Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

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August (1929) and Everything After: The Jewish Agency at the Crossroads of History

March 1, 2010

The fruit of three thousand years of civilization and a hundred generations of suffering may not be sacrificed by us. It will be sacrificed if dissipated. Assimilation is national suicide. And assimilation can be prevented only by preserving national characteristics and life as other peoples, large and small, are preserving and developing their national life. –  excerpt from “A Call to the Educated Jew” by Louis Brandeis

 

History teaches everything, including the future.   – Alphonese de Lamartine

 

 

What was it like to be part of the leadership the Jewish Agency in August, 1929 in Zurich?  Less than a month earlier, the 16th Zionist Congress established an expanded Jewish Agency after a seven year long debate about how Zionist efforts would incorporate a wide array of Jewish groups in the Diaspora, and the meetings that August were the first gathering of the expanded organization. Around the table were giants of the Jewish people, including Chaim Weizmann, Louis Marshall, Joseph Sprinzak and others representing both the WZO and Diaspora Jewry and who were invested in the efforts to create a Jewish state. As they planned their joint endeavor toward the realization the “establishment of the Jewish National Home… in Palestine” (as called for by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922), this group had the daunting task of prioritizing the initial work of the Agency. Their deliberations resulted in the emphasis on immigration, settlement and land purchase as key endeavors, with efforts also to be undertaken regarding the greater establishment of language and culture of the new nation. Decisions were made and the rest, as they say, is history.

But again, I wonder, what was it like to sit at that table and make those decisions?

This question weighed on my mind as I attended the meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency last week in Jerusalem. Now, like then, the Jewish Agency is at a pivot moment in Jewish history – a moment where, at the end of many years of debate, priorities must be set and decisions must be made. What direction will this historic organization take at this crossroads in the history of the Jewish state and the Jewish people?  Yes, there certainly are differences between then and now – then the very existence of the State of Israel was an aspiration, now it is a reality. Then only a small fraction of world Jewry lived in the land that would become the modern state of Israel, now half the world’s Jewish population calls Israel home. But many of the challenges are the same – how can the Jewish Agency best help make sure that Israel is more than a state, but also a people? How can the organization best ensure that the future of the Jewish nation is secured and enriched by the reinforcement of the national characteristics of the Jewish people?

Those challenges and others face the leadership of the Jewish Agency in 2010 and, like 1929, both the weight of history and the promise of the future cannot be ignored. Then, like now, the Zionist dream was the shared dream of many diverse stakeholders, often sharing common cause but possessing diverse perspectives about how to pursue that cause.  We know the history since 1929, but what we don’t know is this: Like those individuals around the table in 1929 that came together to prioritize approaches to ensuring the creation and sustainability of a Jewish nation, can today’s diverse leadership of the Jewish Agency define its priorities to properly ensure the strengthening and sustainability of the Jewish people?

The answer must be ‘yes’ – history, and the Jewish future, demand nothing less.

In his book Community and Polity, Professor Daniel Elazar postulated that in the postmodern Jewish world there needs to be reassertion of Jewish polity – a transition from fragmentation to reintegration. More than ever before, the Jewish Agency can and should play a substantial role in developing that greater sense of Klal Yisrael, integrating the fragments of Jewish life into a shared sense of identity. While its role since 1929 has been reconstituting a Jewish state, the Jewish Agency must now transition to a role of reconnecting a Jewish people. Yes, there can be no question that Israel is and must remain a center of the Jewish people, but a center unconnected from its broader sphere becomes the center of nothing.  And just like the efforts of the Jewish Agency have long been to weave the multicolored threads of olim into the fabric of the Jewish State, the Agency must continue to serve as a seamstress in the next phase of Jewish history. But rather than only help bring the threads together as the cloth of a nation, it must now serve a new role in stitching together the quilt of Jewish people, sewing together the unique squares of Jewish life and experience that occur in Israel, North America and throughout the Jewish world.  To do so, it must use the expression of individual Jewish identity as the thread that binds the quilt of the Jewish people together.

