5 Things We Learned During the Jewish “Assemblies” Week

MAKOM-Global-Jewish-forumby Robbie Gringras

Jerusalem has recently been a-popping with assemblies and conferences. The Assembly of the Jewish Agency for Israel overlapped with the General Assembly of Jewish Federations (GA), which fed into the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency … A real party!

Makom was highly involved in all these gatherings, and as well as working like dogs, we also learned a few fascinating lessons …

1. We were surprised that non-Israelis were surprised that Israelis are engaged on meaningful journeys of Jewish Identity.

Yes, that’s right – a double surprise. At the session we ran at the GA on the Jewish identity of Israelis, we decided to take multi-vocality to its ultimate conclusion. Instead of having a panel of a few Israelis, we invited over 27 Israelis involved in all sorts of different Jewish identity questions, and sat them around small discussion tables. That way everyone would hear at least three different stories. From the head of a Secular Yeshiva, to the leader of a group of Orthodox gay men, to the orthodox woman working for the New Israel Fund. People from the far North, deep South, trendy center. People born in Israel and born elsewhere. All of them engaged and committed to expanding their own and other Israelis’ Jewish horizons.

Many participants at the GA were amazed and excited to hear of the plethora of ways Israelis are traveling their own Jewish journeys. And we at Makom? We were also excited, but also a little sad that this was so surprising to so many people. What have we been doing wrong – what has the established Jewish world been doing wrong – for such a significant social and religious revolution in Israel to go unnoticed?

2. Waze is not just a great app: It’s a great metaphor for Israel Education

The fifth Global Jewish Forum that we ran was entitled Moving Israel Education. The publicity image we decided on drew on a screen grab from Waze. Waze is an Israeli hi-tech invention recently bought by Google for over a billion dollars. It’s a mobile application that works as a sophisticated GPS navigator.

You key in your destination. It immediately recognizes where you are. It maps the fastest route for you to reach your destination.

But not only by looking at the map. It also gathers information from all the other users of Waze at that moment, so as to gain an up-to-date picture of where there are traffic hold-ups – and it alters your route accordingly.

So now think about Israel Education throughout the world – where are we? What is our starting position? Where would we like to get to? There are so few clear definitions of what an ideal Israel Education graduate should look like. Should s/he be an Israel advocate on the barricades? An immigrant to Israel? An enriched Hebrew-reading Israelophile?

It’s no good hoping to get somewhere while keying in a different place altogether.

And finally, what are the obstacles in the way of our reaching our destination, and how can they be avoided or overcome? Just as with Waze, this final question of obstacles can only be answered through the shared information and shared perspectives of everyone else out on the highways and byways of Jewish life.

3. 70 Faces to Pew

Everyone has their own interpretation of the Pew report, and it all depends on where you live. The Jewish People no longer needs to create midrash around the Tanach – we have the Pew Report instead. As many interpretations as there are Jews – and even that is under dispute. We have learned from Americans that all is great, and from Brits that all is rather miserable. Funny that.

Much seems to revolve around the rough figures that suggest that some 20% of children from intermarried parents are brought up Jewish. Some celebrate the cup half (well, fifth) full, some bemoan that the cup is four-fifths empty, and others argue we should just make sure the cup is full of wine, not water. Elu v’elu …

4. A great panel is a mix of the formal, the informal, and the environment

We ran two successful panels this last week. Firstly, we called them a Salon rather than a Panel. Second, we ensured that the participants were intelligent, different, and spoke a common language. Third, we worked hard to ask them questions that would inspire them to be brilliant, and that might require them to formulate ideas they’d not articulated before. Both in the stunning meeting between Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Fania Oz-Salzberger, and the foursome at the Global Jewish Forum, we were honored to be witness to wisdom writ large and live. Videos to come …

5. You can’t move without the personal and you can’t get anywhere without the policy

Our open salon during the Global Jewish Forum offered some wonderful examples of how we need to combine the Jewish heart together with the Jewish brain. Sarah Tuttle-Singer, of The Times of Israel, reminded us how poignant and powerful is the personal story. While sitting to her left Zohar Raviv of Birthright Taglit, demonstrated with passion how the bird’s-eye view of the practical philosopher is irreplaceable. Without the personal we lose sight of who we are working for, and without the high-order planning we don’t manage to help even when we wish to.

The run-down of what we learned and taught can be found here.

Robbie Gringras is Artist-in-Residence at Makom.

cross-posted at the Makom blog