Cross-border dialogue

Tisch Center brings together American, Israeli millennial leaders to deepen ties

Meet-up held as part of the Koret Center for Jewish Civilization Conference at the ANU museum

TEL AVIV – The recently opened Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at the ANU Museum in Tel Aviv brought together a cohort of Israeli and Diaspora millennial Jews last week, encouraging them to debate not only the most pressing issues of the day but broader, philosophical questions about the nature of Israel’s relationship with Jewish communities around the world, particularly the United States.

The Israeli participants mostly served as advisors to politicians or in mid-level positions within government ministries, while the North American participants held positions within Jewish organizations – Jewish federations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Israel Policy Forum and others. (Melissa Weiss, managing editor of eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider, also took part.)

Organizers said the goal of the meet-up was two-fold: to get the participants, particularly the Israelis, to think seriously about the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora and to create a connection between the participants who are all on track to hold influential roles in Israeli and American Jewish life in the years to come.

Roei Eisenberg, who is active in both the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israel Policy Forum, took part in the conference as an American, despite having Israeli citizenship. Speaking to eJP, he noted that the conference took place at a “very critical juncture in the relationship between Israeli and North American Jews,” as the two sides appear to be drifting apart from one another.

“At a moment of high intensity and shifting norms, now more than ever we must initiate constructive dialogue processes in the Jewish world. Together, this group has the ability to imagine, test and then implement not only a new conversation, but a new social contract and set of projects to guide how Israel and American Jewry tackle challenges and harness opportunities,” said Tracy Frydberg, director of the Tisch Center, said in a statement.

The Tisch event, which was held in partnership with the World Zionist Organization, was one track of the ANU Museum’s Koret Center for Jewish Civilization Conference, which was held on Thursday and Friday, alongside tracks for Jewish educators, academics and leaders, to “consider together the future of Jewish peoplehood,” organizers said.

The Koret conference rounded out a two-week period of intense Israel-Diaspora dialogue, following the Word Zionist Congress, Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors meeting, Keren Hayesod annual conference, Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly and other gatherings of international Jewish groups. Many of the Diaspora participants of the Koret event had also taken part in at least one of the other conferences.

“Gone are the days when a small, exclusive circle of elites could hammer out understandings behind the scenes. Pluralism defines our era, and power and influence are more diffuse than ever before, which is why this Tisch Center Dialogue is so important,” Scott Lasensky, a professor at the University of Maryland and a founding member of ENTER: the Jewish Peoplehood Alliance, a partner in the initiative, said in a statement. 

“The Tisch Center’s peoplehood-centered framework nurtures a common ideology and a shared outlook, which is especially vital at this time when Jewish unity is being challenged from so many directions,” Lasensky added. 

Frydberg told eJewishPhilanthropy she was initially concerned that the Israeli participants would not arrive and was heartened by the fact that so many did.

“Showing up is an end in itself. I used to not believe that but I really see it now. The chief of staff of [opposition leader Yair Lapid, Gili Haushner] and all of these other people who have a thousand other things to do – the fact that they showed up means a lot. That’s a start and it can’t be taken for granted,” Frydberg said on the sidelines of the event on Thursday.

The discussions during the conference were held in accordance with Chatham House Rule, meaning the specifics of the conversations cannot be shared, but they broadly dealt with both specific issues of the day, notably the ongoing debate over the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, and larger questions about what responsibility do the Israeli and North American communities have to one another. Throughout the conversations, it was evident that these latter dilemmas were more deeply understood and thought through by the American participants than the Israelis, though this is at least partially due to the nature of their positions in American Jewish organizations, many of which dealt specifically with the Israeli-American Jewry relationship. Many of the Israelis, meanwhile, held posts that were more domestically focused.

Not as many of the Israeli participants took part in the second day of the conference. However, Eisenberg said that those who did were “really committed” and interested in hearing from their Diaspora counterparts.

Two of the Israeli participants – Shimrit Ben-Arush, chief of staff to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and Yaakov Stern, an advisor to the Knesset’s Health Committee – organized a visit to the parliament for the participants, which included meetings with a number of Knesset members and their staffs.

Eisenberg said those meetings both had immediate benefits, allowing the participants to discuss issues that are relevant to their organizations, and demonstrated the commitment that Ben-Arush and Stern had to the importance of Israeli-Diaspora dialogue.

Frydberg said that going forward she hopes that the participants continue to remain in contact with one another and deepen their ties. More broadly, she said she hopes to develop a better way for Diaspora Jews to communicate with the Israeli government in a productive way.

“I think that you have to build that basis in order to really have a conversation, not just on whether I’m for or against the judicial reform, but what is the framework that allows us to communicate,” she said.