Category Archives: Israel Diaspora Understanding

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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New program takes on Israeli ignorance of US Jewry

Courtesy of Haviv Rettig Gur

Courtesy of Haviv Rettig Gur

The article below originally appeared in The Times of Israel. It discusses our foundation’s partnership with Haifa University to create Israel’s first academic program to study US Jewry.


By: Haviv Rettig Gur

Israel’s top leaders and senior officials are in New York this week for the UN General Assembly and rounds of peace and security talks in Washington. Between the unfreezing of talks with Iran and the reliably crisis-ridden talks with the Palestinians, Israeli media can speak of little else.

But for the Israeli leaders themselves, the discussions on Tehran and Ramallah take up a relatively small part of the schedule. The lion’s share of their time in the US, as always, will be spent not with foreigners, but with Jews — American Jews. When influential Jews from the “east” visit New York, they are feted by equally influential, or simply wealthy, counterparts in Midtown restaurants, boardrooms and swank Central Park apartments. For the Americans, the meetings are a chance to show they care. For the Israelis, they are something far more practical.

Israeli politicians have many friends in New York, as evidenced by the primary campaign fundraising records publicized after each election by the state ombudsman. Indeed, American Jewish funds are the lifeblood of many an Israeli political campaign. American Jews are also a gateway to Capitol Hill and the Washington elite, offering an ambitious Israeli politician the chance to dabble in a political arena vastly larger than the Israeli puddle to which he or she is accustomed.

So when one asks Israeli politicians whether they are familiar with American Jewry, whether they know something about the single largest Jewish community outside Israel, a community comprising as much as two-thirds of the Diaspora and over 40 percent of all living Jews, one invariably hears the same response: “I have wonderful friends in New York.” (The more active fundraisers might add, “and in Washington and Chicago and Miami and Los Angeles.”)

This is not a new complaint. It has long been noted and lamented that while Diaspora Jews pour their affection and treasure into Israel — some $2 billion each year in American Jewish tax-deductible donations alone — there is little reciprocity in the relationship. Israelis, like their leaders, know little to nothing about their Jewish brethren in the Diaspora, and are rarely concerned with the troubles of the other side.

Now, one Israeli university, together with a philanthropic foundation that has roots on both sides of the Atlantic, hopes to change that imbalance, to tackle head-on the near-universal ignorance among Israelis about the rest of the Jewish people.

“Israelis need America, need American Jews. They don’t have anyone else,” philanthropist Jay Ruderman said, emphatically, in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.

A former AIPAC official, Ruderman now lives in Rehovot. The Ruderman Family Foundation, which he runs, has devoted itself to two issues: improving the lives of those with disabilities and getting the two major Jewish communities of the world, which together comprise over 80% of all Jews, to understand each other better.

He is drawn to the problem of the Israeli-American Jewish relationship in part by his own frustration in trying to have a conversation with Israelis on the subject. During his time in American Jewish advocacy, he often found himself meeting Israeli leaders “to talk about the importance of US Jewry for Israel.” Each time, “I was met with ignorance and not caring,” he recalls.

American Jewry “is an important community with a direct bearing on Israel’s security,” yet any dialogue with Israelis “is in essence a one-sided conversation, always about Israel, always about Israel’s security situation, never about what’s happening in American Jewry.”

This deafness has led Israelis to do great damage to the relationship.

“If you look at the board of any significant organization, like AIPAC for example, my guess is there’s a sizable group of Reform Jews there doing important work” for Israel’s benefit, Ruderman says.

“If Israel starts making statements to the effect that these people aren’t Jews, or that their form of worship isn’t [up to scratch], these people could walk away and say, ‘Israel doesn’t recognize us, so why should I be doing Israel’s heavy lifting in Congress?’”

Israeli leaders, he argues, “must be understanding and nuanced in how they deal with the American Jewish community. I would say to Israeli leaders: You have to understand what’s going on in this community.”

In an effort to combat that gap in understanding and nuance, Ruderman funded several trips for Israeli “influentials” — MKs and journalists — to meet American Jewry. The results, he believes, were mixed.

