I’m writing this month’s blog from Israel where Mark and Linda Silberman, Renee Evans, Margo and Larry Gold, Seth Greenberg and I are attending the 70th annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations, better known as The GA. It’s my third trip to Israel this year and, as always, it’s great to be home. I arrived feeling buoyed by all the ways our Atlanta community has built stronger bridges to Israel this year and how we are moving towards what our Front Porch work calls Global Jewish Peoplehood.
But I wouldn’t be an honest reporter if I didn’t acknowledge that this year’s GA has generated some controversy. For one thing, there’s the conference theme, Israel and the Diaspora: We Need to Talk. Some feel it focuses only on a liberal critique of what divides us, ignoring the attitudes and realities of life in Israel today. And there’s unhappiness about the conference location, Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem. We are in Israel to honor 70 years of Israeli independence. However, this is the first time in many years that the GA has convened Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. Now that the current U.S. administration has officially moved the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, some feel it’s an insult.
I’ll reserve judgement until the GA is over, but I believe deeper dialogue is precisely what we need.
Before we left for Israel I heard from some of you about a provocative Op Ed in The Jerusalem Post by Caroline Glick, a journalist, author, and former foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. As if the divide in American politics isn’t painful enough, her sharp critique of the GA was aimed directly at the Jewish communal world, and it hurt.
Politics aside, I often worry that the biggest challenge facing our community is simply getting folks to pay attention. The fact that Jews in Atlanta read, question and are immersed in the current events of our discourse makes me proud, and it undoubtedly makes our community stronger.
It brings to mind the many initiatives we’ve undertaken to deepen our ties with Israel — the Israeli Innovation Accelerator program for women, the English language Kefiada day camp we ran in Yokneam and Megiddo this past summer, our Israel@70 Celebration, our five successful missions to Israel, and the remarkable Shinshinim program which has exploded from two post-high school Israelis educators who lived here in 2018-19, to eight young Israelis this year! These young Israelis taught our kids in our day schools and preschools, in our camps and at community events. They shared so much about life in Israel, about their commitment to the IDF when they return, and their pride in Israeli resilience and innovation.
But it’s a two-way street. Atlanta taught the Shinshinim so much about American Judaism. Last weekend at a barbecue to welcome our eight new Shinshinim. Jodi Mansbach, our Chief Impact Officer, asked them, what was the most surprising thing about life in Atlanta. It wasn’t the comforts of Atlanta suburbs or the abundance of American supermarkets. “We had no idea there were so many ways to be Jewish!” they said. Let that sink in for a minute.
I know in my heart and in my soul that what binds us is much stronger than what divides us. So yes, if it was up to me, I would have chosen a different title for this year’s GA. But in the end, the meeting will succeed or fail based on the willingness of Israelis and Diaspora Jews to engage, to open their minds and to widen their perspectives. We have a long “to do” list here at home, but getting the relationship between Diaspora and Israeli Jews right for the next hundred years will have a defining impact on the collective future. Let’s keep talking!