Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

 

An Addenda to Yehuda Kurtzer’s “Minding the Gap: A Primer for Jewish Professionals and Philanthropy”

Posted on: July 24th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy by Rabbi Hayim Herring

A few observations on Yehuda Kurtzer’s fresh rethinking of how to build a more mature 21st Century relationship between American and Israeli Jewry:

1. On the gap in understanding one another’s realities: ask Israelis living in Israel of a certain age (40-something’s and older) if they recognize their country today as the one in which they grew up or to which they emigrated, and ask American Jews in the same demographics if they recognize the America of today as the one in which they were raised. You’ll likely receive the same response: “No!” Internally, across our respective political spectra, we have experienced significant social, religious, economic, educational, racial and political upheavals that are difficult to absorb. If each of our respective communities are having difficulties in understanding shifts in our own primary environments, how can we possibly understand the other’s culture, even if we are frequent and fluent visitors in the other’s community?

 

This point can provide some restraint in immediate and deserved anger of American Jews toward the current and future Israeli governments, and help us think more strategically about how to advance remaining shared interests – of which there are still many. For example, I think that Israeli Knesset Members who support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s broken promises that affect American Jews should be invited to Jewish federations. Let them experience first-hand the anger and pain that they have caused, see the full diversity of the American Jewish community and understand that we are not stereotypes, to be used as pretty props when it’s convenient, and objects of ridicule when it’s not.

2. It’s useful to delineate distinct categories of “boundary-crossers” and “boundary-dwellers,” that is, individuals who spend most of their time in one location (America or Israel) but spend or have spent considerable time in the other. Some examples, and they are not intended as a comprehensive list, include:

  • “Jewish professionals” and “professional Jewish volunteers;” that is, paid professionals and volunteers who work in Jewish institutions that are focused on Israel
  • Philanthropists
  • Israeli journalists who cover American Jewry and American journalists who cover Israeli Jewry both in the Jewish and secular press
  • Individuals with close family and friendship ties in our respective communities, who visit one another frequently, and remain in touch digitally on a regular basis between visits
  • Jewish think tanks (and there are very few)
  • Alumni of grassroots communities, like ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

The value in distinguishing categories of boundary-spanners is that if we want them to become more valuable assets in broadening our understanding of differing cultural realities and identifying shared work, we first must respect their diversity. Top-down, hierarchical meetings are appropriate in some cases, in many more, cultivating networks will be more successful, and sometimes, a hybrid model of hierarchy and network is needed.

3. While we don’t have to “privilege” a “failed” metaphor as American and Israeli Jews as “family,” we can explore other approaches in testing its value before completely discarding it. For example, “family” signified one tightly-defined, exclusive structure through the better part of the 20th Century, but today, “family” is a much more expansive and inclusive concept. Why hasn’t the concept of “family” vanished? Because many people still feel an emotional pull to be a part of a family, with all its complexities.

Families, in their varied, contemporary iterations, are still crucibles in which powerful bonds of love, empathy, embrace of difference and responsibility can sometimes be forged. Families have a cast of characters. Some generously take upon themselves the roles of “connectors,” and never forget a birthday, convene a family reunion and update “the family” with an annual newsletter; others move in and out of their roles as “family member” unpredictably; and still others never miss an occasion to snub “the family.” Some family members remain distant from one another for years but ultimately reconcile. Even if they have little time left to reset their relationships, they positively change the trajectory of the next generation of family relationships. But when family ties are permanently severed, and sometimes that is necessary, there can be deep wounds with unforeseen consequences that are transmitted across generations.

Kurtzer is correct – manufactured nostalgia for American and Israeli Jews as “family” won’t help strengthen the kinds of relationships that we need today and can even be alienating because people know a charade when they see it. But rethinking the metaphor of family more expansively and realistically on the collective level is a valuable endeavor worth the struggle. It’s another way of opening our eyes more widely to the massive transformations that we’re experiencing, identifying barriers that we might chose to live with for the time being for the sake of “family,” and distinguishing between the truly unbridgeable differences in our respective communities, and the ones that initially present themselves as unbridgeable divides but are only differing manifestations of shared essential changes on deeper reflection.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist who holds a doctorate in Organization and Management. A “C-suite” leader, Hayim has worked with hundreds of congregations and nonprofits on issues including leadership, organizational foresight and entrepreneurship. His most recent publications are Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose, with Dr. Terri Elton (2016) and, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish (2012).