“These missions were one-off shots, and we were trying to invest in someone who may not retain their position” — of 11 MKs who went on a recent trip, five are no longer in the Knesset.

Professor Gur Alroey

Professor Gur Alroey

A few months ago, Ruderman sat down with Haifa University Jewish history scholar Prof. Gur Alroey to discuss more effective ways to tackle the Israeli political elite’s ignorance of the broader Jewish world.

The goal, as Ruderman sees it: “To create a nucleus of leaders who understand the topic, who understand what Israelis need to understand about American Jews, their impact on American society and what’s important to them as Jews, and how [Israeli] decisions, statements by ministers, etc., impact American Jews.”

The result is a new masters program at Haifa University, headed by Alroey, that will be accepting its first class of 25 students this fall.

The program is the first of its kind in Israel — indeed, it is the only graduate program engaged in the systematic study of any Jewish diaspora in the entire edifice of Israeli academia.

Continue reading the post on Times of Israel.

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Tale Of A Sleeping Beauty

JayRudermanBelow is an op-ed that appeared in the Jewish Week which I co-authored with Yedidia Stern, Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). The op-ed was published in honor of Israel’s 65th Independence Day. We are proud to partner with IDI on the Human Rights and Judaism Project to help put the status of people with disabilities in Israel on the national agenda.


The State of Israel has made extraordinary progress toward achieving its goals in the 65 years since its founding.  But, in one respect, for the last several decades, it has been in a deep, fairytale-like slumber.

Has Israel been fulfilling its historic mission?  There is abundant evidence that it has.  Since the founding of the state in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Israel’s Jewish population has grown by more than 1,000 percent.  The prophetic vision of the Return to Zion has been realized, with the Jewish people’s historic homeland now home to the largest Jewish community in the world.  The Hebrew language, once esoteric and strictly religious, has been miraculously resurrected into a living vernacular – a wild and creative language spoken by millions of children, many of whose parents would feel more at home in Russian, English, or Arabic.

yedidia sternThe establishment of the State of Israel enabled the “People of the Book” to demonstrate that they have a unique ability to act in the world. Despite its small size, Israel has altered the face of modern agriculture, produced the world’s largest generic pharmaceutical company, built a world-class military, and turned itself into the widely-acclaimed “start-up nation.” The Israeli economy is stable and growing, despite the global crisis. Following the recent discovery of offshore natural gas fields, Israel is now even moving toward energy independence.

Despite Israel’s objectively impressive achievements, we must acknowledge that the Jewish state has not lived up to a crucial component of its historic mission.

For two millennia, until 1948, the Jews lived in exile, operating as individuals or within the family or community, but never functioning as a group with responsibility for the public domain.  For centuries, important aspects of Jewish civilization were underdeveloped because Jews did not have sovereignty.

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were always a minority, and never had to deal with the challenge of ruling over a national minority.  Thus, one of the most important directives in Jewish tradition – the proper treatment of the “stranger,” the Biblical Other – was never tested in practice until the Jews had sovereignty.  Jewish religious law did not develop a bill of rights or otherwise regulate relations between the government and its citizens.  In addition, since Jews did not have an army or police force in exile, Jewish ethics did not have the opportunity in modern times to respond to debates about the use of force by the collective and other important questions.

Jewish tradition is built on a commitment to tikkun olam – repairing the world.  Although Jews have devoted themselves to this mission as individuals and groups, it was only upon the establishment of their own nation-state that they could pursue Jewish options for such repair through a sovereign state.  The State of Israel was expected to undertake this task, yet this expectation has yet to be fully realized.  Both in Israel and abroad, some Jews (and non-Jews) are discontented with Israel because the state has yet to fulfill its historic role of developing a distinctly Jewish form of public thought and action that would enable the Zionist enterprise to take its place in the glorious tradition of those who take responsibility for universal world repair.

flagsWhat explains this delay?

