No Drifting Apart

On Monday evening, the Federation Governing Board will be approving its allocations to our local and overseas partners for the next fiscal year. This is when your generous campaign contributions are put into action. One of the tricky aspects of making allocations now is that our campaign is not complete – in fact, it concludes on June 30. We still have more dollars to raise to fund the agencies at the increased level we are currently planning. If you have yet to make your campaign commitment for 2013, please do so now – it will make a tremendous difference in the lives of so many. Our community is grateful for your generosity.

I also want to personally invite you to join me at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Annual Meeting on Thursday, June 13 at 4:00 p.m. at the Rose Schnitzer Manor in Zidell Hall where we will share our allocations for next year and our exciting plans for the future.


I noted last week that I was traveling to Orlando, Florida and shared my interactions on the plane with Dennis, the ministry consultant. Following Florida, I attended the Board of Trustees meetings for the Jewish Federations of North America in New York City. Allow me to share three of my experiences:

Several weeks ago I wrote a Marc’s Remarks about the Women of the Wall and the inequality of religious practice at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. Natan Sharansky was asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to develop a plan to resolve the various issues. At the Trustees meeting, the Jewish Federations passed an important resolution showing support for Natan Sharansky’s efforts to make the Kotel accessible for all. You can read the resolution here.

Jeffrey Goldberg, writer for The Atlantic, spoke to the group and provided his analysis of what is taking place in the Middle East. He was quite pessimistic about the possible restart of the peace process being led by Secretary of State John Kerry. His biggest concern, however, is the potential for an all-out battle between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East, especially with the various players involved in Syria. We will all be watching.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Dr. Einat Wilf, former Member of the Israel Knesset and a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. She provided an excellent commentary on Israel-Diaspora relations, something she has focused on for years.

Dr. Wilf shared her reflections of the recent Israel elections. In her eyes, the Israeli population focused their attention on the current domestic issues facing the country, while basically “contracting out” foreign policy and defense to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dr. Wilf said, “Israel is in the eye of the storm with so much unraveling in the region. The election basically showed that there is little current debate within the country in regard to Iran (the main threat) with eyes on Syria, Turkey, Egypt, etc.”

The election was really about domestic issues – just look at the number of new parties winning so many seats in the Knesset. The debate and passion focused on poverty, inequality, and, in particular, religion versus state. The Kotel issue, in particular, is one in which Dr. Wilf raised the question how Diaspora communities can provide their input in these discussions and redefine their relationship with Israel?

It is important to note that for many Israelis, the Kotel issue is a non-issue…for many American Jews it is a vital issue. This dichotomy goes back to the challenge of modernity beginning in the 18th century – the European Jewish communities responded in many different ways. One was the founding of Reform Judaism, which has greatly succeeded in the United States. And the other major response was Zionism – the movement to create a Jewish state. Think of the Jewish people as a tree with multiple large and strong branches.

According to Dr. Wilf, it is often difficult for American Jews to understand that for Israelis, Zionism is their focus, not Judaism. In fact, most Israelis identify themselves as either secular or religious. And their understanding of the various denominational movements in America is limited.

You may have heard this common Israeli expression, “The synagogue I do not go to is Orthodox.” Israelis have overwhelming liberal views on social issues, but they may not wage political battle if those issues are controlled by the Rabbinate. For example, the Orthodox Rabbinate has control over marriages. Despite a growing number of Israelis seeking civil marriages or going out of the country, most will still have a traditional wedding.

How can we work with our Israeli family in moving social issues forward? Dr. Wilf believes that Israelis will welcome the dialogue…want to hear our voice...and recognize we can have an impact and contribute to the possible change. How we respond to these opportunities will determine whether we become closer or drift apart as Jewish mishpocha (family).

The same holds true for our Greater Portland Jewish community. Your input…your active involvement…your ideas…your concerns…are all welcomed by me and the Jewish Federation. That is how we will make our Jewish community stronger.

Shabbat shalom.



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