A New Vision for the Relationship between Israeli and North American Jewry

Israel-US-FlagBy Nadav Tamir

The relationship between Israeli and North American Jewry is in crisis with dramatic implications for the future of both communities. How the relationship between the two largest and most important Jewish communities develops will have a significant impact on the continuity of the Jewish people.

Those of us in Israel, who feel connected to both communities and strongly committed to the future of our country and of the entire Jewish People, must address this problem, and make our voices heard in order to mend the current rift.

The essence of Zionism and its core mission was to establish a State that maintains the balance between a democracy where all citizens (Jews and non-Jews alike) are equal, and a national home for the Jewish People both in Israel and in the Diaspora. Without partnership with the North American Jewish community, we will not remain the authentic national home for the Jewish People. Such a partnership cannot be sustained if we view the vast majority of our brothers and sisters in North America as second class Jews. Moreover, we should not relate to them one dimensionally, expecting them to donate money and blindly support our political stands. In addition, too many Israelis consider the way many North American Jews express their Judaism as illegitimate and dismiss them because they choose to live abroad.

We cannot expect them to take an interest in us without us taking an interest in them.

The old paradigm which explained our common identity as Jews based on a shared past or common threats (the Holocaust, anti-Semitism of the past or Iran and terrorism of the present) – no longer constitutes a good enough reason on either side of the ocean to sustain the relationship, especially where the younger generation is concerned.

The younger generation in North America today does not have to grapple with Anti-Semitism or share their parents’ guilt feelings for having abandoned the Jews in Europe. Young people watch Israel moving away from the liberal values that define their identity and find it difficult to see in it a source of inspiration. They encounter a State of Israel that cannot countenance legitimate criticism, dismissing its critics as anti-Semites and delegitimizers. Our defensive and aggressive reactions alienate many Jewish people in the Diaspora, especially the younger ones who expect and demand open discussion rather than accusations.

We have a lot to learn from each other.

Studies held among graduates of ‘Birthright’ and ‘Masa’ prove that Israel can, in a meaningful way, contribute to Jewish continuity. A visit to Israel usually adds value to the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews and motivates them to take part in the life of the community.

Studies further show that politics is not what binds these young people to Israel but rather the exposure to the dynamism and attractiveness of Israeli society. When we put politics at the center of our relationship and make it a pre-requisite for partnership, we turn Israel into a separator rather than a connecting factor.

We Israelis have a lot to learn from the Jewish communities in North America about the strength of community, pluralism, and the power of philanthropy. Perhaps due to a vestige of our socialist founders, most of us still expect the State to solve all of our problems. On the other hand, North American Jews have been able to form communities based on mutual support and shared values. We can also learn from them about religious pluralism. They have been able to generate many options for living a Jewish life unrestricted by the monopoly of one stream, so that more people, even “secular” Jews, can feel at home with and enthusiastic about their Judaism..

In order to preserve the Jewish People, there is an urgent need to formulate a forward looking vision of our relationship and to stop basing the connection on the past or on fear. We have to produce a new vision for the future of the Jewish people and its role in the world that is relevant and attractive to the younger generation.

There is a need for an inspiring message based on human values, both Jewish and global, and on the Jewish humanistic concept of “Tikkun Olam.”

We must form a real partnership where both sides, Israeli citizens (Jews and non-Jews alike) and Diaspora Jews, get to know one another and discover mutual interests. It must be a partnership based on an open dialogue and common projects, where both communities join hands in order to promote a shared vision and shared values.

We must promote this partnership in order to stop the erosion of the relationship before it is too late. This is a call for action. And the solution’s in our hands.

Nadav Tamir, a Wexner Israel Fellowship alum (Class 15) is currently serving as the chairperson of the alumni association of the Israel – Wexner program.

Nadav is the Director for Government and International Affairs at Peres & Associates , a consulting firm (on a leave of absence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.) Previously, Nadav served as the policy adviser to the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres. Nadav has also served as Consul General of Israel in New England, as an adviser to the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as a political officer at Israel’s Embassy to the United States. Before his tour in Washington DC, he served as policy assistant to three Foreign Ministers. Mr. Tamir received his B.A magna cum laude in political science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

An earlier version of Nadav’s article appeared on the Wexner Foundation Blog.