Setting The Agenda

At the recent JFNA GA, Jay Ruderman sat down with JNS Editor in Chief Jacob Kamaras to discuss inclusion, philanthropy, the Israel-U.S. Jewry relationship and more. Below is part two of that interview. Part one can be found here.

Most observers focus on the U.S.-Israel relationship from the perspective of the two governments aside. But what don’t the broader Israeli and American civilian populations understand about each other?

“If people know about our work, they probably know about the issue of disabilities and inclusion, in Israel and the United States. However, I’ve been living in Israel for eight years, and through my experience at AIPAC and my experience on my own meeting political figures, ministers, Members of Knesset, I came to the realization that when I would speak to them about the American Jewish population and how important the population is, to Israel and Israel’s security, they didn’t really understand the community I was talking about, and they frankly didn’t really care. Israel is a very self-focused society and they care about things that happen in Israel, and there are things happening in Israel every single moment. But this community here, the American Jewish community, they don’t really understand all that well. Anyone who has spent time in both countries realizes that they’re completely different societies. In Israel, there’s no separation between church and state, there’s a Rabbanut. The Reform and Conservative movements, and other ways of connecting to Judaism, they’re represented but they’re not widespread throughout society. So what we’ve begun to do [at the foundation] is educate Israeli leaders. We’ve been bringing Knesset members to the United States, bringing journalists, and talking to them about the American Jewish community—the pluralism of the community, how there are all different ways of observance, synagogue life, and the younger generations of the Americans and how their connection to Israel may be changing. Because the work that the Jewish community has done with the American government to ensure support of Israel is critical, in my opinion, for Israel’s survival. If younger Jews are not connected in the same way, that’s a security issue for Israel, and Israelis by and large are not focused on that issue.”

Jay Ruderman interview

What are the most important current trends in philanthropy, and how should the Jewish community adapt?

“I’m not sure the old model of giving to a centralized organization to support the community is going to be that popular moving forward. I think people are looking for a more entrepreneurial entrance to philanthropy and looking to sort of control the way their giving is done and see the impact, and be more hands-on. We work very well with [Jewish] federations. We have major partnerships in Boston on the issue of inclusion in Jewish day schools, on employing young people with disabilities, on making our synagogues more inclusive. We have a major partnership with JFNA in placing interns, people with disabilities in federations around North America. I still believe that I represent a family that has four individuals. I don’t represent the entire Jewish community. So if I want to work on the issues that are important to us, then we have to connect with the Jewish community, and right now federations hold that position. However, I think that federations have to build these partnerships with foundations. And one of the things, quite frankly, that we should put on the table is that significant wealth and philanthropy, people who are billionaires and multi-billionaires, are going to be setting the agenda of the Jewish community. And my personal belief is that they have an obligation to be public about what they’re doing, to explain what they’re doing, and to find a way to connect to the community.”

The interview was originally posted by JNS.

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