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Aggressively Addressing the Relationship Crisis Between the Jewish Communities in Israel and North America

Posted on Monday, June 12, 2017 by Dan Segal

For decades, the relationship between the Jewish communities in Israel and North America has been of critical importance.  In the past few years, however, that relationship has seriously deteriorated; there may no longer exist consensus about even fundamental principles.  Symptoms of the depth of the divide range from rabbis in America being so fearful of conflict that they refrain from speaking about Israel from the pulpit to the propensity of many college-aged students, viewing the strife, intentionally distancing themselves completely from any concerns about Israel.  If not aggressively addressed, the relationship crisis risks reaching a point of no return.

In spring 2016, a group of eleven North American and Israeli Wexner alumni — part of the first Wexner Summit ("Stronger Together: (Re)Imagining the North American Israeli Communal Relationship") — recognized that this alarming divisiveness called for the definition of new parameters for relations between North American and Israeli Jewry.  Attempting to address this challenge, the group spent a year drafting a document intended to serve as a guide for the two communities in conducting their relationship.  Privileged to be part of this group, I found the trans-Atlantic and deeply collegial drafting process enormously stimulating and both intellectual and spiritually enriching.  Group members’ varying backgrounds and sharply conflicting views enhanced every interchange, at no cost to civility or mutual respect. 

The document we produced, A Covenant Between NAJC and the State of Israel (http://najcisrael.ga), offers a framework for redefining the relationship through a statement of shared values and mutual obligations.  It goes on to propose the creation of a new political apparatus for dialog and decision-making in order to support a flourishing long-term partnership.  In drafting the document, we deliberately chose a broad perspective in order to allow people with great diversity of opinions to identify with the Covenant and feel welcome within its umbrella. 

The Covenant begins with a statement of seven fundamental values – each of which has traditional Jewish roots – that are shared by the two communities.  While the values are broadly stated (values of peace, justice, mutual responsibility), they set forth foundational principles on which a creative Jewish peoplehood — whatever the geographical location or political/social positions of its communities — should be based. 

The Covenant then goes on to articulate with greater specificity, first, a set of concrete obligations of Israel to the North American Jewish community — e.g., respect for diverse expressions of Judaism, development of deeper understanding of the North American Jewish community, the investment of resources to help assure the continuity of that community.  Recognizing the mandate of mutuality, it then articulates a set of equally concrete obligations of the North American Jewish community to Israel — e.g., fostering love of Israel, opposing delegitimization efforts, promoting joint economic and social ventures.  These obligations reflect each community’s existential dependence on the other. 

Explicit recognition of these shared values and mutual obligations can help provide the foundation for a productive relationship.  But what is also critically necessary are new and more broadly open channels of communication and engagement between the two communities.  Therefore, in its final section, the Covenant proposes the creation of a new platform, open to individuals and organizations alike, to facilitate and encourage engagement and participation by the two communities in an ongoing dialogue on issues of mutual concern. 

Founded on the Covenant’s shared values and obligations, the platform’s overarching goal would be to enhance the relationship between the two communities by serving as a vehicle for shared decision-making and, importantly, for dealing, in a respectful and civil fashion, with conflicts and disputes between the two communities.  We envision the platform as dramatically increasing the number of people and institutions of all political, social and economic stripes who participate in and influence the dialogue between the communities through discussions that are open, unbinding and non-hierarchical.  The platform, based on principles of pluralism and equality, would be a concrete and proactive affirmation that different voices not only can but must be heard.

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We invite all "Wexnerites" to comment on the Covenant, which is not yet in final form, by commenting below or emailing me at das@hangley.com.  We welcome, as well, creative suggestions for presenting and promoting the Covenant to the broader Jewish community.

The members of our Summit Group are:

Reuven Avital, WIF, Class 6
Gadi Baltiansky, WIF, Class 13
Ray Fink, WHP, San Diego 1
Orli Garti-Seroussi, WIF, Class 8
Deborah Housen-Couriel, WIF, Class 12
Einat Hurvitz, WIF, Class 26
Aryeh Klapper, WGF, Class 2
Michal Lebenthal Andreson, WSL 1
Gideon Meretz, WIF, Class 13
Erez Padan, WIF, Class 26
Dan Segal, WHP, Philadelphia 1

Dan Segal, a Wexner Heritage alum (Philadelphia 1) and a participant in the "Stronger Together" Wexner Summit, is an attorney, practicing litigation in a 50-lawyer firm that he co-founded in 1994. He recently successfully represented the 2,400 juvenile victims of a judicial scandal involving millions of dollars of unlawful payments to two judges, payments intended to bias the sentencing process. His Jewish community activities have focused on Jewish education (day schools, family education and Hillel), and social justice/human rights/pluralism in Israel (New Israel Fund).  He currently chairs Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council. Dan can be reached at das@hangley.com.