05 March 2021
In one of her first articles of the year, professor and thought leader Dr. Erica Brown wrote about what it might feel like to revive dormant friendships once COVID-19 finally recedes. She writes that, according to Talmudic wisdom, “the reunion of friends is a sublime moment of grace.” Still, after a painful and monotonous year, we may need to put in some effort to find our way back to the way things were. We and our friends may have changed, and the relationships between us may need to evolve as a result.
The same is true for our relationship with Israel.
While there have always been differences between American Jews and Israelis, we have been close friends and allies—visiting each other often, staying up to date on the latest developments, shaping our own identities through the lens of the other, and bonding over common causes and a common destiny. This past year, however, has placed new challenges in front of us.
Here in the U.S., the attention of so many has turned inward toward urgent domestic issues, including the erosion of democratic norms and an alarming rise in anti-Semitism. As Americans, we have weathered some of the worst effects of the pandemic. Our country’s death toll is the highest of any in the world, and we are seeing the sharpest rise in poverty in more than 50 years, with an additional eight million people now experiencing poverty.
Our Israeli counterparts have also faced challenging times during this global pandemic, but their most recent health and safety efforts have been much more effective than ours. Their ability to vaccinate their population is a true success story. Additionally, over the past year, the status of Israel in the Middle East has radically changed with the signing of the Abraham Accords. These accords have led to a renewed sense of possibility for Israel in in the region even though more than half of Israelis trace their roots to the Middle East and North Africa. Now, as relations warm, it may be that Israelis increasingly find common cause and partnership with their neighbors than with the U.S. and Europe.
How exactly will these developments affect the bonds we as American Jews share with Israel? This is a question I look forward to diving into next week with Dr. Erica Brown and Dr. Tal Becker, Senior Fellow at the Hartman Institute and one of the negotiators of the Abraham Accords. Learn more and register to join us live—this third session in our lecture series, presented in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute, will not be recorded.
At the very least, we can predict that American Jews and Israelis will continue to be pulled in separate directions and that the topic of global Jewish peoplehood may take a back seat to domestic and regional issues. And with travel still restricted, our opportunities for connection remain limited. But as any longtime friends know, changing circumstances do not necessarily determine the nature of the relationship. The relationship between Israel and American Jewry has evolved in significant ways over the past many decades. In front of us is the opportunity to work more intentionally to reflect upon and redefine the common values, future aspirations, and enduring ties we share.
This is where I foresee the Jewish Greater Washington community having a tremendous impact. We can lead the way in prioritizing our relationship with Israel and strengthening the ties that hold us together. We can bring people together to explore how we might better understand one another and continue to be essential parts of each other’s story. After all, the best friendships are those that allow each party to evolve while still remaining close as ever.