A Response to All the Handwringing:
How Professional Cooperation Between Israeli and Overseas Jewish Professionals Can Make a Difference
by David B. Marcu
Much has been written of late (and in the past) about the evolution of two distinct and separate Jewish communities, one in Israel and one overseas, and the need for bridges of increased understanding between them.
As someone who lives in Israel (since 1984) but spends quite a bit of time in North America, I certainly can understand the growing dichotomy which concerns so many leaders on both sides and which can threaten the sense of global Jewish unity which is so important to the success of the Jewish endeavor.
In many Jewish communities in North America, efforts have been made to develop relationships between Israelis and members of these communities, and this should only be welcomed, as true understanding cannot happen without us getting to know and understand one another.
In a submission to eJP about two years ago, I wrote about the value of professional cooperation between Nonprofit Organizations (NPO’s) from Israel and overseas. My theme was that this type of collaboration was a valuable means of changing the old dynamic, essentially “leveling the playing field” and increasing the understanding among world Jewry of the value Israel can bring to the quality of social services in Jewish communities worldwide. I still believe in this proposition and have had involvement in this area on a number of levels. I believe it is time to revisit this concept as a means of increasing understanding between our communities.
Professional exchange and collaboration comes naturally to many Israelis and is a critical aspect of staying at the top of our fields in a country which, unfortunately, offers far too few opportunities for professional exchange with our neighbors. As a result, many Israeli academics, professionals and even business people have a very global outlook and seek connections overseas. Channeling this natural desire for overseas contact toward Jewish (and professional) communities overseas and creating professional dialogue with Jewish professional leaders, Jewish social service agencies, Jewish hospitals, etc., would surely provide professional enrichment for both communities. But no less important, this type of contact can lead to real understanding and empathy and ultimately a first, major, and substantive step to bridging the gap between our communities.
Understanding is not a function of “hasbara” but of seeing the world from the point of view of the other as equals and realizing how we can help each other achieve our goals. Developing such projects of professional exchange can thus benefit all by improving professionalism, creating understanding and developing connections that can continue throughout careers.
It behooves us all to find ways to make this happen in a tangible and meaningful way to the betterment of the entirety of the increasingly global Jewish community and to foster a greater sense of unity and commonality of purpose in the Jewish world. This may not be enough, but it certainly would be a valuable step in the right direction.
David B. Marcu is the CEO of Israel Elwyn, an organization that provides support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families. He is a past president of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services, is a member of the board of directors of the Israel Council for Social Welfare and serves on the professional advisory committee for youth and disabilities of “Tevet”, the employment subsidiary of JDC Israel.