Zionism: Once Again Today’s Rorschach Test for American Jews

Posted on: August 10th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

As a member of a Jewish youth group (USY) in the mid-1970’s, I remember our advisors often leading us through a “Jewish values clarification” activity about being a Zionist and an American. It was designed to help us gain insight into the inherent tensions of a hyphenated Jewish-American identity. One variation of this activity’s trigger question was, “If Israel and America were on opposite sides of a war, what side would you choose?”

 

As context, at that time, there was a string of historic events involving Israel whose impacts were felt in the United States: the June 1967 Six Day War, the1973 Yom Kippur War, the OPEC oil embargo from 1973-74 that caused severe economic disruption, and the 1975 United Nations resolution describing Zionism as, “…a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Being a Zionist was a kind of Rorschach Test for American Jews. Did the images of Zionism make you see yourself as having a binary choice of being Jewish/pro-Israel or American? Or, as our youth group values clarification exercise sought to do through debate and self-exploration, could we feel that being proud citizens of one country (America) was generally compatible with deep feelings for our “Jewish homeland,” despite periodic tensions?

 

Zionism is once again a Rorschach Tests for American Jews. There were early warning signs that anti-Zionism was on the march: several Christian denominations that castigated only Israel and not Palestinians for the ongoing conflict; the growing campus “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” (BDS) protests; and, blatantly anti-Semitic articles by the likes of academics including Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

 

Because of its unabashed anti-Israel platform that asserts Israel’s campaign of “genocide” against Palestinians, the Movement for Black Lives has “called the question” for American Jews: Do you stand with the progressive American social justice movement and against Israel, or do you stand with Israel, which by definition, negates your social justice “creds” and invalidates your alliance with progressive social justice issues. The compartmentalized explanations about simultaneous commitments to social justice work in America and staunch support for Israel do not work anymore; Jewish organizations will increasingly have difficulties in forming alliances with NGO’s and faith-based groups dedicated to social justice causes.

 

This ultimatum for a binary choice creates a painful dilemma for the many American Jews whose Jewish identity rests upon deeply rooted Jewish values and teachings to address mounting social justice issues (structural racism, economic inequities, literacy gaps-to name just a few). Some, most recently like American Jewish historians Hasia Dinar and Marjorie Feld, have let personal ideologies override historical facts and publicly renounced their Zionism. As Jonathan Sarna incisively noted, their ideas are naively delusional (and I would add, destructive) propaganda. But because they are scholars of American Jewish history, their personal animus against Israel creates pressure for other American Jews to “act bravely” and renounce Zionism.

 

While Diner and Feld’s agenda is to undermine American support for Israel within and outside of the Jewish community, there are many American Jews who love Israel but are justifiably weary about having to defend Israel’s actions before their peers. Israel did not seek the wars that led to its conquest of territory. But fair or not, after forty-nine years, the Israeli government is a co-owner of the indignities that Palestinians who are entitled to sovereignty suffer every day. Especially under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administrations, the Israeli government continues to promote an environment that chills democratic values of a free and independent press, and funds right-wing religious bigotry, courtesy of the Chief Rabbinate. So American Jews who care deeply about Israel, like many Israeli citizens, have ample reason to to express disapproval about the direction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation.

 

And that is why I worry that as an American Jewish community, we are losing our collective ability to withstand the trap of the binary choice of either being with social progressives and against Israel, or with Israel and against social progressives. Extremism has taken root on the left and the right in the American Jewish community. Often, the American Jewish left looks blithely past the realities of living in Israel and raising a family: Intifadas, knifing attacks, bus bombings, vehicles turned into weapons of mass destruction by plowing into crowds of pedestrians, withdrawal from territories that lead to greater violence, ISIL at all of Israel’s borders….At age eighteen, American young adults complain about not having enough “safe spaces” for troubling ideas in college classrooms. At age eighteen, Israeli young adults worry about safety for their lives as they enter mandatory military service. It’s easy to talk about all of the failures of another country that you don’t visit, let alone live in, from a safe distance of 6,000 to 8000 miles away.