Of course any prioritization, any design of its future endeavors, must take into account that the Jewish Agency cannot in the abandon some of its key responsibilities in that it is uniquely able to address. But as time changes, and the needs of the Jewish people change, the Jewish Agency cannot remain static. It too must change, and change in the ways the future demands, not the past. Certainly the coming weeks and months will require hard questions to be asked and certain answers to be accepted. But we should not lose site of one question that will be asked, we hope will be asked, one day far in the future –

What was it like to be part of the leadership of the Jewish Agency in 2010 in Jerusalem and what did they decide?

The history books of the Jewish people are waiting for the answer.

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A Chanukiyah of Predictions for 2010

December 13, 2009

December is the time of the secular year where we look backward and forward – making best-of lists and summarizing our prognostications for the future.  While many faiths join together for revelries related to the secular new year, for Jews it is also the season to recall the value of perseverance and faith in collective Jewish endeavors, as well as the unexpected miracles that we encounter along the way.  So in the spirit of the new year but nevertheless inspired by how one ancient prediction regarding a small vessel of oil gave rise to the miraculous tale of eight nights of luminescence, here are eight predictions for the coming twelve months of 2010:

1.   The new “I” word is… Imagination.  If 2009 was the year when the newness of Jewish innovation became more widely discussed (or perhaps, debated) as a substantial aspect of Jewish communal development, it was also the year where innovation as a term became, well, old news. Yes, there are important discussions to be had about the role of entrepreneurs and ‘in-treprenuers’ in the world of Jewish organizations, but innovation alone cannot change communities.  Imagination, however, can create new ways for communities to collectively view their futures without getting bogged down in semantics.  I predict that in 2010 we will find more and more local communities leveraging the imagination of their members out of both necessity and desire, and that as we give our communities permission to imagine, we will create futures burning even brighter than we can anticipate.

2.   The Overseas Case Goes into Overdrive. For people who expect to only hear about the budget challenges facing primary overseas partners of US philanthropy – the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, my prediction is that while people might hear some of what they expect, they will also hear the unexpected.  Both organizations are in the midst of engaging new generations of leadership and deploying new tactics to engage supporters. JAFI’s Global Leaders Forum,   impactful foray into tweeting, and re-energizing initiatives like the new Jewish Peoplehood Hub created in partnership with the Nadav Fund and UJA-Federation of New York give reason for great optimism for the future of JAFI.  Similarly anticipate great ideas being implemented by JDC’s nextgen professional leadership in 2010, continuing that organization’s vital role in helping Jews worldwide in new and impactful ways.

3.   The Educational Affordability Crisis. The past eighteen months have given those who care about Jewish education a great amount of concern, and for good reason.  Enrollment has declined as parents who were already struggling to meet high tuition costs decided to opt-out all together in the wake of the Great Recession; and unfortunately statistics tell us that families drop out, the generally don’t come back.  Even though organizations like PEJE have already been proactively convening discussions on the issue of the changing economy,  I predict in 2010  we will be forced to squarely face one of the greatest and most urgent challenges of contemporary Jewish life – making a high quality Jewish day school education affordable to every Jewish family who wants to provide that education to their children. It is time for bolder local and national solutions, and I believe 2010 is when our realization of the crisis will inspire great solutions.

4.   Jewish media continues to transform… for the better.  In addition to the ancient content of our heritage, there is great new Jewish content emerging, from sites about arts, culture and education (Tablet Magazine and MyJewishlearing.com), to thought-provoking online journals and magazines (such as Sh’ma and Lilith) and of course philanthropic resources such as eJewish Philanthropy. While different in content, all of these resources and countless others have the potential to continue to transform national and local Jewish dialogue. I predict that in 2010 as we see more and more local Jewish newspaper come under financial pressure we will see a substantial migration of eyeballs to online media and resources. Moreover, we will find that those resources rise to meet the challenge of delivering high-quality content. 2010 will a defining year for online Jewish media, and you will read all about those transformative changes… online.

