By Lisa Eisen
During these Days of Awe, we are obligated to repair and redeem our relationships with our fellow human beings. This year in particular, this sacred moment is both a gift and a necessity, one we must seize not only to reconcile frayed personal relationships but especially to heal the fractured bonds our community has suffered in clashing over Israel.
This is a moment that calls upon each of us to rise above what divides us and instead focus on what unites us: a common commitment to our Jewish homeland and the need to share that commitment to build understanding of and connections to Israel in the broader world.
You need only look at the fissures of the past few months to see that the topic of Israel has become a polarizing force in our community, on college campuses and around the world. Fraught with emotion, conversations about Israel too often occur in a one-dimensional prism of conflict that overlooks the many facets of a nation defined by its complexity, beauty and diversity. Importantly, these conversations should not ignore the very real challenges that Israel must overcome at home and abroad, but they can and should be strengthened by our ability to portray the richer, fuller story of Israel and, in turn, contribute to its next chapter.
Fortunately, many young leaders in our community are showing us how to transcend divisions and elevate the conversation about Israel. Rather than debate or vilify, these individuals are expressing their passion for Israel in ways that engage instead of exclude, heal instead of wound and build bridges instead of walls.
These students, young professionals and entrepreneurs are connecting with their peers online and in person, sharing their experiences of Israel through the lenses of service, business, arts and culture, spirituality, the environment, coexistence and so much more. They are engaging others to explore Israel on their campuses and in their studios, embracing Israel’s cutting-edge advances in science and technology, partnering with Israeli professors to produce industry-building academic research, and turning to Israel as a case study and role model in board rooms, classrooms, hospitals and community centers. Collectively – and in ways as diverse as the country itself – they are helping to shed a black-and-white image of Israel by bringing to life a narrative that is rich in color, perspective and experience.
For proof you need only look at Sara Greenberg, who founded InsideIL, an organization that connects top MBA students with business internship opportunities in Israel. Or you could look at Samantha Magnes, who is turning the University of Virginia campus quad into a living room “salon” in which all are free to discuss Israel and raise questions. Or you might look at Mishy Harman, whose popular, eclectic, This American Life-style radio show, Sipur Israeli, captures stories of daily life in Jerusalem. Or at Max Finkel, who has started a campus campaign at Columbia University to offer constructive and creative alternatives to the narrative of Israel detractors. Finally, you could draw inspiration from Israeli choreographers Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor whose work invites American students to physically delve into the world of Israeli contemporary dance.
At such a crucial moment for Israel and the Jewish people, we can take heart in the efforts of Sara and Samantha, Mishy and Max, Niv and Oren. But we cannot stop there. It is up to us as funders, professionals and community leaders to celebrate and draw attention to the amazing initiatives in our networks and to invest in their growth. It is up to us to foster the spaces in which new ideas and collaborations can flourish, to amplify the voices of creative thinkers and to help galvanize more people to take action on behalf of Israel.
Our approaches can, and should, differ. Large grants can be impactful, but so can giving circle contributions, micro-funding programs and creative digital campaigns. Diversifying our efforts will lead to a diversity of new initiatives. Some may come in the form of traditional Israel advocacy. Others may be about facilitating coexistence, celebrating Israeli culture, forging academic partnerships, promoting investment and business ties or fostering social enterprise.
No matter the angle or format, we need more organic, peer-driven initiatives to bring a more comprehensive picture of Israel to life and to help change the discourse around Israel. After all, ideas that start small, on one campus or in one community, can be the spark of the next big movement. Take TAMID, for example, which started in 2008 as a club dreamed up by two students at the University of Michigan so business students could hone their investing and consulting skills through partnerships with Israeli companies. Today, there are more than 30 TAMID chapters nationwide engaging thousands of students with Israel – and that number continues to rise every year.
To amplify such efforts, over the coming months, we will be sharing profiles on the Schusterman blog of young leaders who are expanding Israel’s storyline in a variety of fields. Through these snapshots, we will showcase who these inspiring individuals are, what they are doing and why it is working. We hope to illuminate the multiplicity of ways one can forge a meaningful relationship with Israel and serve as a champion for thoughtful discussion, learning and, for some, activism.
Above all, we want to highlight these amazing initiatives as a reminder that we each have a pivotal role to play in both writing and telling the story of Israel, a story that is as nuanced as it is miraculous, and as multi-faceted as the Jewish people and Israel itself. In a community reeling from division and struggling with how to express our deep convictions about Israel, we have an opportunity and responsibility to build upon the good and be part of the solution. Starting now, during these Days of Awe, let us grab hold of this moment to heal, to redeem and to move forward together.
Lisa Eisen is the Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.