Widespread concern over Israel-Diaspora relations, poll finds

72% of American Jews either identified more strongly with Israel than before or identified as strongly as before.

President Rivlin at Amos Oz memorial event - 7 February 2020 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Rivlin at Amos Oz memorial event - 7 February 2020
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation is generally associated with advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels of society, from kindergarten onward.
In its mission statement, the foundation expresses its belief that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community.
The foundation’s other missions are to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community, and to model the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide.
In line with these goals, representatives of the foundation came together at the President’s Residence on Wednesday evening with delegates from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Gesher Foundation, which promotes dialogue between religious, secular and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors of Israeli society through educational programs in the general school system and in the Israel Defense Forces.
In the audience were members of numerous Israeli and American Jewish organizations and institutions whom Shira Ruderman, the Israeli-born director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, urged to raise their voices and speak about their feelings regarding Israel and their Jewish identities.
She claimed that reports about the decline of American Jewry’s identification with Israel were erroneous. In the most recent surveys she said, 72% of American Jews either identified as or more strongly with Israel than before.
Although the event was titled “Keeping it in the Family: Strengthening the Israel Diaspora Relationship,” the speakers were either Israelis, Americans, Israeli-born Americans or American-born Israelis. There was one notable exception – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was not physically present, but in a video broadcast stated that a monumental effort must be made to depoliticize the relations between American Jewry and Israel.
Calling the partnership between Israel and the American Jewish community “one of the greatest partnerships in Jewish history,” Sacks said that this partnership was a marriage not a divorce, and as in every marriage there were occasional disagreements.
ISRAEL PRIZE laureate Miriam Peretz said when the Children of Israel left Egypt, what they took with them was hope. It was this hope which was disseminated from generation to generation that enabled Jews to rise again and again from persecution. “Hope is something we must continue to pass on” she insisted, adding that it was not a big deal to come and talk about Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora relationships at the President’s Residence. These subjects must be part of an ongoing dialogue throughout the Jewish world, she said.
She also suggested that Israel be more respectful to Diaspora Jewry and pay more attention to what it has to offer in terms of ideas and experience.
“Perhaps we should stop sending emissaries to the United States, and instead have American Jewish communities send emissaries to us,” she proposed.
One of the major points of dispute between Israeli religious authorities and Diaspora Jews is the question of who is a Jew.
Many people who were converted abroad, even those converted by Orthodox rabbis, find when they come to Israel that their Jewish status is not recognized.
Retired Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, when asked by Ruderman to explain what justice means in Judaism, replied that “justice is part of the genetic code of the Jewish people.”
He also made the point that the Hebrew words for justice (tzedek) and charity (tzedaka) come from the same root, showing that charity is born out of a sense of justice. Drawing a parallel between charity and harmony, Rubinstein said that in court, judges try to merge justice with harmony.
There should be greater harmony in the area of conversion, he said, underscoring that all Jewish trends must be respected.
“Antisemites don’t care what sort of a Jew you are, and look at all Jews in the same way,” he commented.
Rubinstein also related to the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, stating that more must be done to give them a feeling of equality and belonging.
Earlier on, Rivlin had raised the issue of who is a Jew, a problem that had also bothered Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who in October 1958, had sent a letter to fifty leading Jewish scholars in Israel and abroad to get their thoughts on the subject. Ben-Gurion personally believed that Judaism in itself is great, and that the Jewish people, having been influenced by many sources, enabled it to flourish in different cultural environments.
Given the current atmosphere, Rivlin was of the opinion that there should be a return to Ben-Gurion’s viewpoint.
While there is now an Israeli definition of who is a Jew, it does not always coincide with the definitions in different Diaspora communities, which is why “the question of who is a Jew is more relevant than ever,” said Rivlin.