Ever since the 1967 Six Day War, for more than two-thirds of Israel’s history, the Israeli marketplace of ideas has been dominated by the controversy over the country’s borders.  In addition, the world, including most Jews, looks at Israel almost exclusively through this prism.  Naturally, there are good reasons for this; continued Israeli rule over another people – even for those who see it as a security necessity – impairs both the Jewish and the democratic character of the state.  But because Israeli discourse has focused nearly exclusively on this one question, Israel has, in effect, slipped into an identity coma.  An individual’s attitude towards “the conflict” has become the determining factor of one’s identity in our generation, a corrosive solvent that consumes everything else.    As a result of the debate about Israel’s borders, the question of the nature of national life within those borders – wherever they may lie – has been neglected. How ironic.

The recent Israeli elections indicate a change in direction.  Against the backdrop of a pervasive sense that the conflict is currently unresolvable – a tragedy in its own right – a new coalition has been formed whose members disagree on foreign policy and defense but come together around a common civic agenda that includes matters of identity.  Unlike fundamentalist groups that would have Israel choose between its Jewish essence and democratic character, the new Knesset shows signs of favoring a complex integration of the universal-democratic aspects of Israel’s national identity with its particularistic-Jewish facets.

The State of Israel is a Sleeping Beauty.  In 1967, when she was barely 19 years old, she was pricked by the spindle of the border debate and fell into a deep civic coma.  Our wish for her 65th birthday is that the recent elections will be the kiss that awakens this princess, so that she can rise to meet the rest of the challenges of Jewish sovereignty.

Read our latest post: Celebrate an Inclusive Israel

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Fresh Perspectives on Israel


Today I’m happy to share with you a fascinating description of Israel through the eyes of a group of young adults with Asperger Syndrome.  Howard Blas, architect of Ramah New England’s highly respected inclusion program, accompanied this group on their Birthright trip and reports below on their experiences.

I hope you enjoy this sensitive and thoughtful piece as much as I did.

–Jay Ruderman

Fresh Perspectives on Israel

By Howard Blas, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah New England

A recent Taglit-Birthright Israel trip sponsored by Shorashim and KOACH was both a typical Birthright trip and a “uniquely Asperger Syndrome” experience rolled into one.  The 21 young adults, ages 18-26 and from all corners of the US, spent ten days over Winter Break taking in many of the important sites and experiences of Israel: Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea, camel riding in the Negev, jeep riding in the Golan, Rabin Square, Shabbat, and time interacting with our three participating Israeli soldiers. The highlights (beautiful scenery, good food, fun!) and complaints (too structured, strict rules against drinking) mirrored those of any other Birthright trip.

Group of Young Adults on Birthright Trip

Click picture to view a larger version.

This depth of knowledge is expected from a group with AS.  The desire to connect with people and place, the ability to articulate what it means to have AS, and the willingness to support peers are generally not. And yet, the group experienced all of these as well.What made this trip different were the extraordinary contributions of the participants. Some of these were to be expected from a group of young people with Asperger Syndrome (AS): vast knowledge about the Bible, archaeology, World War II battles, sci-fi books, and video gaming systems. One participant recited verbatim, from memory, and in Hebrew, the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence as we heard the recording of Ben Gurion reading it in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. A few offered corrections to our amazingly knowledgeable tour guide.

The trip included daily prayer in a variety of locations, and conversations about the weekly Torah reading and about Jewish perspectives on ability and disability. Over Shabbat, nine participants read from the Torah scroll we borrowed from the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem.   One young woman celebrated a first bat mitzvah while another marked a second.  “No friends came to my bat mitzvah.  Here, I am among friends.”  After our visit to the Kotel, a few participants reported hearing God speaking to them from the stones of the wall.  One participant felt “a surge of pride in being Jewish.” Another shared, “My spirituality has been heightened.”  Several enjoyed reading from the Torah scroll we traveled with—and celebrating bat mitzvah among friends.

One young man found it rewarding helping and being helped by fellow participants as they walked down the steep, slippery, rock-filled path down to the Dead Sea. A young woman thanked the group for the patience and kindness they showed her as she made the difficult walk up the Roman Ramp at Masada.

At the “Invitation to Silence” exhibit at the Children’s Museum in Holon, the participants relished the challenge of communicating non-verbally with deaf guides and with each other, which is difficult for some people with AS.

