Diaspora and Israel

Articles on the role of the diaspora in Israel and Israel’s responsibility towards the Diaspora.

Contribution, Integration, and the “Learn and Network” Program

This week the Haredi community in Lakewood hosted a first-of-its-kind job fair. Although only 1500 or so people were expected to attend, the fair attracted over 5000 people, Despite strong pressures to learn all day even in the American Haredi community, there clearly is a strong interest in employment.

The job fair was an offshoot of the “Learn and Network” Kollel program started by Duvi Honig, a member of the Haredi community in Lakewood, New Jersey. The “Learn and Network” program provides a framework where Haredim can combine job search skill development, networking, and Torah learning. Begun at the end of 2010, by May 2011 it had branches operating in four communities in the USA: Lakewood, Monsey, Flatbush, and the Five Towns area.  There are now plans to expand to  Israel as well.  Talks are already under way in both Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak.

In Monsey, participants meet in the morning for Shachrit. This is followed by an hour and half of chevruta study at 9AM. From 10:30AM on, participants attend a variety of lectures on job hunting skills, small business development, networking, and of course Torah topics. Networking is encouraged both during study and lecture times. Other local program have slightly different schedules or run in the evenings, but the basic format is the same: a blend of Torah study, networking, and practical skill development.

From the Haredi point of view, there are two important advantages to this program over job training programs for the general public. The first and most obvious Continue reading

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Countdown to Purim, 5772: Hesder Style in Australia

Today’s pre-Purim video is from teachers in Australia’s Torah MiTzion program. The Torah MiTzion program brings graduates from the Israeli army’s Hesder programs to teach in Jewish Day Schools in Australia.

The Hesder program allows Israelis Continue reading

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US Federations Condemn Jewish Extremism in Israel

The Jewish Federation of North American (JFNA) has issued three statements about Jewish religious extremism in Israel.

JFNA issued a statement condeming extremism on behalf of all US federations on December 27, 2011.

JFNA acted quickly after the Arutz 2 (Channel 2) expose of Beit Shemesh that featured a little girl in Beit Shemeh terrorized by religious extremism. On December 27, 2011, JFNA issued a statement Jewish Federations Condemn Wave of Religious Extremism and Violence”, spoke of the contrast between the actions of the extremists and the Judaism of “darche noam”: Continue reading

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LA Jerusalem Mashup

by Edoe Cohen, cross-posted with permission from eJewishPhilanthropy

I was neither born nor raised in Israel. My Israeli parents moved to the States in the late 70s and I grew up in Los Angeles, where I never really felt very American. I also never appreciated or understood why my parents insisted on sending me to Hebrew school and summer programs in Israel. Looking back, I think I did understand that my family was different. That all of us Israeli transplants, my parents, their Israeli friends and all the kids, were different.

We moved to Israel when I was a teen and settled near Jerusalem, but it took me nine years to really and truly feel and identify as an Israeli. It is strange to imagine the Jewish people returning to their homeland after two thousand years of exile and then the first generation of Israeli-born children finding their way back into exile. My grandparents came to Israel from Romania, Bessarabia, Iraq and Morocco; my parents came to L.A. from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I sometimes joke that I have all the Jewish geographic extremes in my blood – Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, America and Israel. Is there something inherent in the Jewish psyche that drives us to explore, to move, to not feel settled for too long in any one place?

What once confused and frustrated me, this mixed identity and time spent in Israel and abroad, today inspires me, forms my identity and shapes my vision and work. Having lived outside of Israel, my army service was infused with the knowledge of exile, a sensation my tzabar (native Israeli) friends did not share. Although I did not grow up with anti-Semitism in my life, I was able not to take the Jewish state for granted; a frame of mind that guided my infantry army career of six years, a career that in my American youth I could have never imagined.

And when I arrived on the Columbia University campus in New York after my military service, I arrived as an Israeli, my American identity only on display when I flashed my American passport in JFK and or spoke in my accentless English. Most of my Israeli friends on campus focused on exploring the city and excelling in their studies. I also studied hard, but my Israeliness was hard earned and I could not remain passive as my country was publicly bashed on campus. Interestingly enough, my approach to Israel advocacy centered around cultural diplomacy. Here I was, bringing Israeli bands and films to an American campus – artifacts belonging to a culture that was foreign to me, but now my own. Sort of.