 

At the same time, the American Jewish right often ignores the indignities of daily life for Palestinians, even those that can be more easily ameliorated, with a justification that there are, “no partners for peace.” Maybe there are no partners for peace, but what actions can Israel take to try to cultivate better relations and the possibilities for having future partners for peace? There are over 200 retired senior officials from Israel’s security agencies who believe that, “launching an Israeli regional initiative is essential, possible, and urgent.” They assert that, “…a two-state solution can be implemented and sustained while providing both Israelis and Palestinians with the security, sovereignty, and dignity they deserve.” What special military and diplomatic insights does the Jewish political right wing have that makes them dismiss statements like these?

 

The mutual extremism of the left and right only reinforces the unsatisfactory status quo because vitriolic attacks against “the other side” don’t demand new and divergent ways of thinking. They only make people defend their failed positions.

 

I’m in Israel now. It’s a relief being away from the degrading political scene in the United States, and having some momentary respite from news about violence continuing in communities across America. But even on my days of very low feelings about the current state of America, it would never occur to me to label America as thoroughly evil country responsible for all of the world’s ills. There is still a lot of goodness in Americans, despite the tremendous amount of corruption in politics. I’m not blind to the shocking social problems that are besetting us as Americans. But would I renounce my faith in America and abandon hope in believing that we can make progress? Absolutely not!

 

That leads me back to memories of my youth group values clarification activities. I’m still a Zionist, but a more mature one: aware of some dangerous tendencies today in Israel, and equally aware of Israel’s tremendous achievements despite its location in a region that makes it ever vulnerable. That means that I won’t support any progressive cause that has aligned itself with those who seek to legally dismantle Israel’s right to exist by using the kind of intentional, malicious rhetoric found in the Movement for Black Lives platform, but I will support other progressive groups that don’t make taking an anti-Israel oath a prerequisite for involvement. Nor will I support any right wing groups that dismiss the reality that Israel occupies territories that have a Palestinian majority who are ultimately entitled to statehood (which every Israeli government has affirmed, since the Oslo accords in 1993 to this very day) or refuse to take greater steps to increase chances for the implementation of the two-state solution.

 

I’m on firm ground in staking out the desideratum of holding on to the tensions of being a proud American Zionist who cares about progressive causes. Between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the week leading up to Rosh ha-Shanah, there are 10 weeks, each with specially designated haftarot. The first three are rebukes to the Israelites by the Biblical prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, for immoral and unjust behavior. These three prophetic portions are then followed by seven others expressing hope and consolation about the redemption of Zion through justice. Three prophetic portions about rebuke, and seven about hope. Coincidently, recent brain science suggests that a person needs an average of about six messages of positive feedback in order to accept one piece of constructive criticism, approximating that ratio of positive to negative feedback during this ten week period.

 

Dinar and Feld claim that we are not sufficiently self-critical within the Jewish community. They are not only wrong, but they misconstrue the purpose of criticism or tochekha that this ten-week period gets right. Self-criticism isn’t a goal, but one of the tools that leaders use as a springboard for striving closer toward Jewish ideals of peace, justice, and an overall better condition for all of humanity. So while I have deep disappointments in the lack of progress toward a two-state solution (just like I have deep disappointments about so many problems in America today), and I will lovingly express them, I won’t make statements that feed distorted, destructive narratives about Zionism and Israel. There are enough other people who are happily doing so already.

 

Why a Dead Iranian Deal is Worse Now Than No Deal

Posted on: August 6th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

“Iran can keep the deal or Iran can cheat on the deal. Either way it will have the bomb….” That is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said two days ago in a webcast to American Jewish leaders. By his own logic, it therefore makes no sense to lobby Congress against the Iranian accord. The terms of the agreement are vital to the security of Israel and the broader Middle East—in theory. But if you don’t trust the Iranian clerics who run the country, and you believe that they will acquire nuclear weapons at any cost, then a dead deal will likely be worse than no deal for the American-Israeli relationship and for Israel.