5.   J Street, AIPAC and AJC: Separate, but Civil. Some predictions are more aspirational than others, and perhaps this is one of those predictions. But I believe that in 2010 the Iranian crisis will force J Street, AIPAC, AJC, and others to recognize that even with their differences, their coordination on some issues will be important to strengthening an securing the US-Israel relationship for the challenging days ahead.  I predict (hope?) we will see high level leadership and dialogue that builds bridges in relationships and influence to achieve results.  To do so however, J Street needs to continue to mature as an organization and AIPAC and AJC will need to recognize that their big tents may need to get a bit bigger. 2010 is not the year for deepening division among advocates for Israel; it must be a year for closing those divides as much as possible.

6.   Microfundraising goes… big. The patterns of how people contribute online will change more in 2010 than the past several years combined.  As more and more local organizations provide opportunity for online giving, donor designation and project funding, more and more donors will choose to make their charitable contributions in more specific ways.  In addition, organizations like JGooders will enable local initiatives to have more direct pathways to global donors. I predict what once was a concierge service for wealthy donors with philanthropic funds will become the conventional wisdom in 2010, leveraging technology to make that wisdom reality.

7.   Emphasis on Outcomes. Given the new focus on microfundraisng, organizations will need to be more focused on measuring and communicating results. While many larger organizations have already invested heavily in outcome measurement strategies, there will be a real push in 2010 for all non-profit organizations to become outcome-focused by understanding the taxonomy of their outcomes.  As resources stay scarce, results will be the key differentiators.  Those organizations that can demonstrate their effectiveness quantitatively will have the edge.  Expect to see more and more organizations retooling themselves both with board resources and technology to enable them to get that edge… and ultimately get those elusive dollars.

8.   There will be magic in the Magic Kingdom. Even though the 2009 General Assembly just recently concluded, I predict that the 2010 General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America (to be held in Orlando) will truly be one of the most significant gatherings of American Jewry in the past 20 years. With new leadership now in place and new energy percolating across the system, I predict that GA10 will bring together more people in more collaborative discussions than ever before, and that before, during and after the GA people will recognize the impact that that conference will have on the next 20 years of Jewish life.  A successful GA will also cap a year where a reenergized Federation system emerges as a renewed force in modernizing Jewish philanthropy… and that is no Mickey Mouse prediction.

So there you have it – eight predictions for the next twelve months. While some of those predictions may very well require miracles, I think that we will find 2010 is a year that exceeds our expectations. And just like the shamash is the service candle for each of the other candles in the chanukiyah, in 2010 each of us will have the responsibility to be the shamash in lighting our own predictions and aspirations for the days ahead. Let us be those shamashes together, and may 2010 be even brighter than we imagine. Chanukah Sameach!

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Encountering Israel at the GA

November 18, 2009

Partialness gathered all its parts and the whole wasn’t formed

How was the whole not gathered from all the parts, though

All their recesses fit and their crevices, how was

the whole not formed though all the components were set one by

one…

–       excerpt from “Partialness Gathered” by Rivka Miriam (Israeli poet)

At its most basic, the GA is a gathering of Jewish people and ideas, mixed together among and around shared passions and diverse interests. A modern-day Council of Four Lands, it brings together Jews from across North America and around the world collectively discuss to challenges, seek opportunities and create bonds of fellowship around the common cause of community.  And while the conference is convened by the (newly renamed) Jewish Federations of North America, one never loses sight of the fact that the attendees are not only North American, but representatives of the larger collective of the people of Israel – a people rooted in (and in some cases from) the land of Israel.

To that point, during my time at the GA I was struck by the fact that even though we were in the heart of Washington D.C., at the heart of my experience was the number of conversations and encounters I had that related to Israel.  Of course there were political discussions – with Prime Minister Netanyahu addressing the attendees it was hard not to be cognizant of the challenging political winds that constantly blow around (and in) Israel. But there were also conversations that touched upon the collective desire of the Zionist dream, a strong and enduring Jewish state with a compassionate and cognizant Jewish society living in peace with and among its neighbors.  Danny Gordis writes in his recent book Saving Israel that the purpose of Israel is to transform the Jewish people, and while I believe that is correct, I also believe that the purpose of the Jewish people is to transform Israel – to make the partial whole. With that in mind, perhaps the most impactful conversations I had were those that reminded me the Israel is still not yet complete – that it is a work in progress that requires the countless efforts of passionate advocates and constructive critics in order to become more perfect.

