the General Assembly’s plenary, acknowledging the growing rift and need to bridge the gaps, stating, “It may not be easy to have a truly honest conversation, but this is, I believe, what needs to happen. “We cannot escape from returning to the table and re-discussing our disputes.”

He called on the Jewish Federations of North America to help facilitate a “reverse Birthright”

“Dear friends, we need to create wider circles of awareness here in Israel,” he said.

Throughout the Tel Aviv Convention Center, infographics revealed sharp differences in attitudes between American Jews and Israelis on key issues.

“For many young Israeli Jews, being a Jew means being Israeli. We must increase their exposure to your schools, camps and communities.”

He said that they need to realize and feel that they have a family, a family they must take into account.

“I support the idea of creating a ‘Reverse Taglit’ trip for young Israelis to get to know Jewish communities worldwide,” the president announced, referring to the free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young Jewish adults.“Many such delegations targeted for Israeli opinion leaders are already making a change. My staff at the President’s Residence, together with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, is developing an active community for graduates of these delegations in order to increase their impact, and to start exploring finding out the important things we can do together – Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.

Isaac Herzog, the new chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and former chairman of Israel’s left-wing Labor Party, seconded the need to bring the issues dividing the two poles of world Jewry.

“We must launch a new Jewish dialogue,” he said, adding that his agency, which focuses on strengthening Jewish identity and immigration to Israel, will attempt to “work together in every possible way so that Israelis will learn to appreciate and know the magnificent civilization of world Jewry, while world Jewry will learn to appreciate the achievements of Zionism and the beauty of Israeliness.”

As a major financial supporter of Israeli initiatives, America’s Jewish leadership believes that it has become an undervalued stakeholder in Israel’s development. Israelis, on the other hand, are skeptical of a Diaspora leadership that presides over a community that is rampantly assimilating and has not experienced the challenges of living in the Middle East firsthand.

While there have been a number of policy differences between the communities since Israel’s founding as a state in 1948, today these differences are seemingly highlighted over and above commonalities. In particular, recent disputes have centered around the enlargening of a little-used mixed-gender prayer section of the Western Wall plaza, Israel’s reluctance to accept less-stringent conversions to Judaism administered by Reform and Conservative clergy, and the recent passage of a controversial Nation-State Law that canonizes Israel’s existence as a Jewish state over a state of all its residents.

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