IAC to hold seminar on bridging gaps between Israeli, Diaspora Jews
Israeli-American Council founder: We are one people and depend on each other
By ILANIT CHERNICK
In a bid to bridge the ever-growing gap between Israeli and American Jewry, the Israeli American Council and Ruderman Family Foundation are tapping into a new source to build connections: Israeli-Americans.A special session aimed at “amplifying the role of Israeli-Americans in community-wide efforts to bridge emerging gaps between Israel and Diaspora Jewry” will be held ahead of the IAC’s upcoming national summit, which begins Thursday evening.The session is being co-chaired by renowned businessman and philanthropist Charles Bronfman. The organizations said that through “strategic conversation,” they will “explore methods of harnessing the untapped potential of the estimated population of estimated 800,000 Israeli-Americans” to strengthen Israel-Diaspora ties.The Jerusalem Post spoke this week with co-founder and CEO of the IAC Shoham Nicolet and Ruderman Family Foundation president Jay Ruderman to find out more about how they hope to get this initiative rolling. Nicolet explained that Israeli-Americans “are an untapped asset.”“It is a strategic power that is becoming transformative for Jewish America and for Israel,” he said. “Fulfilling the full potential of its hybrid identity depends on our ability to work in partnership with and within the Jewish American community.”Asked about the methods they hope to use to cultivate these connections and start the process of bridging the gap, Nicolet said the special session is a good example.“A big part of our work is in partnership and collaboration with Jewish-American organizations. At the same time, we educate our community to leverage their hybrid identity and become leaders in their communities and on campuses.”He added that Israeli-Americans’ being able to speak both “Israeli” and “American” is a gift in this “pivotal moment.”Another example is IAC Gvanim, “which fosters the next generation of Israeli-American leaders within the Jewish-American community.”Nicolet explained that participants in this program examine questions of belonging, community building and leadership.“This leadership program’s graduates eventually become the leadership backbone of their communities; they’re educated and aware of the history, complexities and the politics of Jewish America,” he said, adding that they ultimately become “a living bridge.”Ruderman told the Post that “more recently, as the Israeli community in America has grown, it is clear there is much potential to use it as a bridge between the sides,” adding that “as an organization, we believe the American Jewish community must represent all of its parts.”Addressing the growing gap between Israeli and American Jews, Nicolet said that the younger generation “is not only disconnected from Israel, but also from its Jewish identity and communal life.The IAC is working to turn this challenge into an opportunity, Nicolet said.“Community with Israel at heart makes the young generation feel a sense of purpose, belonging and pride,” he explained. “The gap is exactly where the biggest potential is.”Ruderman also pointed out that a research paper written by the Institute for National Security Studies last year “showed issues of religious pluralism, contradicting political agendas, and a difference in self-perception (Israelis see themselves as a majority, while American Jews view themselves as a minority) are the three key issues.”But Nicolet said that if the Israeli and American communities can select shared goals – big and small, short- and long-term – and work together to achieve them, this will build trust and help bridge gaps.“Israel is a project of the Jewish people, by the Jewish people, for the Jewish people,” Ruderman said. “In many ways, its identity as the national home for the Jews is dependent on its relationship with those Jews who are not Israeli.”He explained that, at the same time, “Judaism has always held a special place for Israel as a spiritual and physical home, and it is almost impossible to foster a strong Jewish identity without connecting to Israel.”“In other words, for Israel to remain the Jewish state, it needs to engage with Diaspora Jews – and they need to engage with Israel to remain Jews over time,” he said.Nicolet added that “our future depends on how deep our connection will be. Tremendous challenges are ahead of us, and only interconnection will secure strength and resiliency for Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.