Educating MKs on the Nuances of Diaspora Life: An Op-Ed

Dear Friends,

Today I share with you the first of two op-eds by members of the Israeli Knesset that appeared recently on JTA, the primary global news service of the Jewish community.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments with me and all our readers.  We want to hear from you.

– Jay Ruderman

Educating MKs on the Nuances of Diaspora Life

By Faina Kirshenbaum, Knesset member from the Yisrael Beitenu party

As an immigrant to Israel, a woman and a member of the Knesset, I must juggle many sensitivities and responsibilities. I do this with great honor and try to be responsive to competing demands and ideals. Sometimes this means that I have to examine fundamental beliefs.

When I made aliyah in 1973 from the former Soviet Union, I was of the firm opinion that Jews everywhere should come and live in Israel. But over the years I have come to see things differently. This was brought home to me in an even more persuasive way following a week-long visit to the American Jewish community earlier this year as part of the Ruderman Fellows Program for members of the Knesset sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Together with five colleagues from across the Israeli political spectrum, we engaged with American Jewish leaders and activists who opened our eyes to American Jewish thinking and priorities. In New York and Boston, Ruderman Fellows met many different streams — Reform, Conservative and so on, and learned about the growing phenomenon of non-traditional approaches to Judaism. This was not easy for me.

I believe that sooner or later we will lose a large part of this community. Therefore it is of the greatest importance that we work hard to embrace these non-traditional families and help them sustain Jewish identification and affiliation to turn as many as possible into Jews.

Along with the tremendous religious diversity, I also found many differences of opinion on Israel among American Jews. I was especially struck by a sense of hostility that we found in the Boston community. At some points I even thought, “What use is a Diaspora that thinks this way about Israel?”

Of course, the very purpose of the Ruderman program was to introduce Israeli legislators to the variety of opinion and activity that characterizes the American Jewish community– to get us to understand what this community is thinking even if that thinking is anathema to our own. But we must establish a shared platform for discourse and exchange because only in dialogue can the Jewish world find the commonality of spirit and commitment to ensure our joint future.

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