 

Switzerland Nuclear Iran

 

If you assume, as I do, that Iran’s clerics will “cheat on the deal,” here are four additional reasons why going toe-to-toe with President Obama is a risky gambit:

 

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently bet on the strength of support from the Republican Party. He publicly displayed his preference for Republican candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama during the last election, and broke protocol in accepting an invitation from the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to address Congress, who had not consulted the White House. This Republican bet has not exactly created a warm, fuzzy feeling between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. And the odds of a Republican presidency in the next election are questionable: Republicans have lost five of the six last popular votes for the presidency, and the demographics of the United States voting population present challenges for a Republican presidency.

 

2. Generally, American support for Israel has been bipartisan. This latest push by Israel into American politics has the potential to significantly intensify the partisan nature of support for Israel. Additionally, while Israel has not enjoyed total support from the American Jewish community in recent years, a majority of American Jews has been able to rally behind Israel in times of need. Overt Israeli lobbying in American foreign politics has driven a wedge internally between American Jews of different political viewpoints. In politics, ill will has a long shelf life. Regardless of who occupies the White House after the next election, why leave it tainted with negative feelings when it comes to support for Israel? And as the BDS movement heats up on college campuses, and European displeasure with Israel is resulting in increasingly tense trade relations and cultural exchanges, can we really afford more internal fractures?

 

3. “Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure”—another request from Prime Minister Netanyahu. How many deals with some European nations, China and Russia do you think are already under discussion? One can argue about the wisdom of promising to ease economic sanctions already about a year ago, but even our European allies, let alone China and Russia, have abandoned the notion of more economic sanctions.

 

4. On a related note, let’s also remember that Pime Minister Netanyahu has been rolling back legislation requiring more Charedi (religious right wing) young men to serve in the army. If there is another war, it could require American ground troops. How will the optics look when a historic democratic ally, Israel, exempts a significant number of young men from its own military service, if U.S. troops fight in a war that many will claim Israel is responsible for? (I’ve already heard some people raise this issue.)

 

At this point in the game, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, the reality is that Iran will find a way to develop nuclear arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, that were expected to protest, have accepted this reality. I doubt that they have any more trust in this accord than the Israeli government and public. But their relatively quiet stance indicates that they are thinking further into the future about maintaining good relations with United States in order to combat immediate threats like ISIL and the disintegration of Syria.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected several times on his promise to do everything that he could to keep Iran from going nuclear. President Obama, already in his first run at the presidency, set forth a goal of re-integrating Iran into the “family of nations” (and perhaps also recalibrating the balance of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East). Two sovereign nations, located in different parts of the world, one a super power and the other an embattled regional power, are entitled to see the world differently. Despite vigorous efforts, the time when it might have been possible to exercise other options and bring about a different kind of agreement has passed. I believe that it’s strategically smarter to put efforts now into planning for a reality of a stronger, regional and likely nuclear power that Iran will become, and the implications of that reality both for the United Sates and Israel.

 
 

 

Disorderly Democracy or Tyrannical Terror: Thoughts About July 4th

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

If you’ve ever visited a country with an oppressive government, you know how precious the meaning of July 4th is. Even if you haven’t been in a cruel country, but have watched the news of this past week, you can deeply sense the impact of the absence or presence of freedom.

 

This week in America, we saw the incredibly positive culmination of spirited debate, years of litigation and uncommon compassion from everyday people: racism, homophobia, and economic inequality reflected in overpriced healthcare were big losers. Admittedly imperfect and slow, significant progress was made on these key issues. Many challenges that still lie ahead, but this upcoming American holiday gives us a timely opportunity to celebrate these achievements.

