by Netaly Ophir-Flint
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to participate in a conference titled “The Global Israeli Leadership Summit” in London. The conference was a gathering of Israeli community leaders in the Diaspora and brought together Israelis living in 13 different countries for a summit aimed at strengthening Israeli communities outside of Israel. It was an historic gathering on so many levels, and unfortunately didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it should have.
What was so unique about this gathering? Well, for starters, it took place in London (and not in North America); it brought together Israeli leaders from around the world, and it was initiated and organized by four independent Israeli lay leaders and not by any formal organization.
More than anything else, the gathering was a magnificent manifestation of how much things have changed in the Jewish world today. For years, Israelis who chose to emigrate from Israel were frowned upon. Called Nefolet Shel Nemushot (translated: group of weaklings), Israelis living abroad were, at best, ignored and, at worst, treated as traitors who had turned their back on their homeland.
However, all that has started to change and this gathering was a display of some of the dramatic new trends emerging around this population. Today, the estimated 500,000 Israelis living abroad are finally beginning to self-organize, local Jewish communities are starting to engage them, and even the Government of Israel is beginning to see them as a potential asset for the state of Israel.
But what has become increasingly clear to me – especially after spending time with the Israeli community in Boston during my Wexner Fellowship last year – is that recognizing Israelis living abroad as a legitimate part of the Jewish people, is still only the very first step. The more significant recognition should be that these Israelis have a unique leadership role to play through their ability to serve as living bridges between Jewish communities across the globe. By virtue of the fact that many of these Israelis often hold a “tri-dentity” – in other words, their identity is made up of a hybrid of Israeli, Jewish, and local (for example, American) cultural components – they understand intuitively the cultural nuances of multiple communities simultaneously. In an age of global Jewish peoplehood, this is a tremendous gift.
However, despite the dramatic changes taking place, tapping into this asset is still very far from being on our collective communal radar. The London summit, as well as similar gatherings taking place in North America, is a significant, yet only small step, in building and strengthening the global Israeli community. To many, the thought of a vibrant Israeli Diaspora is a scary proposition. To me, it is the single greatest untapped resource we have in the Jewish world today.
Netaly Ophir-Flint, a Wexner Israel Fellowship alumna (class 24), is CEO of the Reut Institute, a nonprofit strategy and impact group designed to address the most pressing issues facing Israel and the Jewish world. Netaly can be reached at [email protected]
cross-posted on the Wexner Foundation Blog