New initiative sends MKs to US – not to talk, but to listen

Exlusive: Six Knesset members will receive a crash course on the complex structure of the organized US Jewish community.

Knesset winter session 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Knesset winter session 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Six MKs will get a crash course on the intricate structure of the organized US Jewish community next month, under a new initiative sponsored by the Boston- and Israel-based Ruderman Family Foundation and Brandeis University, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.
The first-ever Ruderman Fellows Program kicks off in Boston on April 3 and will see the lawmakers learning about the US Jewish community from a variety of perspectives.
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Each day of the five-day trip, which will also take the MKs to New York, has a different theme, including “Understanding the American Jewish Community,” “How the Case for Israel is Made in the US” and “American Jewry’s Next Generation.”
In addition, the MKs – Eitan Cabel and Daniel Ben- Simon of Labor, Tzipi Hotovely and Carmel Shama Hacohen of the Likud, and Avi Dichter and Ronit Tirosh of Kadima – will hold informational meetings with top Jewish communal leaders such as Anti- Defamation League director Abe Foxman; American Israel Public Affairs Committee Executive Director Howard Kohr; Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Jerry Silverman; American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger; American Joint Distribution Committee CEO and Executive Vice President Steven Schwager; and Jewish Funders Network President Rabbi Mark Charendoff.
“The Jews are all one people, and we have a common link wherever we live, whether it’s in Israel or in the US,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “There is only one Jewish country, and the people running the State of Israel must know that their decisions impact Jews all over the world.”
He added, “It’s very important the representatives of the largest Jewish community in the world [Israel] have close ties with the representatives of the world’s secondlargest Jewish community.”
Ruderman, who lives in Israel but travels regularly between here and the US, said the main goal was to “take leaders who have a future in politics, in the government and in the Knesset in general and educate them on what the American Jewish community is all about.”
He said he believed the program “will help to create links that will lead to better legislation and decisions for the entire Jewish world.”
In addition to learning the structure of the organized Jewish community, the program’s participants will also get a glimpse of the religious divides that cut across the six-million-strong community, and receive detailed analyses from scholars and professors at Brandeis University, among others. Jewish journalists and students are also included in the roster of speakers.
“There are so many Jewish organizations in America, and when I was the director-general of the Education Ministry, I often got confused over each one’s role and goals,” Tirosh said. “It is very important for us as Israelis and specifically as legislators to understand what each group represents and what their function is in the community.”
She added that “as Israelis, we also have to know where each organization stands in contrast to each other, especially certain organizations such as J Street, which are less known in Israel.”
Tirosh said that it was essential for her as a lawmaker to understand how legislation passed in the Knesset and other political decisions made in Israel could impact Jewish communities worldwide, in terms of both Jewish identity and anti-Semitism.
“Over the past 10 years, I have spoken in so many forums to Jews in the US and to American Jewish groups visiting Israel, but I’m always there to tell them about Israel, and I’ve never had the opportunity to sit in an official way and hear about the American Jewish community, which is nearly as big as ours here in Israel,” former public security minister Dichter said.
“There are so many different groups, and Israel is important to all of them, but they all have different aims and agendas,” he continued. “I’m just wondering why no one thought of this idea sooner. I’m embarrassed that I have spoken to so many groups in America, but I know so little about their goals, connections and interactions with each other.”
Former welfare and social services minister Isaac Herzog, who has also served as Diaspora affairs minister, was among the politicians Ruderman consulted before establishing the fellows program. He said on Thursday that because of Israel’s centrality in the Jewish world, it was important for all MKs to have this kind of exposure and to better understand Jewish communities worldwide.