Several commented on the powerful experience of meeting with Israeli peers with AS at the Shekel program in Jerusalem.  “I didn’t know there were people in Israel with Asperger Syndrome.”

In our group processing meetings some spoke of making a first friend, or of being in a group where people understood them—especially when people at their jobsites and degree programs (Associates, Bachelors, and Masters alike) do not.  Some spoke of returning to Israel—to live.  “I can see myself at Shekel when I move to Israel.”  One shared the power of being in a group of people like him, “who should feel more comfortable socializing—but don’t—even after having been told and shown how hundreds of times!”

Ultimately the AS group, like all Taglit-Birthright Israel groups, came to share in the experience of being Jews in their homeland.  For ten days they experienced living as a community of Jews, despite sometimes feeling marginalized by Jewish communities back home.  And, beyond the tzedakah they donated and the oranges they picked at Leket Israel, they left a deep impact  on the Holy Land—the idea that people with disabilities have much to contribute.

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New MKs – the importance of your American cousins


Today I write to share with you my recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post.

Do you think Knesset members fully appreciate the importance of understanding the diverse perspectives of American Jews on Israel? If not, why not?

–Jay Ruderman

New MKs – the importance of your American cousins


The Jerusalem Post , 1/28/2013

As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security.

The votes have been counted.

It appears that almost half the members of our new Knesset will be serving in the Knesset for the first time, and that there will be several new ministers in Israel’s next government. The faces of Israel’s elected officials are changing, and with that comes the prospect – and hope – that there will be broader understanding on the Israeli government’s part of the American Jewish community’s role in ensuring Israel’s security.

Much of the recent election campaign was focused on the significant social problems facing Israel.

Both new and returning MKs may confidently assume that the United States will continue to send Israel $3 billion every year in military aid.

Trends in the United States, however, lead to real concern about potential challenges to American support for Israel. Moreover, Knesset members – both new and returning – tend take the support of the American Jewish community for granted and do not fully understand the vital role this community plays in ensuring the US government’s continued support for Israel.

Many MKs both travel to the United States and meet American Jews visiting Israel, but the discussion is always a one-way conversation focused on Israel’s external threats and internal challenges.

Very rarely are Israel’s leaders presented with an opportunity to learn about the nature and concerns of the American Jewish community and how its connection to Israel is evolving.

DURING THE previous Knesset, Israel’s current homeland security minister, Avi Dichter, along with 10 other MKs from five different parties, visited the US as part of our Ruderman Family Foundation’s Ruderman Fellows Program. Minister Dichter remarked that, “After all of my years representing the State of Israel in key positions, this is the first time that I was truly exposed to the richness and complexity of American Jewry, its organizations, leaders and [the] challenges facing the community.”

He was shocked to find out that there is a debate in the US on the size of the Jewish population, with one organization claiming there are 5 million Jews and another stating the number is 6.2 million – a 25 percent difference.

There will be challenges to the US-Israel relationship in the near future. United States Senator Rand Paul, who recently visited Israel and has been talked about as a presidential candidate in 2016, advocates for a reduction in American foreign aid. While Senator Paul would like to see all foreign aid reduced, this action would have an outsized effect on Israel, which receives so much aid in relation to other countries.

In addition, Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s new nominee for secretary of defense, has in the past been critical of the role of the “Jewish lobby.”

President Obama’s second-term team and Israel’s new administration may see Israel’s challenges very differently and these differing world views may be the cause for new stresses in the vital relationship between the United States and Israel. It seems clear that Israel will face challenges in the US political system, and must be prepared to deal with these challenges.

WHAT OUR new MKs need to understand is that America’s military aid to Israel, the $3b. that has been provided year after year, cannot be taken for granted and that the best way to ensure that this vital aid continues is through the political work of the American Jewish community. Despite senators Paul and Hagel, the vast majority of Members of Congress are strongly supportive of Israel and foreign aid.

These strong supporters of Israel in Congress have been educated and supported by the American Jewish community.

The Knesset must internalize the vital role that the American Jewish community plays in ensuring Israel’s security and spend time understanding how this important community connects to Israel.

