Last weekend, I attended the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board meeting in Atlanta. While there, we discussed a plethora of topics, including our relationship with Israel.
A document distributed to us from the Jewish Agency for Israel contained a rather thought provoking statistic. According to a November 2017 survey by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, “55% of Israeli Jews believe the government should not take American Jews’ opinions into account on internal issues such as the status of [non-Orthodox religious] movements in Israel.”
It goes on to explain that Jewish life in Israel is very different from Jewish life throughout the rest of the world. And as someone who has lived in both the United States and Israel, I can attest to that.
While growing up in Tampa, my parents immersed me in our vibrant Jewish community. I spent my younger years involved in a variety of activities, all of which were meant to enrich my Jewish life. I was in youth groups (including BBYO and our Temple youth group), religious school, and summer camp. In college, I was a member of a Jewish sorority. The people I met became an integral part of my life, and I consider many of them friends to this day.
Although accepted by the general community here in America, it was clear as a Jewish woman, I didn’t totally fit into the mainstream. I had different beliefs than many of my counterparts. I celebrated different holidays. I worshipped differently. But nevertheless, I, like most American Jews, was able to live harmoniously in the general community.
When I moved to Israel, it was quickly evident that the Jewish life in which I grew up was vastly different than life in Israel. Suddenly I WAS the mainstream. All Jewish holidays ~ major and minor ~ were recognized everywhere, including in shuks, stores and even television commercials. I experienced eating a meal in a Sukkah for the first time while I was in Israel.
Synagogues were located on practically every corner. On Friday mornings, people could be found bustling around town, making last minute Shabbat preparations. And by Friday afternoon, like a tide receding out to sea, people retreated into their homes to celebrate Shabbat with family and friends. On Shabbat, the outside was quiet. There was a sense of rest and rejuvenation that could be felt throughout Israel.
I quickly realized that Jewish life in Israel was very different from Jewish life throughout the rest of the world. And so, I can understand our views on certain things may differ.
In the United States, part of our concern involves the creation of community, and ensuring it survives in the midst of mainstream life. In Israel, that is not a concern, because Jewishness IS the mainstream. Rather, their concerns include security and safety. So while we share so much, we also have a lot to learn from each other.
We have made incredible progress though. The relationship between Israeli Jews and Jews throughout the diaspora continues to be a priority for JFNA. The Jewish Agency for Israel, who receives funding from JFNA, has developed a plan with four major areas of focus:
1. Revive Israelis sense of the shared history and bonds with Israel that link all Jews.
2. Strengthen understanding of the different realities in which global Jewry lives.
3. Bring awareness to the tension of relations with overseas communities.
4. Motivate a sense of responsibility in ensuring that all Jews feel at home in the Jewish state.
While our lives may never mirror one another, I am confident we will continue to make progress in understanding each other.
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