28 October 2022
This past Tuesday, I was proud to represent The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as we helped sponsor and host President of Israel Isaac Herzog’s visit to Washington, DC as part of a gathering of diverse, national Jewish leaders on his two-day visit to the United States. Speaking with the President and this incredible group was a unique honor.
We sat together amidst significant change and growing divides between communities and leaders in both countries. Around us loomed the ongoing war in Ukraine; an increase in financial instability around the globe; a growing refugee crisis; a rise in authoritarian governments and political factions; and a spike in antisemitism on campuses and antisemitic rhetoric from political and cultural leaders. And of course, both the U.S. and Israel face significant elections reflecting substantial divisions and tensions.
Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the current challenges do not seem to be determined by “forces of nature,” but rather by national and cultural developments. In many ways, this seems to be an even greater challenge as we are not collectively battling an external force, but instead, we’re in disagreement with each other about our hopes and aspirations.
And yet, despite this different context, the question we asked in Jewish Greater Washington at the onset of the pandemic may be helpful now — “What are the core values and ideas that can shape us as individuals and as a community, even as we change and respond?” Our answer was two-fold: first, we must continue to live by our core value that each person is created in God’s image. Second, we must consider our responsibility to and potential for the community to strengthen our individual and collective life. These two ideas were central in shaping our response.
As we enter new challenges shaped by distinct forces, I believe it is important that we add one more question: How can we come together as a community as we seek to build a vibrant Jewish future even while recognizing, and perhaps elevating, the significant differences that may exist in the community? This is particularly true where debates and conflicts exist across people who continue to value a collective future whether this is within the United States or across the global Jewish people.
As my colleague and friend, Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, said in a discussion earlier this year, “When the conversation stops, we have a real problem. Without it, we can’t move forward as Zionists, as Jews, and as those who are connected to Israel and want to see it succeed.” And though we may disagree with one another on important issues, creating both the space in our community to elevate diverse voices and perspectives and the capacity to truly hear those voices becomes increasingly important.
I believe that our future depends not on the elevation of a false unity, but rather on our capacity to engage with each other honestly while committing to a collective future. If we can continue to focus on these goals even amidst the forces that would seek to keep us apart, I have no doubt our community will continue to thrive.
Thank you for setting a positive example and supporting each other, not just despite our differences, but in light of them.
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