An employee arranges an Israeli national flag next to a U.S. one.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I had the great privilege to be at two very inspiring events last week. One at the Knesset and one at Jerusalem City Hall. At the Knesset I attended a gala event to mark the great contribution that the American Jewish community has made to Israel, both prior to and of course during the 68 years of the State of Israel. The City Hall event was hosted by Mayor Nir Barkat to recognize this year’s Unity Prize winners ahead of next week’s Unity Day and gala ceremony to be hosted by President Reuven Rivlin.
At each there were of course a number of speakers but I would like to mention comments by two, one from the Knesset and one from the Unity Prize event.
At the Knesset Richard Sandler spoke on behalf of the Jewish communities of North America (a fairly heavy burden in of itself) and at City Hall Tzila Schneider as one of the prize winners.
Richard and Tzila could really not be from more different Jewish backgrounds.
Tzila was born and raised in the Mea She’arim, Richard was born and raised 12,000 kilometers away in Los Angeles. Tzila is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mother of 11 while father of three Richard has been a member of the Valley Beth Shalom Conservative Synagogue all his life. Tzila runs an organization called Kesher Yehudi that pairs haredim and secular Israelis in learning pairs. The only rule is that each respect the other’s views and that the basis for the meeting is that they do not persuade, just build relationships. Richard is the chairman of the JFNA, the umbrella organization for the Jewish Federations in North America and itself a major philanthropic organization.
There is no doubt in my mind that they have very different views on religion and many social issues. I can imagine that Zionism and Israel would be subjects that they might not see eye to eye on. Indeed it is likely that at a day to day level they lead almost completely different lives in different languages with very different cultural backgrounds and personal aspirations.
However in the space of 24 hours and less than three kilometers apart they said the same thing.
In front of Israel’s prime minister, leader of the opposition, Knesset speaker and many other dignitaries Sandler shared his thoughts on the values that connect the American Jewish community and Israel. He described them as the values he received from his father and grandfather and is trying to pass to his children and grandchildren – “I believe that our value system teaches us responsibility to make this world better, to give back, to do the best you can do while you are here, and those are values that come from the Torah.”
Schneider spoke on behalf of her organization that she founded in an attempt to bridge gaps between haredi and secular people in Israel, but without the traditional haredi motivation of religious outreach. She too expressed clearly that it is the Torah that connects all Jews, and indeed she said “which Jew would say that the Torah does not belong to them” in a comment that I understood to mean that no single Jewish group or stream may have a monopoly on the Torah.
It struck me that Richard and Tzila read the Torah very differently and reach a very different set of conclusions about ritual and practice, although it is clear both from their words and work that their respect for other Jews forms a very core element of their Torah and its interpretation.
I am incredibly proud to be part of such a people, that can span physical distance, cultural and religious diversity and very wide ranging belief systems and still feel that our bedrock of tradition and beliefs is grounded in the same sources. I am also optimistic that Jewish leaders like Richard and Tzila can bridge the gaps, which often look unbridgeable, and in so doing open new chapters in the history of the Jewish people, in Israel and the Diaspora.The writer is chairman of Gesher and managing partner of Goldrock Capital.