Those transformative efforts are not always easy though, and often challenge our very understanding of our own personal encounters with Israel.  One example of these efforts and challenges is Encounter, an educational organization that provides Jewish Diaspora leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life. Co-founded by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub and Rabbi Miriam Margles (and a product of Bikkurim), Encounter takes Jewish groups on one and two day encounters with Palestinian counterparts in Bethlehem, Hebron and East Jerusalem.  During my discussions with Rabbi Weintraub at the GA, I was struck not only by the passion of her commitment to Encounter, but the power and the opportunity of the type of transformative experience she and her organization offers.  If our perception of Israel is always partially constructed by our personal histories, experiences such as Encounter help build stronger understandings of Israel even if they disassemble some perceptions once thought to be unshakable.

Like my meeting with Rabbi Weintraub, at the GA there were opportunities to meet individuals passionate about creating a more complex and complete understanding of Israel were everywhere you looked. Whether it was the professionals of the Makom, a program of JAFI with a mission is to empower Jewish communities to develop deep, sophisticated and honest Jewish engagement with Israel through imaginative content and dialogue, or with the founders of AlmaLinks, a start-up program that connects young Jewish professionals around common interests, there were creative leaders and promising endeavors discussing the future of Israel.   But as we know from our local communities, passions about Israel are common, but are not always congruous and often require effort to connect diverse in our collective Jewish puzzle.  As my friend Eryn Kallish at Project Reconnections (a program that helps facilitate such dialogue and deliberation) recently impressed upon me, only when we encounter other perceptions and passions in a respectful way do we truly understand how we can play a part in creating greater respect for Israel and its people.

So, in the spirit of my encounters of Israel at the GA, let us all continue to gather the partial pieces of our common love of Israel, and let us remember that while the ingathering of our people is powerful, it is the ingathering of our ideas and efforts that can truly transform Israel’s encounter with the world – an encounter where the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

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Neither Meat Nor Milk: The Hungry of Jerusalem (Israel 2009 – Day 4)

October 24, 2009

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corner of your field, neither shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest.  And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither should you gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger. – Leviticus 19:9-10

Jerusalem is a city with a richness that is unfolding everywhere you look.  From the dusty corners of the Old City to the noisy kaleidoscope of the Shuk, there is a place and an opportunity in Jerusalem to experience every emotion and sensation imaginable.  A beautiful city and a complex one as well, walking its streets one can almost feel physically weighed down by the heaviness of its history, even as its sheer beauty and energy sweep you off your feet.  And anyone having spent some time walking the streets of Jerusalem has felt the sensation of wanting to capture every moment, to gather every experience available – to take as much of Jerusalem home with them as possible.  If the city is a vineyard of sweet grapes of Jewish experience, many of us want to harvest as much of the vineyard as possible and drink our own sweet wine of our memories of Jerusalem.

But it is hard not to notice one aspect of Jerusalem that has been overwhelmingly apparent to me – the hungry and the homelessness that pervade its streets. In the Jerusalem of Gold, the divide between the wealthy and the poor is apparent just on a short walk.  On one hand you can walk through the streets around the various hotels frequented by wealthy visitors and be overwhelmed by the gilded developments that continue to be built (even in this economy). Nothing exemplifies this better than the Mamilla Alrov Mall that has been developed and opened since my last visit to the city. A designer mall in the shadows of the Old City just opposite Jaffa Gate, Mamilla is a testament to the modern luxury consumer experience.  Just in case you have not filled up with memories of the Western Wall, while walking back o your hotel you can also fill up with Louis Vuitton handbags and Rolexes. In the vineyard of Jerusalem’s experiences, you can gather both vintage and designer grapes.