On campus I saw the different chapters of my life, my different personalities, manifested in entire Jewish sub-communities: Israeli students, orthodox, conservative, reform, secular Jewish students. I identified with each, because I was each. In the IDF, a sense of shared mission and purpose helped me and my comrades transcend our socio-economic, religious, ethnic and political differences. As a student activist on campus, I had no way of importing that experience. But I could import the soundtrack. I could bring to campus the sounds, colors and tastes of the Israel I had learned to love. An Israel that will without mercy challenge and push you forward to discover your potential, then call you achee (my brother) and mean it. A country that goes through the impossible every single day, but has the songs and celebrations to get us through. An Israel whose sons and daughters sacrifice so much, but have developed a creative energy that gives them a competitive edge to inspire the world.

It was this Israel that I tried to bring to campus through music, concerts, film festivals and the student run Cafe Nana. It was this Israel I saw unite students on campus when they all danced together to songs of Hadag Nachash and ate hummus with Lemonana.

And now I am back in Israel working to bring this culture online for the world to discover and for Israelis to rediscover. I definitely believe that as Jews we have a calling to explore, to move, to not feel settled, to chase justice and create peace. I believe in the power of art, music and culture to challenge us, to nurture our drive and to bring us together.

Edoe Cohen is the creator of Omanoot – Israel through Art, an e-commerce website that enables users around the world to explore Israeli art and culture online. Cohen served in the IDF’s infantry as a company commander. A graduate of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Cohen is currently pursuing his MBA from the Kellogg-Recanati International EMBA program.

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Occupy Haagen-Dazs?

by Sid Slivko, cross-posted with permission from Got Talmud?

Two weeks ago, the Israel Rabbinate ruled that Haagen Dazs ice cream is no longer kosher. The reason: Haagen Dazs is made with real milk processed by non-Jews.  And while this may be kosher enough for the Orthodox Union (OU) which provides Haagen Dazs’ with its kashrut certification, it’s not sufficient for the Israel Rabbinate.

This is not the first time the Rabbinate has clashed with Diaspora rabbis in recent history .

In 2006, my wife, Michele Chabin, broke the story in the New York Jewish Week that the Israel Rabbinate would no longer automatically recognize Orthodox conversions from the Diaspora.  The Rabbinate demanded that Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora prove that they and their conversions met the criteria and standards set by the Rabbinate.  This unilateral decision, which took the Orthodox rabbis by surprise, meant that even those rabbis ordained by the most prestigious Orthodox institutions and respected in their communities, now needed the Israeli Rabbinate’s approval.

Two years later, after a series of frustrating negotiations, between the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Israeli Rabbinate, an arrangement was finally worked out which stipulated that  only those Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora that receive the official approval of  the Bet Din of America will be recognized by the Israel Rabbinate.  Furthermore, only those Diaspora rabbis on the Israel Rabbinate’s ‘short list’ would be authorized to do conversions. Those who were not could find their conversions disqualified by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel  – even retroactively – unless they could prove that their conversions met the standards set by the Rabbinate!

Why does this matter?  Because the Rabbinate is afraid that these Orthodox converts or their children will eventually come to,  and possibly seek to get married in, Israel — a very likely possibility.  And how can they possibly endorse a marriage when the bride or groom may not be Jewish according to their standards? (Remember, the Rabbinate has sole authority over Jewish weddings and divorces).

So, the Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora gave the Israel Rabbinate the keys to the kingdom.

Not everybody has been happy with this arrangement.   Even in Israel, the number of “dati” couples who turn to Itim and Tzohar – organizations that provide religious services and support outside the Rabbinate – is on the rise.  Today, in 2012, imposition of Israel Rabbinate standards on Diaspora communities, which the Rabbinate called “leShem Shamayim” – for the sake of heaven, has alienated a significant Jewish population and fragmented a global Jewish community that just cannot afford to be divided.

So what will be the Diaspora rabbis’ response to this ice cream freeze-out? Fight?  Give in?  Wait for the Israel Rabbinate to force its decision on Jewish communities around the world?  Occupy Haagen Dazs?

Talmudic tradition shows that these Israel/Diaspora rabbi wars go quite far back, and offers the following sound byte which seems aptly ironic:

אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא: תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם, שנאמר כל בניך למודי ה’ ורב שלום בניך, אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך. שלום רב לאהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול; יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך; למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך למען בית ה’ אלהינו אבקשה טוב לך;ה’ עז לעמו יתן ה’ יברך את עמו בשלום. (ברכות סד:א).