Knesset members must understand how the assimilation of the American Jewish community will impact Israel and what they can do to speak to and strengthen Israel’s ties to this growing part of the Jewish community in the United States.

They also need to understand how American Reform, Conservative and even modern Orthodox Jewish communities relate to Israel and understand that when Israel decides issues such as “who is a Jew” it impacts these important relationships.

American Jews and their Israeli counterparts differ in many ways and live in different realities, but the two communities are interconnected and interdependent, and this cannot be overlooked.

As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security. We need our American Jewish cousins because we cannot face our future challenges alone.

The writer is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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The U.S. Isn’t in Our Pocket


Today I want to share with you a recent op-ed I wrote for Haaretz on the relationship between Israel and American Jewry—a topic of special interest to me and the Ruderman Family Foundation.  I believe it’s particularly critical not to take this relationship for granted as we move toward elections later this month in Israel. As in any good relationship, we would only benefit from listening more and assuming less.


The U.S. Isn’t in Our Pocket, Haaretz, December 30, 2012

By Jay Ruderman

Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing our longtime best friend, the world’s greatest superpower, support Israel to the tune of billions of dollars every year via aid funds that are used to buy sophisticated planes and weaponry and finance important defense projects. Just recently, we discovered how critical America’s support was in developing the Iron Dome antimissile system and acquiring additional batteries, which are needed to provide a defensive envelope covering the entire State of Israel.

There are some who take this money for granted, acting as if it were given to us automatically. But that isn’t the case. American Jews are the most important players in the battle for Israel’s security. Yet their support for us isn’t as assured as it was in the past.

Let me explain to you how things really work, far from the media and the public: Members of Congress and candidates running for Congress are obliged to raise enormous sums of money in order to get elected. The people who raise this money for them have the ability to influence the candidates on issues dear to their hearts.

American Jews work together to raise substantial amounts of money for Congressional candidates whom they believe will support Israel. Pro-Israel members of Congress receive broad support from the Jewish community, and this assures Israel of support in Congress.

But the connection between American Jews and Israel has been weakening in recent years. This is one of the greatest threats facing Israel’s security. American Jewry is changing, and those who once felt a supreme commitment to the State of Israel see themselves today as less and less committed to it.

The Reform Movement is one of the most important branches of American Jewry. Last month, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judaism, warned that internal disputes in Israel over issues of religion and state are causing American Jews to view Israel as a country that doesn’t reflect their values.

This statement ought to be keeping Israeli leaders awake at night. They must devote serious efforts to strengthening these fraying ties before we reach the point of no return – before it’s too late.

The state’s leaders must learn to view the American Jew from his own perspective. They must understand what significance Israel holds for him and how he connects to it, and even more, what he doesn’t connect to. Anyone who thinks American Jews will continue to work for Israel and contribute large sums of money to it just because it is the state of the Jewish people is making a grave mistake.

Israeli Knesset members don’t understand the complexity of American Jewry, and it’s not certain that those who will enter the Knesset after the upcoming election know or understand what Israel’s situation is with American Jews. The foundation I head, working in conjunction with Brandeis University, brought two delegations of Knesset members from various parties to the United States to expand their knowledge of the American Jewish community. We were stunned to discover just how vital and necessary this was.

If Knesset members aren’t wise enough to understand the changes taking place within American Jewry and in its connection to Israel, and if they don’t learn how to strengthen this connection, we will lose one of the most important factors ensuring Israel’s security – our common future, and our unconditional mutual solidarity.

Imagine for yourselves where we would be without it, if, heaven forbid, we should ever reach such a state.

The author is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen the connection between Israel and American Jewry.


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Being in Two Places at Once: Our Foundation’s Challenge and Advantage


I’m writing to share an op-ed I wrote this week for  I have been reflecting on why — even with the logistical difficulties of running a foundation with offices thousands of miles apart — the strategic advantages to having a dual presence far outweigh the challenges.

As always, I welcome your comments.

— Jay

Being in Two Places at Once

by Jay Ruderman

There’s an old Yiddish expression that says you can’t have “ein tuchus oft da ganze velt” or, simply put, you can’t be all over the place at once.

