Left, right or center, the State of Israel is a fixture in the minds of most American Jews (and indeed in the minds of most Americans). Our connection to Israel is a deeply rooted facet of American Jewish life, one constantly reinforced in synagogues and Jewish communities across the country. Every year, over 20,000 young Jews participate in Birthright, further strengthening the bond felt to our ancient home. However, there is another side to the relationship, one that typically receives very little attention: the attitudes of Israelis towards Jews living abroad.
The fact is that most Israelis spend very little time thinking about the state of the American Jewish community, or of the close connection that American Jews feel to the State of Israel. It often seems that the strength of the bond between these two communities is essentially felt only one way.
This is true even among Israeli lawmakers and politicians; rarely, if ever do they consider the wider-reaching effects of the decisions they make on the Jewish community in the Diaspora, or the role that Israel plays in that community. This is problematic for a number of reasons. As politicians in Israel, the role of America is of obvious importance, and the Jewish community in that country should naturally be of interest to Israeli lawmakers. More importantly, though, Israel is the ancestral home of the Jewish people, and one would hope that the leaders of the nation of Israel would also feel that they were in some ways leaders for the global Jewish community, and value their relationship with Jews the world over.
The Ruderman Fellows program is an attempt to address this issue. Its inaugural event, which brought six members of Knesset to the United States to meet with esteemed American Jewish leaders and thinkers, was held earlier this year, but much remains to be done. It is our hope that, through continued efforts to educate members of Knesset and expose them to the wider Jewish community, we can continue to build on and reinforce the strength of the bond between Israel and the American Jewish community.