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.
How 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.