But like many foundations today, our agenda transcends nations. We work toward the goal of full inclusion for Jews with disabilities wherever they may live and we also seek to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Jewish community in the United States.

Unlike many foundations, however, we felt we could not be fully effective at this work without a physical presence in both Israel and in the U.S. Our foundation is one of the few to have its principal decision maker live in Israel, while keeping the organization headquartered in the U.S. This unusual arrangement has given us a broader perspective from which our organization and those we serve truly benefit. It has also given us the opportunity to be a peer-to-peer resource for other funders in both the U.S. and Israel.

There are times that the increased coordination required by this arrangement is challenging. But the advantage of having feet on the ground in both places, and the additional involvement with grantee programs that it provides, cannot be measured. We believe that our twin locations provide us with a distinct perspective on philanthropy. Being in two far-away places at one time truly lets us understand the special and unique relationship between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community and how to most effectively pursue our foundation and program goals.

Looking back to Israel’s failed ad campaign in 2011 to woo expatriates to return home, we had a unique vantage point. We could both see the particular forces in Israel that led to the development of the campaign and better understand why it was so poorly received among American Jews.

More recently, during the military conflict with Hamas, we were able to provide our partners in the U.S. with a first-hand account of what it was like in Israel living beneath the thunder of the Iron Dome explosions, as Israeli anti-missile defenses collided with incoming rockets from Hamas, and also report to the public about how Israelis with disabilities were adversely impacted by a shortage of services during the crisis.

Such a perspective is helpful in an environment where major Israeli philanthropists tend not to fund programs outside of Israel. At the same time, many American foundations that fund programs in Israel do not have offices and staff here, even if they visit frequently.

The fact that I choose to live in Israel makes a statement to our board and partners that our foundation understands how Israeli civil society operates. It would be hard for our foundation to be as effective without this structure, in the same way that it would be hard for a newspaper to report on a community if it did not have a presence there.

Similarly, our Ruderman Fellows program, which brings Members of the Knesset to the U.S. so that they can learn more about the Jewish community in the U.S., benefits from our presence in both places. By being located in Israel we are able to directly recruit Members of the Knesset for the program and our operation in the U.S. is able to design the right experience for the participants as well as handle the thousands of details that make these trips a success.

The power of a dual or multi-location operation for foundations should not be underestimated today. In a world where information, influence, and contacts defy boundaries, the strategic advantage of being in two places at once often translates into the greater fulfillment of goals and the coalescing of mission.

Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.  For more on this topic, please follow Zeh Lezeh, the Ruderman Family Foundation’s blog.

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Another View of American Democracy: A Knesset Member Speaks Out

Dear Friends,

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

It may be surprising, at a time when many of us are tiring of election season, to hear about how our democracy is viewed by others.

–   Jay Ruderman

 Israel must Learn from American’s Unrelenting Self-Examination

By Raleb Majadele, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of the Labor Party

Among the many strengths of Israel is its strong democratic tradition. Maintaining this tradition, however, seems to be more of a challenge with every passing year.

Perhaps my feeling is in part a result of a recent visit to the United States, where I witnessed the U.S. presidential election playing out in a demonstration of democracy that is particularly vibrant, robust and energetic.

Along with four other members of the Knesset, I visited the U.S. as a member of the Ruderman Fellows delegation, sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation, to promote greater understanding among Israel and the American Jewish community. Throughout many meetings in Boston and New York City that included a wide spectrum of Jewish community and public leaders, I was deeply impressed by the dynamics of an American democracy in which the diversity of opinion and culture is so embraced.

What also was instilled in me is that a primary component of American strength is the unrelenting self-examination and self-criticism to which it subjects itself. America is not afraid to confront its missteps and imperfections.

My visit to the United States was for me, an Arab citizen of Israel, a profound lesson in democracy. Democratic values are deeply rooted in American society, as well as in its Constitution, which guarantees the equal rights of minorities as a fundamental precept of American law.

Among American Jews I discovered a diverse and principled community representing a wealth of political opinions, religious streams and worldviews. I was moved by the passion and commitment evoked through points of both essential agreement and unbridled disagreement on political, social and strategic issues affecting not only the community but support for Israel as well.

