Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Apparently not having much else to do, a couple of months ago a the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (quite a combination) brought together Knesset members and Israeli government representatives and our North American leaders on the topic "What Is the Future of American Jewry?"* This is a critical question -- and we'll get to what this group tackling this subject might mean to American Jewry and Israeli Jewry in a moment -- and you can read all about this meeting in Jerusalem at  http://israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/212794#.V0bpEVdgill -- for a moment we should first reflect on the message delivered to the group as reported in Arutz Sheva

I know how proud Richard Sandler, JFNA's Board Chair, was to present to this group:
"Our parents and grandparents in Israel was just a dream come true not long ago, and Israel gave us a lot and gave us pride, despite all the obstacles in its path.

Time and demographic variables have changed, and there are enormous challenges, and, yet, we have more in common, the same set of values. Regardless of demographic changes, we assure that the community will continue to mobilize our brothers and sisters in Israel, when you're at risk."
I was probably missing something, like syntax, and wished we could all see the totality of Richard's statement -- I knew there had to be more. 

As have been our questions of JFNA for at least the last six years -- "what is our communities' vision for itself and for our relationship to Israel" -- clearly weren't answered in Sandler's three sentences above. And so I was looking for the rest of Richard's statement.   And, if there was more, was Richard speaking for himself or for JFNA? I ask because at no time has JFNA ever...ever...discussed these questions let alone reaching out for answers through open debate. And, it's not only that we are incapable of answering these questions -- and others -- it's that we are incapable even of framing the questions.

Then the Times of Israel printed an Op-Ed authored by Richard that was a full, personal and beautifulstatementofcommitment. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/israel-and-north-american-jewry-must-join-forces/
Kal ha'kavod to Richard. That Op-Ed had to have been the essence of Richard's address to the quesKnesset members...but the question remains unanswered and never debated: "what is our communities' vision for itself and for our relationship to Israel?"

On the Israeli side I am always bemused, even troubled, that Israeli leaders who neither know our communities nor have made any attempt to know us -- how we pray, how we educate, how we care -- have strong opinions about how we should go about strengthening our sense of Jewish Peoplehood. It's one thing for MK. Nachman Shai or Amb. Michael Oren to offer insights -- they have lived with us and our mishagas and know us in all ways -- as opposed to Committee Chair Tzachi Hangegbi who framed the focus of the hearing as "American Jewry as a strategic asset to Israel's security." Hanegbi, a lifelong politician, has some serious issues on his resume:  "As president of the Hebrew University Student Union in 1980, he received a six-month suspended sentence for leading an attack on Arab students. Despite this incident, he became president of the National Union of Israeli Students later that year, holding that title until 1982." Later, charged with political bribery, Hanegbi was found not guilty while being convicted of perjury. Not the sort of politician to be giving advice to American Jewry methinks.

And then there were the remarks of former Mossad chief and Israel statesman, Efraim Halevy, whose positions on issues of security and Israeli-US relations have been consistently insightful but that's not what he offered:
"The problem in our relations with American Jewry is that we are losing many young people who want to be active parts [of the global Jewish community] because of the fact that we do not consider them Jews according to Halacha [Jewish law - ed.]," he opined. "This is a strategic issue, and it is also common to American Jews and actually Israeli Jews as well."
Halevy warned that the shrinking rate of "true" Jews poses a threat to sovereignty in Israel, as well as to the American Jewish community. 
"Solutions must come from Jerusalem - because 'from Zion comes Torah'."
I'm sure that most of us would agree that "solutions" to the issues that confront Ameerican Jewry will not "come from Jerusalem" until Israel confronts and deals with and "solves" the issues that divide Israeli Jewry, the issues of civil society and tolerance that threaten Israel from within -- and those solutions must come from Jerusalem. 

Maybe Richard Sandler's remarks dealt with those issues. Maybe not. Certainly not Richard's purpose in being there.

Then, as if this "event" weren't enough, on May 25, the Knesset organized a "Stars, Stripes and the Magen David" tribute to the historic contribution of America Jewry at which the Prime Minister, Knesset Members, the American Ambassador where Richard Sandler delivered Greetings. The Invitation made clear that it was non-transferable and "weapons are not permitted."  It was probably a great event. 


* It should be noted that the "official" title of this thing was "A Special Day in the Knesset Dedicated to the American Jewish Community." So there you have it. Or perhaps not inasmuch as Chair Hanegbi offered another focus altogether.


Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that someone seems to think that the JFNA Israel and Overseas Office is well positioned, well equipped and best suited to represent and act on behalf of the American Jewish Community in Israel.
I don't know how this should be done but it is pretty clear to anyone that sees beyond smiles and complements that the current staff and structure cannot possibly do the job.
But does anybody in New York have a clue about what is, what should be or what could be?
No, but keep up the great work guys!

Anonymous said...

It's pretty damn sad when the Board Chair, no matter who he or she may be, can be stroked to such an extent that an appearance before a Knesset group (an event so irrelevant that it wasn't even covered by the mainstream Israeli media) can create a chit that JFNA professionals could use to camouflage their continuing failure time and time again. This JFNA "strokeocracy" would be an embarrassment in any other organization -- at least any other one that demands success.