By Jay Ruderman
Only this time of year of course we refer to that tent as the Big Sukkah: A shelter large enough to unite Jews from both sides of the Atlantic with the goal of mutual understanding and support. In fact, this understanding is one of the guiding principles of our family’s foundation. Specifically we are working to raise awareness among Israeli leaders of the key importance of the relationship betweenIsraeland the American Jewish community. Which is why last spring we brought six members of Knesset to North America so they could see first-hand that which unites and divides us, and get to know – and appreciate the unique position of — American Jews.
In last week’s JTA op-ed, “Bridging the Israel-Diaspora Gap is More Vital than Ever,” Avi Dichter, a Kadima Member of Knesset, the former Minister of Internal Security and former head of Israel’s Shin Bet (domestic security agency), shared much of what he learned during his Ruderman Fellowship experience.
As the son of Holocaust survivors. Dichter learned at an early age not to take Israel’s security for granted, and this has been a driving passion behind his four-decades in the public eye, with a specialty in security.
“The trip showed me that my deep personal concerns for my family ties are but a microcosm of the dangers facing the continuity of the Jewish people,” he wrote in his op-ed.
It was a trip that opened eyes of all six Knesset members. “As politicians, this was a new experience for all of us. Rather than coming to speak, we came to listen. Instead of espousing our own ideas, we learned from others.” And some of what they learned was “alarming.”
The Fellows were shocked to find that millions of Americans hold anti-Semitic views, accusing Jews of loyalty to Israel over America (re: a 2009 Anti-Defamation League survey). “We were astonished to learn of such bigotry in America, the beacon of freedom around the world, where Jews have thrived for well over a century.”
They also found disturbing inconsistent statistics about the number of Jews living in the United States, ranging from 5.2 million to 6.5 million. “The vast 25 percent difference suggests a serious crisis of identity as to the definition of ‘Jewish,’” he writes. So, by insisting on clear-cut definitions, he fears “Israelis risk alienating our friends in the diverse Jewish communities around the world and most importantly in America, which finds unity through diversity.”
All in all, Dichter returned home with a deep concern about the divide between American and Israeli Jews, “and its potential for widening even further at a time when Israel must depend on friends from abroad … those bonds, critical to Israel’s standing and resiliency, must be reinforced so that we are able to contend with the myriad challenges confronting us today.”
And so, in this new year, may all of us – Israeli and American alike — work together to strengthen each other under the Big Sukkah of unity and peace.
— Jay Ruderman