Israeli Officials Experience American Jewry Up Close

An Israeli delegation of senior government advisers travels to the U.S. to see firsthand the challenges faced by Jewish communities there.

from The Jerusalem Post:

Diaspora: A window into US Jewry

It is not an uncommon sight to see busloads of American Jews who have come here to better understand Jewish identity and the Holy Land, sampling our cuisine and soaking up our culture. And while Israelis certainly flock to tour America, be it Las Vegas, Disney World or the famed “coast-to-coast,” it is rarer to find busloads of them arriving in America to better understand the American Jewish community.

One of those rare groups, a delegation of senior advisers to government ministers and parliamentary correspondents who spent more than a week in America trying to understand how the world’s largest Jewish community works, thinks and, yes, even eats, recently returned.

… The awakening, for many, came on their very first day in New York, sitting bleary-eyed through a battery of introductory lectures in the Joint Distribution Committee’s offices after an all-night flight. The day began – as every day of the trip would – with bagels and cream cheese, and then featured a long list of community lay leaders and organization heads, as well as a panel consisting of a Reform, a Conservative and an Orthodox rabbi. That panel, and especially the presence of a woman rabbi, caused some raised eyebrows among the haredi members of the delegation.

The real shock, however, was when the religious and lay leaders alike expressed their concern, anger and generally high emotions surrounding what the Americans termed the “Rotem law.” The Israelis initially had little idea what their hosts were talking about, until the speaker was asked to clarify – the uproar, he said, as if it was the only possible issue of tension between American Jews and their Israeli counterparts, was MK David Rotem’s conversion legislation.

Israel Beiteinu representatives were visibly uncomfortable as speaker after speaker complained that the legislation was destructive to Jewish unity and harmful to US-Israel relations. Other members of the delegation were simply confused as to why the bill – one of a number of controversial pieces of legislation that the coalition has attempted to side-step through advisory committees and cooling-off periods – was such a key issue. Even the Knesset correspondents who had covered the bill throughout its progress were taken aback by the ferocity of the criticism.

… In Baltimore, the delegation saw a Jewish community confronting poverty and unemployment, which surprised Israelis accustomed to seeing American Jews as potential donors.

They were impressed – particularly those who deal with social welfare issues through their ministries – by the private efforts of the Jewish Social Services Agency, where the question-and-answer session became highly technical regarding immediate responses to community members so poor they required emergency food baskets.