Discovering the Jewish American Community’s “Blue Ocean”

israel-us-flags-for-iacBy Shoham Nicolet

In their influential 2005 book, “Blue Ocean Strategy,” W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne shared a new paradigm for businesses. They separated entrepreneurs into two categories. Some companies operate in “Red Oceans”; they fight fiercely to gain and maintain their share of a market that has already been established, symbolically drawing blood from each other in the process (which, metaphorically, colors their body of water red). Other companies choose to look for Blue Oceans, which are untapped markets ripe for growth, with unlimited opportunities to create demand and find customers that never existed before. Kim and Mauborgne based their strategy on a study of 150 strategic moves that disrupted more than 30 industries.

Just a couple of years after publishing their book, Uber and AirBnB, completely disrupted two major industries, utilizing untapped assets. During the same period, the Jewish American community has found its own Blue Ocean: the Israeli-American community.

Israeli-Americans constitute at least 10 percent of Jewish Americans. Yet, just a decade ago, most Jewish American leaders would have told you that Israeli-Americans were not worth trying to engage. For years, they followed the lead of the Israeli government, which believed that the Israeli diaspora belonged back in Israel. For their part, Israeli-Americans remained disengaged and disconnected. Being mostly secular – we perceived synagogues and Jewish organizations in America as religious centers, and not for us.

The founders of the Israeli-American Council realized that sending all Israelis back to Israel was irrational. We looked with alarm at the much higher assimilation rates than elsewhere in the Jewish community.

And while others looked at Israeli American as a liability, we understood they could be an untapped strategic asset – a clear Blue Ocean.

Almost ten years later, and the IAC has proven that this undoubtedly the case. We were the first to call Israelis living in the US, Israeli-Americans. And around our new Israeli-American identity, we have been empowering Israeli American communities in 27 states, with ten regional offices across the nation, becoming the fastest growing Jewish American organization.

From the beginning, we understood that the future of our community lay in connecting to the larger Jewish community. It was vital for Israeli-Americans, a very young Diaspora community, to learn everything that we could from the mature and experienced Jewish diaspora.

We also realized we had something unique to contribute: our “Israeliness.” The hybrid identity of being Israeli and American has allows us to serve as living bridges within the Jewish American communities to the Hebrew language, Israeli culture and heritage, and to the State of Israel. Many Jewish community leaders have embraced this idea as well, recognizing the vast untapped potential of Israeli-Americans in bridging some of the most critical challenges facing the Jewish people.

Today 30 to 50 percent of the participants in several of our flagship programs are Jewish Americans. Bringing together Israeli and Jewish Americans provides mutual enrichment; both groups learn from and are inspired by each other. More and more, the IAC’s work is being carried out in partnership with Jewish American organizations such as American Jewish University, CJP (Boston), Hannah Senesh Community Day School, Jewish National Fund, Oshman Family JCC (Palo Alto), UJA-Federation of New York, and many more. We have dramatically increased the involvement of Israeli-American leaders in Jewish organizations – big and small – across the U.S.

This month, the IAC National Conference will gather more than 2,000 people, including representatives of more than 60 Jewish nonprofits, Israeli elected officials and policymakers, the top American Jewish leadership, and Israeli-American community leaders.

This conference is another historic milestone, bringing together Israeli and Jewish Americans to discuss the greatest challenges and most promising opportunities we share.

The message it will send is clear: we are stronger when we work together. We are determined to build on this fast-emerging partnership, unleash the vast potential of the newest Jewish American Blue Ocean, and perhaps discover new ones in the process.

Shoham Nicolet is a co-founder and the Chief Executive Officer of the Israeli-American Council.