Supporting each other when we’re both down: A new paradigm for building up Israel-world Jewry relations during Corona

By Naama Klar and Tracy Frydberg

Arvut Hadadit, the central Jewish principle of mutual responsibility, takes on new meaning during a global pandemic. This concept sets out the idea that when one Jew is down, the other ought to lend a hand. But for the first time in Israel’s now 72 years of existence, we’re facing a reality in which both Israel and world Jewry are being challenged by the same beast, causing Israel to reevaluate what arvut hadadit means as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

As we see it, this moment of mutual suffering creates an opportunity to build a new paradigm of mutual responsibility between Israel and world Jewry in which both sides salute the other. 

Now is the time to reimagine how Israel can support Jewish communities in the wake of the crisis’ immediate impact. Below we offer a vision based on creating an ongoing crisis-mode response plan grounded in mutual responsibility between world Jewry and the State of Israel.

The crisis has obvious impacts on the physical and economic lives of individuals and institutions. In order to minimize suffering, Israeli and Jewish institutions are working around the clock to provide immediate support. The JDC and its partners, including the Jewish Agency which doesn’t usually fill such a role, are working tirelessly to support vulnerable communities around the world. 

But there are other less visible aspects to this pandemic which will start revealing themselves as the crisis continues. To preserve core Jewish communal institutions, the Jewish Agency along with major Jewish philanthropies and foundations are developing new resources and responses. Additionally, the JFNA is convening an emergency coalition of Jewish players working to find solutions for issues such as Jewish education, including what to do about the upcoming “Lost Summer.” 

On the other side, the question of how Israel is and ought to support world Jewry is already taking place in Israel with answers ranging from the symbolic to direct financial aid. Efforts are being made with basic coordination through an emergency forum convened by the Jewish Agency between relevant Israeli bodies such as the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and others. They must develop new strategies and frameworks to ensure that Israel can provide meaningful assistance during and after this crisis.

These efforts are just the start. Based on our  work, we have three recommendations for how Israel can play a leading role in ensuring Jewish resiliency:

First, on a policy level, Israel must put supporting Jewish communities on the government’s national agenda. This could practically look like Israel allocating up to as much as 1% of Israel’s Corona rescue budget in favor of preserving world Jewry’s resiliency. This would include supporting welfare efforts, institutions, infrastructural investments and Jewish education.  

Second, Israel must seize every opportunity to coordinate with Jewish organizations and foundations, striving to make any possible investment mutual by working with existing community structures and joint ventures. 

Third, similarly to how we see the Israeli government asking itself what its role is in strengthening Jewish resilience, Israeli civil society must ask and answer the same question.

This sector has the opportunity to provide support through sharing our knowledge, emergency models and resources. Through Reut’s Peoplehood Coalition, a group of around 400 leaders connecting Israelis to a greater Jewish people, the question of mutual assistance is gaining increasing attention. Several projects have already started; We connected Israeli resources to Italy’s Jewish communities in need. We are working with partners in establishing a Jewish knowledge-sharing platform during Corona. Over Passover, we sent a solidarity message in various languages to Jewish communities around the world in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We see initiatives to uplift Jewish communities worldwide developing on a daily basis amongst the coalition’s members.

We are working with friends from the INSS and Belong to provide policy recommendations to the government. There is momentum for Israel to embrace the mutuality championed by the Jewish institutions who have so graciously supported Israeli communities throughout the years. Our aim is that this attitude will last longer than the crisis, bringing about a new paradigm in Israel-world Jewry relations.  

Finally, we must connect separate initiatives being generated by Israeli civil society and the government in order to make our efforts coherent and efficient. We’re engaged in an initial conversation between the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and civil society leaders, showing a mutual desire for all relevant sectors to work together in favor of Jewish resiliency. 

Just as world Jewry has been there to salute the Israeli people through our 72 years of existence, the time has come for us to salute you as well. Sharing when you’re up and the other is down is one thing, but giving to the other when each of us is experiencing the toll of this crisis will secure our people’s ability to face together whatever the future holds.

Naama Klar is the deputy CEO of the Reut Group.
Tracy Frydberg is an analyst at the Reut Group.

The Reut Group, an Israeli strategy and leadership group,  leads Israel’s “Peoplehood Coalition,” a professional network of over 400 organizations and leaders infusing Jewish peoplehood into every sector of society.

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