Let’s talk to each other

Can our government leadership really claim surprise at the way American Jewry is reacting to these decisions? There ought to be a way to deal with these issues in a minimally divisive manner.

By J.J. SUSSMAN
June 28, 2017 23:22
3 minute read.
Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]

Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Did anyone expect a different reaction? The government’s decision to indefinitely freeze the Western Wall compromise, combined with the conversion bill, has predictably infuriated many leaders of Jewish organizations in the US. I sure hope someone has a short-term plan.

I am currently traveling in the US. Upon arrival, I picked up this week’s edition of the New York Jewish Week to find the front-page headline screaming “Next- Gen Americans Pulling Away from Israel.”

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The editorial title in the same issue read “Wake Up Call for Israel.” Can our government leadership really claim surprise at the way American Jewry is reacting to these decisions? There ought to be a way to deal with these issues in a minimally divisive manner.

Over the past year, we at Gesher, together with the government, have brought close to 100 leaders from across the spectrum of Israeli society to listen to, engage with and learn from Jewish communities outside of Israel. These leaders – haredim, hilonim and dati’im (ultra-Orthodox, secular and Orthodox, respectively) – hold different opinions on many issues.

Yet we managed to facilitate a dialogue creating a place for those differences of opinion to be aired. We did this while not only not preserving the love and responsibility we have for one another, but actually increasing that affiliation, creating a sense of mutual responsibility among Jews all over the world.

The discussions and sessions on these trips have been fascinating and transformative in many ways. Witnessing a young student lobby passionately for Israel at the UCLA Hillel House when I accompanied a group of senior Israeli journalists of varying opinions and walks of life was heartwarming.

He has led the fight against the boycott movement on campus. He has tenaciously fought antisemitism on campus. To hear that same student then explain that he grew up in a small town outside of Chicago with a Jewish father and a Christian mother is understandably confusing to the Israeli ear: How do we accept him? Is he Jewish? Does it matter? Can he get married in Israel? How does the fact that this demographic represents a massive part of American Jewry affect Israel as “the Jewish state?” We need to find a “place” for them that works for them, as well as for us.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s absolutely acceptable to agree or disagree with American Jews – but not from a place of ignorance. It is satisfying, predictable and frankly gratifying to see that so many of the leaders who took our course have reacted to the decision with much more nuance and intimate knowledge than they would have had this issue arisen prior to their participation. Across the various media outlets, our graduates are voicing their opinions – from Ynet to NRG, from Makor Rishon to Haaretz, from Radio 103 to Radio Kol Hai, and on Facebook and Twitter the issue is garnering significant attention as a deep rift in the various Jewish communities in Israel and abroad. Yes, there is disagreement.

But when disagreeing, even vociferously, there can be understanding and respect.

Often, and definitely in the past few days, short-term political considerations seem to have trumped any need to even take into consideration the longer-term needs and desires of the rest of the Jewish nation. That’s more than unfortunate – it’s destructive in very concrete ways, as we may very shortly see. Clearly, while we have accomplished so much as a nation, we still have such a long way to go. We will not give up. We will continue to foster dialogue, listening, learning and understanding. Without it, I fear that the next generation of American Jews won’t be pulling away from Israel, they’ll have been pushed away.

The writer, a Director at Gesher, has led three cohorts of senior Israeli leaders to the United States in the last 12 months.


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