13 January 2023
Federation is proud to lead this year’s community celebration of Israel‘s milestone 75th year of independence alongside many incredible partners throughout Greater Washington. I encourage you to visit our new Israel at 75 website to learn more about the events, programs, and celebrations happening across our region between now and June. This exciting initiative, however, comes amid complexities and shifts in the relationship between American Jewry and Israel.
Change frequently appears to occur in spurts. For example, with the onset of COVID-19, we witnessed seemingly sudden shifts in American and Jewish life, including changes in work patterns, the use of technology, and Jewish engagement. Yet, most of these shifts were primed to occur well before the pandemic exacerbated them. Crises or pivotal moments frequently accelerate or highlight changes already underway.
Today, we are seeing a similar significant change in the relationship between American Jewry and Israel. Much like those we saw with the onset of the pandemic, these shifts are neither new nor sudden. The relationship between the vibrant Jewish communities in America and Israel has been in flux since the creation of the state of Israel.
For many, the new Israeli government highlights a significant disconnect between the Israel of their aspirations, source of pride, and inspiration, and Israel as it exists in its ongoing evolution. As such, it has become challenging for some American Jews to reconcile today’s Israel and the Israel with which they have long identified. This shift was, of course, not caused solely by the election. With two strong Jewish communities living in different contexts and continuing to evolve in distinct ways, it is inevitable that the connections between them will also evolve.
So, as Federation and our community mark this meaningful milestone, we ask ourselves: what is the nature of the future relationship between American Jewry and Israel? How can we build upon or adjust the current relationship as we look towards the future? With this on my mind, I turned (as I often do) to some of my wise colleagues for insight.
Eilon Schwartz, Founding CEO of Federation partner, Shaharit, reflected that as we consider the future, “We must focus on relationships and need to expand our affections to include not only those with whom we agree, but also those with whom we have deep disagreements. If we are to sustain the bonds between the two communities, this is a critical starting point.”
And in a recent essay for Sources, Mijal Bitton, Scholar in Residence at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, offers thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas in an exploration of ne’emanut (literally, “loyalty or faithfulness”). This concept, Bitton writes, can serve as the basis for a future relationship between American Jewry and Israel. She goes on to explain ne’emanut as “a moral orientation in which certain relationships become ethical commitments in and of themselves… implying steadfastness in one’s commitment towards another that is not dependent on specific policies or attributes.”
In both of these cases, rather than seeing ourselves in the other, the relationship itself is, as Bitton puts it, “at the core of our moral discourse.” It does not dismiss the desire to build a country reflective and engaging of global Jewry, nor the potential for divergent views, because the relationship is not contingent on those views. Instead, the relationship between American Jewry and Israel creates an important starting point for new engagement and new ways to build a sense of global Jewish peoplehood.
As we launch this year’s celebration of Israel at 75, Federation is dedicated to prioritizing how we as American Jews can stay in relationship with Israel and Israelis, connecting our societies honestly and openly, and celebrating the miracle of Israel even when our priorities and views diverge. I invite you to join us between now and June 2023 to learn about, engage with, and celebrate Israel as we mark this milestone year of Israel’s independence. Visit our new Israel at 75 website to learn more and find the opportunities right for you.
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