Rabbi Elazar said “Disciples of the Sages increase the peace in the world. As it says ‘All your children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children [banayikh].  Do not read banayikh but bonayikh  [your builders]” – namely, rabbis.  (Berakhot 64a)

The Rabbi Elazar quoted here is Elazar ben Pedat, a Diaspora scholar who moved to Israel.  At first, his Diaspora behavior did not find favor among his colleagues in Tiberias, but he gained their respect and eventually became the head of the academy there.

Perhaps one day the Israel Rabbinate  will recognize that the their  Diaspora colleagues are no less learned than they are — maybe even in our generation —  and are responding legitimately and halakhically to a need the Israel Rabbinate just cannot appreciate.

Sid Slivko is an Orthodox Rabbi and Jewish educator living in Jerusalem, Israel. He studied and received ordination from Yeshiva University and the REITS rabbinical program

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Two US Federations With a Long History in Support of Tolerance


In a beautifully written essay published in eJewishPhilanthropy, Steven A. Rattkin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (Washington DC) makes the case for Diaspora involvement in Israel’s recent social conflicts:

…As the whole world knows by now, the friction between certain extremist haredim and others in Beit Shemesh took a recent explosive turn. Add international media coverage of the separation of men and women on selected bus lines and the removal of images of women on certain billboards in Jerusalem, and we have a combustible mixture of concern by many Israelis and American Jews about the status of civil society, tolerance and women’s rights in Israel.

…But I do worry about the image of Israel. No, this is not another article about hasbara. Rather, it’s a call for the American Jewish community (though we come from different backgrounds and may not agree on multiple issues) to engage with like-minded Israelis to denounce acts of intimidation and violence, promote dialogue and create safe space for different communities in Israel to live beside each other in greater harmony.

….It’s a tale of two countries but also a tale of one people – our people. It’s a story that encompasses everything: the challenging and the beautiful, the reality and the promise, the present and the future, all built on a miraculous past. It’s a tale which must aspire to the happy end expressed by Isaiah: “And I shall submit you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations.”

Washington DC’s federation’s involvement is not new. Continue reading

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The Z-Word: Reimagining Zionism

Israel's Declaration of Independence

In the last several years the Z-word, Zionism has taken quite a beating. It has been associated with poisonous nationalism, apartheid like prejudice, and Nazi like racial cleansing. College students are often on the defensive when they talk about Zionism. The lastest news from Israel doesn’t help matters either. Leaders within and outside of Israel have looked at some of the legislation going through the Knesset and wondered about our commitment to democracy. The well-publicized exclusion of women has engendered comparisons to Iran.

What makes all of this so very sad and ironic is that Zionism was not meant to be this way. The Israeli Declaration of Independence spoke of a very different vision:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The past few weeks have been very painful for those of us who love Israel. They are a stark reminder that justice, freedom, and peace are fragile. They can only be maintained by constant effort. There must be an on-going effort to clean house and fight hatred and exclusion. Without such an effort, power struggles and political and economic gamesmanship quickly cast shadows over human rights.

This is a problem inherent in all democracies. Few would question the commitment of the USA to democracy, yet in recent years the USA has also faced a string of challenges to its own constitutional vision. Interment and torture of foreign soldiers in the name of security has challenged the moral commitment to constitutionally guarenteed rights to due process. Invasive body search by the TSA challenges the right to privacy. This fall at least one candidate expressed disregard for the US Supreme court and constitutionally mandated balance of powers. Other republican candidates acted as if separation of church and state was a typo in the US constitution. Recently proposed internet legislation put free speech at the mercy of high powered corporate legal teams.

The difficulties in the USA and Israel are both reminders that each generation must take its own responsibility for their parent’s and grandparent’s vision of justice, freedom, and peace.

Today gap year students will be gathering together at Hadassah College in downtown Jerusalem to discuss Zionism for their own generation. The conference, titled “The Z-Word: Reimagining Zionism” will bring together college and gap year students in Israel to study and debate both the historic vision of Zionism and its current challenges. Speakers include experts from across the political and academic spectrum as well as think tanks and activists.

This conference is clearly important as a way for the next generation to take responsibility for preserving the best of Zionism. However, it is just as important as a meeting of minds between Israelis and the Diaspora.

Israel will fail to be a Jewish state if it only represents the Jews who actually live in Israel. We Israelis hold in sacred trust a land of deep symbolic meaning to all Jews across the globe. Although we have our own distinct identity here in the Middle East, we can never forget our role in the wider Jewish world. However we cannot include that which is silent. Diaspora Jewery must speak up and engage Israelis. Ingathering isn’t just physical. It doesn’t just mean aliah. It also means a meeting of minds and hearts throughout the Jewish world.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Diaspora and Israel, Our Zionist Forebearers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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