Israelis who think Israel should consider US Jews in decisions on the rise

"In a survey from 2013, 54% of Israelis didn't believe Israel should consider the opinions of American Jews on issues that affect them," Israeli-American philanthropist Shira Ruderman told the Post.

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)

If you ask Israeli-American philanthropist Shira Ruderman about the connection between Israeli and North American Jews, she’s optimistic.

“In a survey that we conducted in 2013, 54% of Israelis said that there is ‘no need for Israeli leaders to consider the opinions’” of US Jews before voting on issues that may affect them, she told The Jerusalem Post in a Zoom interview from her home in a Boston suburb.

Ruderman cited a survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2022 that indicated a paradigm shift. In the AJC survey of Israeli millennials, 71.6% said Israel “should consider the well-being of American Jews in making its policy decisions” very much, quite a lot and somewhat. Twenty percent said there should be no consideration whatsoever.

“We ran a survey 10 years ago on the topic of attitudes of Israelis toward US Jews, and the results were very depressing,” she said. “We realized that we needed to advocate for this topic much more because there wasn’t anyone doing it.”

 Shira Ruderman with President Isaac Herzog. (credit: MEIR ELIPOUR) Shira Ruderman with President Isaac Herzog. (credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)

“Less than 30% of the Israeli public said they were interested in US Jews in 2013, and in the last survey we conducted after Joe Biden was elected [US president], 75% of Israelis said they believe in the importance of this connection,” Ruderman said.

Furthermore, the Israelis also said in this survey that “the State of Israel needs to invest money in its connection with world Jewry,” she said.

Ruderman said she and her staff had met with various heads of media outlets in Israel who were not excited about partnering with them on these issues.

“The State of Israel needs to invest money in its connection with world Jewry.”

Philanthropist Shira Ruderman

“We met with heads of the top Israeli media outlets and companies, and they were all not enthusiastic or interested in promoting this connection,” she said. “They said, ‘Whoever wants, can make aliyah to Israel. But why should we invest in  this connection to world Jewry?’”

Jerusalem Unity Prize

Ruderman recently received the Jerusalem Unity Prize at the President’s Residence. She was the winner of the international category of the prestigious prize.

“Shira Ruderman is a professional philanthropist and social activist who serves as the director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen brotherhood and the fateful partnership between all sections of the people in Israel and between Israel and the Jewish communities in the United States,” the prize committee said.

The Jerusalem Unity Prize in Memory of Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, and Israel Unity Day, is a joint initiative between former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and the families of Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, of blessed memory, who were kidnapped while hitchhiking near Alon Shvut and murdered in June 2014.

Ruderman serves as the executive director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a private family foundation that invests in three primary areas of focus: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society; strengthening the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide.

She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa and Brandeis University and has a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She also served three years as a commander in the IDF Intelligence Corps and now serves as the chairwoman of the Fulbright Foundation. She is married to foundation president Jay Ruderman; they live in Boston with their four children.

Ruderman said she had received an urgent phone call from Barkat, one of the initiators of the prize.

“It came as a complete surprise to me,” she said. “I was nervous. I thought something happened, or maybe that Israel was going to elections again and that I missed something. It’s not just myself receiving recognition, but actually having a serious committee honor you for something you value – that’s the most important thing to me.”

“My life mission has been devoted to the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Ruderman said, adding that “My life mission began before I joined the foundation.”

“The fact that my reality is made up of a world of connecting between Israel, a country I grew up in, to Diaspora Jewry is a miracle, in my opinion,” she said. “Today, I know how to appreciate that I am on this axis. As a believer, I didn’t understand why God put me in this situation: marrying an American-Jew, moving to the US and working in the world of philanthropy. I grew up living the most Israeli middle-class life. Suddenly I was in another world.”

When asked what she thought was the difference they brought to the Jewish world, Ruderman said: “We made it clear that we wanted the discussion about the relationship between Israel and US Jewry to not be behind closed doors.”

The discussion took place before the foundation focused on the subject, but it was not something that the masses took part in or could even listen to, she said.

The Rudermans, in a way, have created many programs that others have learned from or duplicated. They sent out delegations of Israeli opinion leaders to the Diaspora to expose them to American Jewry. Others did it before, but they were able to bring the top media personalities and politicians.

They launched an MA program at the University of Haifa about American Jewry, and years later, many more Israeli academic institutions are following in their footsteps. Any project that the Rudermans invest in is star-studded and at the top level of content – something they are very proud of.

Years later, the “ecosystem” of promoting Jewish Diaspora knowledge and connections in Israel has become very popular and crowded.

“On the one hand, it’s challenging, and on the other hand, it’s a big compliment,” Ruderman said regarding the growing number of players in the small ecosystem.

“In the business world, competition is good,” she said. “In the social activism world, it’s less perceived as good. For us it is a success. Large donors have entered this field, such as Charles Bronfman and others. Bronfman was in touch with us, after everyone who they spoke to told him that we are the ones pioneering this topic in Israel.”

The foundation is now focused on many other projects on the connection between Israel and US Jews in honor of Israel’s 75th Independence Day.