 

4th of july jewish

 

But abroad during this week, in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and France to name only a few places, loathsome terrorists killed hundreds of people by using brute lethal force. These individuals are pretenders. They aren’t brave for they are deathly afraid of powerful ideas about what it means to be human that are contrary to their beliefs.

 

Events here and there are connected. The same forces in Western democracies that hearten us here frighten fundamentalists of all stripes and in all places.  Battling over ideas and values leaves a much less certain and often-ambiguous outcome then battling with weaponry.

 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain moderate political and religious views for a variety of reasons. The value of moderation is that it can bridge views at opposite ends of the spectrum. But, speaking personally, when I watch the utter ugliness of fundamentalists in action, I begin to wonder if moderation is an unintentional friend to extremists. It is incomprehensible to me, as a religious moderate, how “religious ” individuals can torture, brutalize, torment and persecute anyone in the name of religion in this day and age. Sometimes it feels like the numbers are reversed and that we’re living in the 12th Century and not the 21st.

 

So while July 4th is not a holiday found on the Jewish calendar, it still feels very Jewish and especially universal this year. Maybe it’s time for moderates to advocate more vigorously for the right to hold different viewpoints and remain in caring conversations with one another. Holding on to dissent and empathy isn’t easy, but that’s what people who are truly free can do. For a week like this suggests that we are not debating just one particular issue or idea. Rather, the essential argument is about human freedom and how to best augment it in the face of legitimate differences. And that is an ecumenical issue that I’ll be thinking about this July 4th.
 

From Generation to Degeneration: Declining American Jewish Kinship with Israel?

Posted on: April 22nd, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

Over the past five years, my wife and I have spent about six weeks each year in Israel. We’re clearly not Israeli citizens, but we’re more than occasional visitors. Like many, we have family and close friends in Israel, and are intentionally deepening those relationships and making new ones. Whenever we return from a visit, we’re asked, “What did you see this time?” While we enjoy museums, concerts, new wineries, restaurants and archaeological findings, we most enjoy being with family and friends and, for me, getting my spiritual fix.

 

With more frequent visits, I’ve become more aware of the differences between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Yom ha’Atzmaut felt like the right time to share some reflections… and to ask you for your opinions.

 

The modern state of Israel is only 67 years old. Although Israel is the indisputable historic homeland of the Jewish people, in its current iteration, it is young. In fact, my parents are older than the modern State of Israel. Israel is only about 10 years older than my wife and me, over 40 years older than my children, and well over 60 years older for some of my friends who have grandchildren.

 

israel-rabbi-hayim-herring

 

 

Doing this simple, personal math clearly reminds me that within the American Jewish community, there are two generations that can remember the fragility of the State of Israel, and two generations (going on three) that think that Israel is an outsized global powerhouse. Because of such a significant divide, I wonder to what extent the words “from generation to generation,” that imply continuity of values and kinship, apply to the majority of American Jews who are third generation and beyond. They do not have personal living memories of Israel’s vulnerability but are routinely reminded of Israel’s deficiencies. In daily doses of media images and text, they absorb a one-sided, distorted view of Israel, where Israel almost always does wrong and rarely can do right.

 

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Wars Against Israel: Beyond the Gaza Operation

Posted on: July 28th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

Intertwined Lives Once Again

 

This past Shabbat, we completed reading the Book of Numbers in the annual Torah cycle. The close of that book sets the stage for the Jewish people’s next steps, from wanderers to returnees to their ancestral land. But two tribes, Reuven and Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh, remain on the other side of the Jordan and do not enter the land. Interestingly, while Reuven and Gad directly ask Moses for permission to remain in Transjordan, Moses is the one to designate half of the tribe of Manasseh’s portion in Israel and half in Transjordan (Numbers 32:33) Moses creates an intentional Diaspora, and causes the exile of one part of a family from another. Why?
 

Perhaps Moses foresaw the need to create a reality where Jewish people inside and outside of the land of Israel had a shared a past. The severing of direct family connections might better ensure their chances for a shared future. If only two whole tribes separated from the other ten, it would have been much easier for each side to forget about the other. But by splitting a single tribe in half, Moses increased the odds that caring would transcend geography and time, and that a family that was literally divided would better remember that a shared past meant an intertwined future, one in which each half would help the other in times of need.
 
