The Israeli American Community Comes of Age

Netta Barzilai, winner of Eurovision 2018, speaks at the IAC National Summit.

By Joseph Hyman

Despite this morning’s headlines critiquing President Trumps remarks at the Israeli American Council Conference, the true story was the coming of age of the Israeli community living in America.

For those of us who are accustomed to the unifying power of Jewish conferences; AIPAC, Hillel, the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Funders Network, Hillel and Chabad, just to name a few, the past four days in Hollywood, Florida, proved to be a transformational experience unlike anything I’ve seen in nearly 30 years as a Jewish professional.

For many of the over 500,000 Israelis who today call America home, it’s often been a struggle to find a comfortable home to express their connection to community, Israel and Judaism. Despite our best efforts, we have failed to mobilize the power of this talented, successful and committed community.

The Israeli American Council has finally given them a home and a voice lacking for far too long. In the hallways, conference rooms and ballrooms of the Diplomat conference center, over 4,000 attendees celebrated all aspects of our shared love for Israel and the Jewish people. I could not possibly do justice to the breadth and depth of subjects that were covered, led by some of the Jewish world’s leading personalities, scholars, artists, politicians, philanthropists and influentials. Any major Jewish organization would have been proud of the program’s power.

As a 55 year old Ashkenazi, American born Jew, I was mesmerized by the people I encountered and talked to in sessions, on line and at Shabbat meals. I spend much of my time out of my element and I cherished every moment. I work with Israelis and NGOs every day and yet I felt uniquely ennobled by the experience.

I have so many memories that I will carry with me: Euro winner Neta talking about how proud she felt to be an Israeli stepping off the plane in China; Sylvan Adam’s sharing plans to sponsor the first Israeli team in the Tour De France; Adele Cojab telling her heroic story of taking on the administration of NYU; Elan Carr sharing news of the French Parliament’s adoption of legislation addressing anti-Semitism; and Eric Fingerhut’s passionate plea for the Jewish people to unite in a time when we need each other so much.

I was moved to tears by Ilan and Rona Ramon’s son, Yiftach, vowing to continue his parents’ and brothers’ legacy of commitment to empowering others through education; Rachel Fraenkel’s perpetuating her son’s memory through the creation of Unity Day and the Jerusalem Unity Prize and the site of a teenager with Down Syndrome, a member of the Shalva Band, rushing into the arms of the President following the group’s rendition of G-d Bless America.

There will come a time when the IAC Summit will be the second largest gathering of Jews in the world, second only to AIPAC. That will be the true story of these past few days… and I will have been there to see it.

Joseph Hyman is President of The Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy.