The prime minister, president and senior cabinet officials are slated to address representatives of the US Jewish community in Jerusalem this week to “engage in dialogue regarding Israel’s current priorities,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations announced.
The conference, established almost 60 years ago to provide a central point of contact between the president and the Jewish community, serves as an umbrella organization for 51 of the historically largest Jewish groups in the United States. It is considered one of the largest Israeli advocacy bodies in the US and works closely with the AIPAC pro-Israeli lobby.
The primary focus of the American Jewish discourse, especially among the federations, has of late been centered around the issues of assimilation and intermarriage as raised by October’s Pew study on American Jewry. This week’s conference is expected to focus on security and economic issues.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who also runs the Religious Services and Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs ministries, is slated to open the four day gathering on Monday morning. Subsequent speeches by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and others are expected to focus on the “direction and implementation of Israeli domestic, foreign and military policy,” according to the conference.
Prior to arriving in Israel, conference executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein and chairman Robert Sugarman led their delegation to Spain where they met with King Juan Carlos to discuss pending legislation to grant automatic citizenship to the descendants of Jews exiled by the monarch’s predecessors in the 15th century.
Hoenlein has been vocal in his insistence that young American Jews, despite widespread belief to the contrary, are not disaffected with Israel but they are “ignorant” and US Jews have failed to educate their youth in a way that can ensure communal continuity.
In cultivating the next generation of communal leaders, America’s Jewish community must “think out of the box and say that the traditional ways are no longer necessarily relevant for today,” Hoenlein told the President’s Conference in Jerusalem last year.
“We have to bring the best minds. If [Facebook’s] Mark Zuckerberg is not involved, it’s our fault, not his,” he said.
“There is a real hunger for information and connection, [but] maybe not in the traditional ways,” he elaborated during an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this month.
Hoenlein explained that the younger generation is less interested in facts, context and history and has a shorter attention span, making Israel’s case harder to make when compared to sound bites and photographs showing the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
However, he added, the organized Jewish community is beginning to engage younger Jews to reach out to their contemporaries in ways that the older generation of leaders is just not equipped to do.
Jewish organizations must “get feedback and hear more from young people,” Hoenlein said.