And that is the contemporary situation of worldwide Jewry again. We share not just a past, but also a present in which many of us have immediate family members and some of our closest friends in Israel. We are both obligated and personally motivated to secure a shared, peaceful future for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
 

 israel-gaza
 
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A Tale of Two Pictures: Before and After an Iron Dome Alert

Posted on: July 18th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

(This post is about my recent 3 week visit to Israel, where I spent most of my time in Jerusalem.)

 

Words just don’t cut it when describing what it’s like to be caught outdoors when an incoming missile alert siren sounds. Especially the part that news reporters don’t record—the ten minutes after the siren goes silent. So here are two pictures: one showing an Iron Dome interceptor hitting four incoming rockets near my Jerusalem neighborhood when I was visiting, and the other showing two cars decorated for a wedding ten minutes later.

 

And here’s the connection…

 

Israel - Iron Dome and Wedding

 

It was about 5:45 pm a week ago this past Tuesday, and my wife, Terri, and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. We were on a very popular path, and it was crowded with families with young children, an elderly person being pushed in a wheel chair, joggers, and middle-aged couples like us. At about 5:55 pm, the siren sounded. We were nowhere within the approximately 30 seconds that we had to find a bomb shelter. Terri turned to me and said, “What do we do?” to which I said, “Run like everyone else around us and drop to the ground. And that’s what we did, along with an older woman near us, and a family with three young children under the age of five.

 

Then I looked up and saw the awesome power of the life-saving Iron Dome missile defense system. And Iron Dome does not just save Jewish lives. It saves the lives of all Israeli citizens: Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. And it also saves the lives of more Palestinians in Gaza, for without Iron Dome, Israel would have needed to undertake ground operations in Gaza many times to destroy its massive arsenal of missiles that are hidden under deep tunnels, sometimes near schools and hospitals.

 

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WorthRight Israel: Fund Interfaith Couples and Families Israel Trips

Posted on: June 2nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Imagine what would happen if funders created a variety of high-quality Israel trips that were free or heavily-subsidized for interfaith couples and families.

 

Question to funders and philanthropists: What about making a heavily subsidized trip to Israel available for interfaith couples and families? Here are the arguments for it:

 

“Israel-alienated” Jews constitute about 20% of the young Jewish population, to use Professor Steven Cohen’s term in a recent analysis he prepared for The Jewish Daily Forward. Not just hawkish Israeli government policies, but intermarriage also has emerged as an “indicator of alienation” from Israel.

 

Any rabbi or other educator who has taught an Introduction to Judaism class with non-Jewish learners knows that it’s impossible to give them the experience of pride, love and passion for Israel simply by talking about the Jewish state. They can experience a Shabbat or holiday meal locally, they can experience being a part of a Jewish family locally, but they can’t feel the complexity and depth of emotions about Israel from a classroom in the Diaspora.

 

Interfaith family in Israel

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When Does Debate Cross a Line from Health to Pathology?

Posted on: May 13th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

I’m not looking for some nostalgic Jewish past when we were all unified. That would be fiction, not historical fact. (Item: think we’re not unified now? Remember that when the Romans besieged Jerusalem in early 70 C.E., extremist Jewish factions burned storehouses of the little food left in an effort to provoke Jewish moderates into war against the Romans and out of potential negotiations). Debate, discussion, dissent and disagreement are in our DNA — and for the better. These attributes help us hone our ideas, challenge our assumptions, and collectively and progressively refresh Judaism.

 

But like much of America today, we have divides, not spectrums:

 

• Open Hillel/Safe Hillel
• J-Street/AIPAC
• Religious/Secular
• In-married/Intermarried
• Mainstream/Start Up
• Growth/Decline
• Modern Orthodox/Extreme Orthodox
• Boomers/Millennials

 

hayim-herring-great-divide

 

Divides create a mentality of, “you’re either for us or against us,” while spectrums of belief can help focus energies on areas of agreement. Divides turn people off, while spectrums bring people in.