But in most parts of the city, one can encounter an almost overwhelming sense of poverty. The beggars are everywhere and the sense of hunger is palpable. Information released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has noted that in recent years more than one in five Israeli’s have, at some point, went without food for economic reasons. And as recent reporting by the Jewish Daily Forward indicates, there is ample evidence that in 2009 demand for food assistance has grown substantially. Certainly there are several government programs and other NGO efforts to combat the issue, but nevertheless it is clear to recognize that in a city that nourishes the Jewish soul in almost every conceivable way there are also substantial numbers of people who are physically undernourished and underfed. There is not question that the city and a state have a responsibility to combat the scourge of hunger and the sense of desperation of often creates; but the more complex question is what is the responsibility of the visitors to Jerusalem in combating hunger in the Jewish state?

Of course tourists help fuel an economy as well as tax coffers, so economic support occurs simply through tourism; but is that enough? The shekels that are tossed in cups of panhandlers may seem like help, but is that tzedakah truly combating hunger?  Tourists shop in the stalls of Ben Yehuda and the galleries of Mamilla, but as they glean the emotional and consumer vineyards of Jerusalem, are they leaving enough behind? Are they truly leaving the corners of their fields, or are they clearing the field and leaving nothing to nourish those who are left behind by the economy, society or both? These questions are not pleasant to think about, especially for vacationers and visitors who are overwhelmed by the religious and historical experience of Jerusalem. But in the great social experiment that is Israel, what does it mean for so many to still be hungry when so many are full?

One of the most common questions you hear from visitors to Jerusalem is the frequent dinner debate – meat or milk?   Perhaps the debate should be meat, milk or hungry?  My guess is that few would pick the third option, and neither should Israelis.  So with that in mind let us all take responsibility to make sure that the values that have us hungering for Israel also inspire us to take care of the hungry in Israel – the vineyard is as much theirs as it is ours.

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Good for the Jews?: A Few Thoughts on the Debate About Aliyah (Israel 2009 – Day 3)

October 22, 2009

Today, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the survival of the Jews and the survival of Israel are the same; and whether Israel can survive depends, among other things, on the numbers and talents of Diaspora Jews who will come to it – which means it depends on you… –  Hillel Halkin, Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic (1977)

When visiting Israel one generally encounters an inquisitiveness of where you came from and what reason brought you to Israel.  While those questions are standard for almost any person visiting any place in the world, it is the question that generally follows that is unique in the Israeli context – and that is the question of whether one plans to move to Israel and make Aliyah.  Indeed, how the question is formulated and in whatever tone it is spoken it can be more than a simple inquiry; it is often a suggestion, a complaint, a possibility or a prayer.  In a nation filled with all types of olim, Aliyah is still a notion that fills the heart, the mind, and the discourse like few other ideas do.  In 2009, the debate about Aliyah has in many ways overshadowed the encouragement of Aliyah, and unlike when Halkin wrote his strongly worded essay on the its urgency thirty-two years ago, we now more often speak of Aliyah as an ideological aspect of the Jewish State as opposed to an answer to the existential question of the Jewish State.

During the second day of the Facing Tomorrow: The Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, the complexity and the passion of the Aliyah debate was fully evident in a packed and provocatively titled panel discussion that asked  – is Aliyah good for the Jews?  Moderated by Alisa Rubin Kurshan, the Vice-President for Strategic Planning and Organizational resources for UJA-Fed NY, the panel included Matthew Bronfman, Rabbi Ricardo Shmuel Diesegni – the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Meir Kraus, an expert in the field of Israeli/Diaspora relations, Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Minister of Diaspora and Social Affairs, and Jay Sarver – co-chair of the Aliyah and Klitah Committee of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.  Each member of the group expressed insightful and often strongly worded positions, and certainly those in the audience looking to understand the contours of the Aliyah debate were not disappointed. From Rabbi Melchior’s frank and forceful assertion that there is a total abscess of support for encouraging and sustaining Aliyah in the Israeli political establishment to Matt Bronfman’s personalized and optimistic assertion how Aliyah is being refined in this area of interconnection and the “living bridge”, each panelist brought to the table a voice that authentically expressed the challenges and opportunities of Aliyah at this point in history. And they were not alone, members of the audience too expressed their opinions (under the guise of questions) regarding the challenges not only relating to Aliyah, but of the challenges of absorption and integration into Israeli society. Were there agendas and opinions in the room?  Of course. But there also was genuine interest and concern, and that was what made the discussion so powerful.