We in Israel have much to learn from the American Jewish community in how to contend with our differences within a safe and respectful atmosphere. Stronger democracy is the cure to a weakening of unity within Israel — and a weakening of support for Israel from outside our country.

For sure, democracy in America is imperfect — and it has taken more than two centuries for it to achieve this level of imperfection. But the U.S. no doubt is a beacon and example of how to build and hold on to representative government. My Israel has much to learn.


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Wanted: Americans to Serve in the Knesset


I hope you enjoy this op-ed of mine that ran in a recent edition of eJewishphilanthropy.  In it I make the case for including American olim (new immigrants to Israel) in the Knesset. This will both raise awareness among Israeli lawmakers about the American perspective on Israeli politics and increase Israelis’ understanding of this all-important bond between our two countries. As always, I welcome your feedback in the comment box provided below.

— Jay Ruderman


Wanted: Americans to Serve in the Knesset

Israel’s relationship with the United States has entered a critical phase and the ensuing pressures that this year will bring must be handled with sensitivity by both sides.

Many Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – have a deep affection for Israel. The same could be said for Israelis, who value the deep connection and unparalleled support of the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy. But as the two nations move forward during unstable times, they must strive to remain in sync. The engagement of the U.S. Jewish community has been so important to maintaining this special relationship and toward ensuring Israel’s long term interests that any weakening in the relationship is a cause for concern.

The clear difference of opinion between the Israeli and U.S. leaders on the timetable for action to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons highlights a strained Israel-U.S. relationship perhaps better than any other single factor. The frustration expressed by Israel over the seriousness of this threat and what the government sees as a slow and far too measured approach by the U.S. is indicative of the different viewpoint of these two nations.

The United States is Israel’s most important strategic ally. That alliance, and the moral, political and military support that comes with it, offers protection to Israel at a time when security of the nation and region are so vulnerable. It is because of this vital relationship and the great need for Israel to approach its relationship with the United States with the highest degree of respect and caution that Israel should be better utilizing the unique tools and perspective of Americans in Israel. There is perhaps no greater time than now to make better use of American olim who are well positioned to understand the nuances and sensitivities of the relationship in a deeper and more intuitive way than their fellow Israelis.

I am not suggesting that American olim should be relegated to the role of the loyal advisor to Israel’s political leaders. Rather, I believe the time has come for them to assume up front political roles in Israeli political life. There are no Americans, for instance, currently serving in the Knesset. The Israel-United States relationship would be greatly improved by the presence of American olim, who can speak directly to the passions and interests of U.S. citizens and would bring American perspective to Knesset dialogue. Such members of the Knesset would give Americans a greater connection to Israel, in much the same way that Golda Meir, as someone who had been raised in the U.S., forged a strong bond with American Jews.

It is hard to understand why American olim don’t serve in the Knesset. After all, they represent the largest group of immigrants to Israel after those from former Soviet republics. Russian speaking olim, on the other hand, serve in large numbers and form a powerful Knesset voting bloc. They advocate strongly for the interests of their community in a way that American olim can aspire to replicate. American olim also have a myriad of special interests that would be best served by having their own representatives in the Knesset.

Philanthropy has a role to play. The Ruderman Fellows program organized by our foundation, in which Members of the Knesset travel to the U.S. to better understand the U.S. Jewish community, has demonstrated the ways in which Israelis have not fully internalized the diversity of American Jewish life and the complexity in their connection to Israel.

One Ruderman Fellow, MK Faina Kirshenbaum, wrote after her trip, “Whatever their (American Jews) views, investing in dialogue with them is a critical Jewish mission. 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.”

Americans in the Knesset could be a critical link in enhancing the Israel-U.S. relationship. They could help their fellow Israelis to better understand the American viewpoint and could also help Americans to better understand the Israeli perspective.

Programs like ours that bring Israeli leaders to America, and those that bring American leaders to Israel, are very effective at opening eyes and minds, but they are no substitute for committed and engaged American-informed perspective in the Knesset.

Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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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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