Whenever I am asked by confused Israelis about the Jewish organizational “alphabet soup” my answer is: “Look for the ‘J’. If it is there, one can rest assured that the organization stays within the tribe.”
When I try to describe the evolving relationships between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, I often use the letter “P.” “Look for the ‘P’ and explore the brief history of time”:
P1. The Pioneers era: The pre-state era was a good time for the relationship between the Jews in the land of Israel (Palestine) and the Jews in exile (Diaspora). Actually, they were the same people, core family members who were separated from each other and tried to support one another in their survival. The movement on the “living bridge” was quite intensive, taking into consideration the technology and communication difficulties. I was recently comparing notes when I saw the 150th anniversary exhibition of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. During that ancient time, the newly arrived Jews of New Jersey were building their synagogues and community agencies, while their cousins, the pioneers of Eretz Israel, were doing the same thousands of miles away. In spite of the distance and the different settings, the culture of doing things was similar and their Jewish identities were almost identical.
P2. The Projects era: During the first three decades of the State of Israel, Diaspora Jewry related to their Israeli brethren as the poor and needy family members who were creating miracles every day. The American Jewish community was getting stronger and helped the development of the post-Holocaust young state of Israel by supporting settlements, aliyah, the economy, and security related projects. In fact, the creation of the state itself is often described as “a project of world Jewry.”
Everything back then was project-oriented and the relationship was based on financial aid coming from abroad to ensure the project’s success. What ended this era was another huge initiative between Israel and the Diaspora called “Project Renewal,” through which Diaspora communities raised funds to renew underprivileged Israeli neighborhoods. The Jewish community in northern New Jersey was paired with the neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu in Rishon LeZion, a relationship that continues to develop even today.
P3. The Programs era: In the eighties, we moved from bombastic “projects” to softer “programs.” World Jewry realized that the State of Israel was a fait accompli and supporting it was a great way to connect people. At the same time Israelis began to understand that Jewish communities abroad were not in exile, they were there to stay and served as a great source of financial and political support. During that era many social, welfare, educational, and cultural programs were developed in Israel through the generous assistance of Jewish communities and individuals abroad. It was a highly productive period of time but the historic natural and intimate relationships were weakening. The mutual responsibility (areyvut) that accompanied our people for generations focused on financial support and it was not enough.
P4. The Partnership era: One effective response to the need to renew and energize the connections between Israel and Diaspora Jewry was the development of regional partnerships. Under the platform of Jewish Agency for Israel’s “Partnership 2000,” many Jewish communities, mainly from North America, were matched with regions in Israel, especially on the periphery. P2K provided a way for Diaspora communities to take an active role in developing Israel by working hand-in-hand with Israelis and participating in a joint decision-making process. United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ (UJC) was unique in that it developed a network of five different partnership regions all over the country. This microcosm, which represents the mosaic of Israel’s demography, sociology, and geography, allows us to answer real needs in real time, working as one team on both sides of the ocean. However, the partnerships’ platform by itself is not sufficient. The real challenge is to jointly identify and develop the content of what the partners will do together.
P5 and P6. The Pluralism & Peoplehood era: It is clear that the Jewish identity and community sense of individuals and institutions can be extremely different. No longer is it just about diverse interpretations of the same core values. Many times the feeling is that Jewish communities around the world, especially the two large concentrations in North America and in Israel, are going in opposite directions. The young generations on both sides of the ocean are looking for other, more universal values. The glue that bonded us through the years is not that strong anymore.
To reverse this devastating phenomenon, I suggest we try to create meaningful encounters between Jews from around the globe. When we meet each other, visit with our peers, and speak about our diverse Jewish identities, we rediscover the pillars that unite us. It is essential to Israelis that there be acknowledgement that Judaism is pluralistic and that there are many ways to express one’s Judaism. Getting to know Israel and experiencing the power of the encounter is essential for North Americans. UJC is a national leader in developing, implementing, and supporting programs that emphasize this concept. For us, “Jewish peoplehood” and “religious pluralism” are not just buzzwords. They are the fuel that feeds the engine of the vehicle that keeps us together.
P7. The Powerhouse era: in order to face the changing world and to implement all of the above, UJC created the Israel Center. This is the powerhouse that allows our community to generate so much energy and innovation. It includes the Israel Program Center of MetroWest, the MetroWest Israel office, and the Israel and Overseas, Partnership 2000, and Religious Pluralism committees. Together we are able to join forces, better accommodate the needs, and provide effective responses to the developing challenges facing our people.
The Israel Center is offering you an affordable opportunity to get a personal, in-depth look on the above P1-P7 items. From March 11-17, we invite community members to join the “ICE—Israel Center Experience.” During the week we will travel around Israel, spend quality time with our extended family, visit the programs and partnerships that we have developed, and engage in hands-on projects. We will have much fun being together and celebrating our connections. Space is limited and time is of the essence. For registration please contact:
Neimah Tractenberg: email@example.com
Noga Maliniak: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Fried: email@example.com
Atara Muoio-Tastas: Atara@ujc.org.il