For my own part, I walked away from the discussion with a few key observations.  First (and as usual), I found the debate among an academics and professionals to be of distant relevance to the debates I hear back in my own community in Atlanta.  For a vast majority of North American Jews, Aliyah is a concept to be understood, but not an opportunity to be examined.  Certainly there remains the possibility to encourage North American olim, but just because there is a possibility does not mean there is a substantially realistic outcome to be expected.  And while the concept of redefining Aliyah and reframing Israeli-Diaspora relations within the context of the “living bridge” certainly sound like imaginative approaches in an era that depends on increased Jewish creativity, we cannot lose sight of the fact that certain concepts lose their integrity when we casually begin to change their meaning.  Lastly, I was reminded by the discussion that although Americans often think of Diaspora relations as North American relations, there are other communities that have vital stakes in the debate regarding the future of global Jewry and their relationship to the State of Israel and we are myopic if we don’t recognize the entirety of the participants in this truly global discussion.

Aliyah perhaps is no longer just a strategy to respond to an existential need of an Israeli future, it is now more so a factor in the evolutionary nature of Jewish existence. While there can be little debate that historical the essence of Aliyah has been of a physical nature, the continuing assertions of spiritual Aliyah challenge us to think harder about what it truly means to encourage personal and communal commitments to Israel.  We also can’t lose sight of the impact on Israeli society  (and the correlative impact of global Jewish communities) when considering what role Aliyah can and should play in the future of the Jewish People.  So, in the spirit of Mr. Halkin’s thirty-two year old polemic and in response to the question of whether is Aliyah good for the Jews, I respond with a different question – if Israel still truly depends on Jews (whoever and wherever they are), are thoroughly modern Jews good for Aliyah?

Now that is a panel discussion I would like to see.

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Israel 2009 Day 2: From Dina to Nina (The People Israel in the Land of Israel)

October 21, 2009

While we often speak of the brilliance of a place called Israel, we must not forget that it’s luminescence is dependent on a People called Israel. Of course the land is filled with the People (and as I wrote yesterday, in many ways the land fills the People), but nonetheless there is an important distinction to be made. A land without a people is an opportunity that is unrealized, just as a people without a land is a promise unfulfilled. Today, in my second day in Israel, I was reminded that while the beaches and the hills may make Israel breathtaking, it is the people of Israel that truly take breathe life into this land. And today was no exception – from my first business meeting on the beach of Tel Aviv to my late night dinner on a street café in Jerusalem with a friend, today was a testament to how amazing are the People of Israel.

Case in point, my day’s chronology was a good example of the latitude of the spirit of the Jewish People. My first meeting was breakfast with an Israeli contact that I know from her time working in the US who has now returned home to Israel to reimagine her career in business and finance.  Dina is an example of the kind of indefatigable Israeli perspective- bright, intense, and thoughtful with an overarching sprit of ability and passion for life. Her business interest and mine coincide, but so do her personal passions – while we spoke interestingly of business, we also shared stories of our respective families.  While Dina could work anywhere in the works she wants to be in Tel Aviv, and while she can make it anywhere, it is easy to see she will make it here – and Israel will be the better for it. My second meeting was with a client and newly acquainted legal colleague, and while our discussion focused on our specific business, we also discussed how Israeli business continues to defy all barriers in achieving new levels of success. If necessity is the mother of invention Israeli businessmen and businesswomen are constantly faced with the opportunity and well the necessity to invent new strategies for business success. Like Dina, my lunch partners reminded me that while nothing in Israel is easy, nothing is impossible either, as long as the Israeli passion to achieve endures.

Later in the day I spent some time at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, where the opening gala was both energizing and enriching. President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu both spoke, as did former Prime Minster Tony Blair in his capacity as representative of the Quartet. While each made interesting remarks, the person who continues to remind me of the essence of the People of Israel is President Peres. Having been part of the beginning of the State and not yet relenting in his vision of what the state of Israel can become, President Peres is nothing short of heroic, both in his love of the People Israel and his endurance as a global statesmen.  Tonight in his remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to President Peres as, among other things, an entrepreneur. And it is true – whether in the start-up of a nation or helping further fuel the entrepreneurial spirit that is helping create numerous Israeli start-ups in various technology sectors, President Peres reminds all of us that age need not be a barrier to energy and the possession of wisdom does not limit the aspiration of creativity.