 

Note that most of these divisions aren’t new, although their labeling has been updated in some cases. But I think that social media have heightened the question, “At what point will dissent impair our ability to act collectively? Why might it do so? Because just as the Internet bestows the blessing of instantly spreading great ideas, it is equally potent at spreading disdain for one another. (Sometimes the web feels like a 24/7 global la-shon ha-ra or gossip factory.) And ill-will may linger well after any specific incident and turn into hardened opinions and stereotypes.

 

The minor festival of lag b’omer is celebrated this Sunday. Legend has it that a massive number of students of Rabbi Akiva died because of internecine fighting several weeks before that time, as Divine punishment for lack of mutual respect. They forgot that they needed each other–that’s my interpretation. Clearly, even a “big tent” has its limits. But if we want a dynamic and healthy American Jewish community, we’re going to have to cool the rhetoric we use in speaking of differences, and warm the embrace within our respective belief system.

 

Want to Advance understanding of American and Israeli Jewry? Think Networks!

Posted on: April 28th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

I returned from Israel a week ago after spending Passover in Jerusalem. It’s not so bad to be able to purchase kosher for Passover take-out food for Seder and have the option of eating out at restaurants during that week! Those are very different experiences than I would have in Minneapolis or most other Jewish communities in the United States. But within only 24 hours of my return, Israel was brought right back into my living room in three powerful ways:
 
1. A very close friend of mine described the terror of being in Sederot in Southern Israel with his family, when a “Red Alert” rocket warning sounded. He described the immediate anxiety of knowing that Hamas-fired rockets hit, and the general anxiety of not knowing when the next ones would.
 
2. A news story described a program called Dancing in Jaffa in which young Palestinians and Israeli children were learning how to dance together, and the positive social impact this initiative was having on them and their families But as a part of the story, one of the interview clips that they showed was a 10-year-old Israeli girl saying, “My father would kill me if you knew that I was friends with a Palestinian.”
 
3. And the news that wasn’t news to anyone following: The collapse of “peace talks” between Israelis and Palestinians, with Palestinians blaming Israelis for continued West Bank settlement expansion (correctly) and Israelis stating a powerful truth: a unity government of Fatah and Hamas, with Hamas’s avowed destruction of Israel, is a deal-breaker.
 
Israel_and_Palestine_PeaceHow do you ever convey to American Jews the vibrancy and complexity of Jewish life in Israel, and is there a way to help Israelis understand that while the American Jewish community is clearly confronted by demographic challenges, Jewish life in America is thriving in many ways?
 
Here’s my take away from my visit: don’t only think “programs,” think networks. It’s time to do a network mapping project of the existing groups of Jewish Israelis and Americans who spend or have spent decent chunks of time in one another’s respective communities. Currently, we don’t have visual maps of just how many different networks there are of Israelis who get to know American Jewish communities, and Americans who get to know Israel on the deeper level.
 
Who are the Americans who regularly visit Israel and who are the Israelis who visit America regularly? For example, from the American side, businesses people and investors (who may or may not be Jewish), academics, students who spend a gap year in Israel, families who host Israeli scouts or develop deep relationships with community shlichim, and of course, those with family in Israel. And on the Israeli side, journalists who who cover American jewelry, former Israeli citizens who still visit Israel regularly, community shlichim who work in a number of communities over a period of years, doctors who trained in the States and practice in Israel and to stimulate thinking about the existence of hidden networks–groups of individuals who exist already but don’t appear on any organizational chart–even Israeli airline personnel whose routes take them to the States frequently.
 
We have Israeli advocacy, educational and political organizations. We have programs. But we don’t have a clear understanding of the the likely large number of community bridge spanners, people who move between the Jewish American and Israeli communities. What would happen If we could identify these networks, create spaces for them to connect and nurture (not control) their interests? I have a feeling that these networks of bridge spanners are an asset waiting to be tapped that can help add a dimension of nuance to the often blunt, one-dimensional pictures that are used to describe our respective Jewish communities. Any thoughts? Please send them to me by clicking Contact on my website.