At Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, we live Israel! One way we do this is by being there, with our friends, colleagues, and partners, to celebrate triumphs, to lend support in difficult times, and to simply be together — Am Echad (One Nation).
Following Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, when Israel was reeling from rocket fire and inter-ethnic violence, we sent two Solidarity Missions to Israel. In August, I proudly represented Federation on my inaugural visit as the new Director of Global Connections (the Israel and Overseas arm of Federation). And this November, six months after the conflict, we sent a Management Mission, including Federation’s most senior Israel professionals. The message of this mission was clear: There is renewed commitment to addressing the needs of all Israeli citizens – by promoting Jewish pluralism, building relationships with Jews in the Diaspora, and creating a Shared Society. As Member of Knesset Gilad Kariv (pictured here with our Federation team) said to us, “This is our moment of opportunity.”
There is a new government in place with a broad coalition and a recently approved budget representing a wide range of interests. Leading organizations are striving for change, and while the road ahead is long, there is optimism in the air.
Kariv has long been at the forefront of the Israeli movement for Jewish pluralism, to promote the full expression of Jewish identity. Our Federation was among the first organizations, beginning in the 1990s, to support these efforts. Now, 25 years later, we were privileged to meet with four brilliant women who command tremendous respect in this arena: Inbar Bluzer Shalem, CEO of Rashut Ha’Rabim – an organization for the renewal of Jewish life in Jerusalem; Channa Pinchasi – an advocate with Kolech, the first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization in Israel; Rakefet Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel; and Anna Kislanski, CEO at the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.
Jewish pluralism in Israel is intertwined with the “living bridges” – relationships between Jews in Israel and the U.S. – which are a hallmark of our Federation. We have funded and operated a robust Mishlachat (Israeli emissary) program for decades. Many former shlichim and rishonim (emissaries) described how they learned new ways to practice Judaism and discovered their Jewish identity in our community. As one of them remarked, “I went to New Jersey as an Israeli and came back as a Jew.”
The bonds that flourish through these encounters is evident in Kehila – a program we support that connects our Greater MetroWest lone soldiers, students in Israel and alumni of many of our Global Connections programs. Uniting our community of young adults in Israel has been so impactful that we are adopting this model in New Jersey, enabling the next generation of GMW Jews to strengthen their Jewish identity and ties to Israel.
Jewish Peoplehood – the unity among Jews around the world – creates unlimited opportunities to reinforce Jewish pluralism and build connections between Jews on both sides of the ocean. Through our partnership with five vibrant Israeli communities, Israelis get to know people from different strands of American Judaism, and Americans get to know different types of Israeli Jews. We learn from one another culturally, spiritually, and religiously. One of the most touching moments of our mission occurred when Rafi Tviser, an Orthodox rabbi from our partner community of Ofakim, blessed two members of our team – a man and a woman together – welcoming them to his synagogue for the first time.
Rabbi Tviser is a member of Leaders for Cohesive Society, our groundbreaking program for social change and relationship-building among diverse groups in Israel. He meets with Arab, Druze, Haredi, secular, and other Israelis from our partnership network. They candidly shared with us that their group’s discussions are not easy, that they disagree on almost everything, and that they sometimes leave their meetings feeling entirely frustrated. And yet, they are grateful to know people with whom they would not otherwise communicate. They’ve forged friendships and pathways of understanding with people they could readily misunderstand or reject. As is said in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), “It is not our duty to finish the work of perfecting the world, but we are not free to neglect it.”
We look forward to telling you more about our mission. Join us when Global Connections travels to Israel in February. Take part in this moment of opportunity: for the Greater MetroWest community, for Israel, and for all of the Jewish People.