Lastly, my day ended with a late night dinner with my friend Nina, who is also here for the Presidential Conference. Nina is a Jewish professional that lives/works in New York, and who is the Executive Director of Bikkurim, an organization that finds Jewish ideas and helps nurture them to organizational sustainability. While our professional lives are different and we live in different parts of the US, we still found time to be together in Israel. After a dinner with her, notwithstanding our various commonalities (similar aged children, similar interest in Jewish life), what struck me most was how many of the same values we shared. In a land of our People, we still found time to remind ourselves of the connections we have as a People, connections that grow in separate places but truly intertwined in this one place.

So to everyone from Dina to Nina and each person in-between (even you Mr. President), thank you for a day of reminding me that Israel is more than a Land and more than a People. It is both and it is beautiful.

Lila Tov from Jerusalem.

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Israel 2009 – Day 1: The Journey and the Flame

October 20, 2009

When you speak with people who have visited Israel numerous times they will usually tell you that each trip is a unique encounter with the Jewish State, a moment that glows from its own unique set of circumstances and experiences. They say no trip is ever the same as the last one, and they always find something new to love about Israel (and sometimes even something new to find frustrating). Whether its businesses, family or friends (and often it is a mix of all three), there is a spark that brings you to the Land and its People, and it is rarely a solitary spark. It is one that kindles on from time to time and is difficult to extinguish without actually indulging it. Yes people visit Israel for necessity, but more often they visit by choice because of a desire that burns inside them.

This trip is my second trip to Israel, the first was a few years ago as part of my experience with the Wexner Heritage Program.  Not a tourist visit, that trip was an educational one that exposed me to richness of the modern Israeli experience and the complexities that envelope it. I knew then it was the first of many visits, and this trip confirms it– this is a different trip, a business trip, but one that will also touch upon the business of the Jewish people. Interspersed with the business meetings in Tel Aviv and Herziliya will be meetings related to the President’s Conference in Jerusalem as well as some meetings in connection with the Global Emerging Leaders Forum organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel.  Between all of those business meetings will be meals with friends and former teachers, and hopefully the opportunity to meet new friends and teachers as well.

However, my departure from Atlanta to Israel was a keen reminder of just how difficult it can be to get to Israel, literally and figuratively. After boarding for an on-time departure, we all were required to deplane because of damage to the plane’s cargo that occurred while loading the aircraft. Despite the frustration of being waylaid on a much-anticipated journey, our experience waiting into the wee hours of the morning taught me two lessons from this trip before I even arrived in Eretz Yisrael. First, it was a subtle reminder that we all bring so much to Israel in our hearts, our heads and our history that sometimes we need to be careful what and how that cargo is brought with us. We try to cram so much into a place and a promise that the effort alone of packing it all into one vessel can be overwhelming and even damaging. If we bring too much with us, we may not have the room to bring back with us that which we learn and live during our visit.

Second, the few hours waiting in the gate with my fellow travelers reminded me that the spark that draws each of us to Israel is different for all of us and the “all of us” is a very diverse group. I met Israeli’s returning home and Americans moving to their new home.  I met a group of Christians who were visiting Israel for, in some cases, the ninth and tenth time and a child of a Holocaust Survivor visiting Israel for the first time. I met yeshiva boys an retired rabbis, men in black hats and little girls in baseball caps; each with a spark for Israel, each kindling a different flame. After speaking with many in this crowd I realized that although our plane was intended to take off into the moonlight, perhaps it was more fitting that this plane full of human sparks an aspirations rose through a sky beginning to fill with sunlight.  As I dozed off for some much overdue sleep, I was comforted by a thought and a prayer: the thought was that our luminescent plane was hurtling towards Zion, its passengers’ collective glow blending into the sunlight of tomorrow’s promising trip to a Promised Land, and the prayer that there may always be, for all of us, a tomorrow in Israel.

From Tel Aviv – Lila Tov.