16 April 2021
As a teenager, I used to wear a shirt that read “Israel Is Real.” This statement operated on a couple of levels (though I may not have appreciated it at the time). First, it was a simple declarative statement that Israel existed. Israel was a fact after 2,000 years of exile with no Jewish homeland. In this way, it was an expression of the aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the Jewish people. The statement, however, also clearly meant that Israel was not simply an ideal, but rather a real place with celebrations and tragedies, successes and failures.
My relationship to Israel has always been shaped by my personal story. My family made aliyah when I was three years old, and we stayed until I was ten, living through the Yom Kippur War. For many years, I considered moving back to Israel though I eventually decided to live in the United States. As such, Israel is a fundamental part of who I am. The years I spent there as a child will always define my identity and sense of self.
My connection with Israel also means that I find Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s national memorial day, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, particularly moving.
With these holidays comes a chance to reflect on how far Israel has come and the evolution of our relationship to it as American Jews. Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed (from afar) how Israel has continued to grapple with significant political and humanitarian challenges and, concurrently, evolve as a central hub of global Jewish culture, a powerhouse of scientific progress, and an independent player in the Middle East.
As we observe every day, Israel has transitioned over the past 73 years from a fledgling country finding its footing to a vibrant nation, home to half of the world’s Jewish population as well as people of many other faiths and nationalities. It is, at once, a global center of art and innovation and a country struggling to include an increasingly diverse population within a clear vision for its future.
Moving forward, one of the most impactful things we can do for Israel—and for our relationship—is to embrace each other’s “realness.” Much like my t-shirt suggested, Israel is full of strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, hope, and inspiration. Likewise, the American Jewish community is evolving in its own right. We too are continuing to adapt our mindsets and priorities to the distinct challenges in front of us. Our joint task, therefore, is to continue deepening our relationship based not on who we, as Americans and Israelis, were in the past, but who we are today.
How much closer might we be if we asked: How do we make space for each other’s differences while still playing a role in each other’s trajectories? How do we relate as two evolving communities and as one people? How do we deepen and sustain personal connections with each other where we can simultaneously discuss our challenges as well as our hopes and dreams?
I am pleased to share that these are among the questions framing the next chapter of our Israel work. Federation’s newly launched Israel Task Force, a collaborative group of local lay and professional leaders, has already begun meeting to design strategies that will help Federation and our community establish new and relevant ways for learning about and connecting with Israel. We also look forward to welcoming community members back to visit Israel for themselves on the Israel YOUR Way Mission in May of 2022, an opportunity to explore these questions and many more.
In a post-pandemic world, American Jews and Israelis will likely continue thinking about their particular domestic priorities. But while our focus may be local, we can still come together to strengthen our steadfast bonds. In fact, at a time when more people are looking to redefine Jewish life for a new age and many around the world are putting their faith in science, art, and innovation, the stage is set for our relationship to be deeper and more dynamic than ever. To be both real and really good.
Shabbat Shalom and wishing Israel a happy 73rd birthday,