By Ben Ravid
When it comes to supporting Israel, there are issues that are more important than politics. This was as evident as ever to me during a fascinating session at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference.
In the session, Members of Knesset Merav Michaeli (Labor) and Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) put aside their parties’ political rivalry to discuss female leadership in Israel. Their personal stories filled me and the other attendees with inspiration and optimism about Israel’s present and future. It was a rare moment in an Israeli election season where politics didn’t dominate the conversation.
This represents a core component of AIPAC’s mission, as well as the work of Shlichim (emissaries) like myself in Diaspora communities. There are always political discussions and by consequence, political disagreements among the Jewish people. But it’s important to remember that support and love for Israel isn’t connected to politics.
I had the privilege of being part of the unprecedented delegation of 120 Jewish Agency Shlichim who attended the AIPAC conference from March 24-26. Although the conference took place in Washington, D.C., I felt that I’d actually landed in Israel. The amount of love, diversity of opinions, and level of support (combined with constructive criticism) that we received as Shlichim was enormous and unlike anything I’d experienced before. There’s no doubt that the conference gave me and my fellow Shlichim an even greater sense of purpose in our work to build connections to Israel and Jewish identity across North America.
As a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow in Montreal, I interact with students from a broad range of backgrounds and with a wide variety of opinions about Israel. We make Hillel Montreal the home for genuine dialogue, whatever those opinions might be. Our student community’s love for Israel includes support, care, criticism, a desire to improve, a desire to learn, and more.
Today, the younger generation asks more questions than its predecessors. And if they ask questions, we need to give them answers. Further, we must not give the younger generation the feeling that there’s no room for their questions. Their curiosity is legitimate, in any form. Everything about Israel is on the table, there’s nothing to hide.
Of course, this approach brings many challenges and considerable work. Through educational content and programs, we try to provide a safe space for students whose opinions about Israel range from the right to the left to everywhere in between. But with an understanding that the home we create at Hillel has room for everyone, the hard work pays off.
As an emissary, The Jewish Agency brings me useful tools for how to educate better, how to talk about Israel, and how to achieve that goal of creating a safe space around Israel in my community in Montreal. But more than that, The Jewish Agency’s Shlichut (emissary work) program has created one of the most important platforms we have today in the Jewish world – a connection between the young generation in Israel and the younger generation of Jews around the world, creating personal relationships that will stand the test of time. Much like AIPAC, The Jewish Agency gives its Shlichim conferences that educate and inspire us. The organization invests in us, and that investment is expressed daily on our campuses and in the other communities we serve.
The more that Jewish society around the world is exposed to modern Israel through Shlichim and in other ways, the better. At the same time, this investment should be a two-way street. It’s crucial for the Jews of the Diaspora to visit Israel on personal or professional trips not only to fall in love with the Jewish state, but to inspire Israelis to strengthen their own connections to world Jewry and Jewish peoplehood.
AIPAC’s annual conference, meanwhile, can be fascinating for many students in Israel. It can expose them to the same powerful experience that I had last month. Such a conference can also more deeply connect the young generation in Israel with Diaspora Jewry.
And throughout the course of this journey of expanding their relationship, Israeli and Diaspora Jews must continue to take their dialogue and shared experiences politics. While many people are inclined to think that most issues relating to Israel are black and white, let’s keep acknowledging and examining the grey areas in the middle. As Jews around the world, the State of Israel belongs to all of us. Let’s cherish this special gift.
Ben Ravid is the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Hillel Montreal, powered by GenMTL, Federation CJA.