A few weeks ago I had a very interesting experience. I was sitting in a public school in New Milford, New Jersey, with a group of visiting Israeli principals from Nahariya, Israel hearing from a truly visionary principal about how to best integrate social media in the classroom.
The principal, Eric Sheninger, is well-known across New Jersey as a real technology guru… so much so that earlier in the day the Orthodox principal of a local yeshiva eagerly showed me that he was one of Eric’s 53,000+ Twitter followers.
In the days before that, the principals and I visited with a New Jersey State Assemblywoman, multiple JCC’s across Bergen/Passaic counties, congregational schools, Sunday schools, day schools, temples and institutions supported by Jews of every denomination imaginable.
Over the course of a few days we touched every possible branch of the Jewish tree and hit every point on the American political spectrum.
But it was sitting there at the New Milford High School, on the last day of a Partnership2Gether education delegation to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, listening to Eric talking about doing a global Google Hangout discussion between schools in Israel and New Jersey that it hit me. THIS was the reason I had decided to leave behind a life in corporate America and join the Jewish non-profit world. This was why my focus was going to be on Israel.
Because of all the causes, issues, initiatives and concerns we have in the Jewish community… there are so few things that can bring together such a disparate group of competing interests into the same conversation.
One of them (perhaps the best/only one) is Israel.
You may not realize it because much of the time when we think of Israel (or worse, the greater Middle East) we think of debates, conflicts, UN resolutions, ASA’s, MLA’s, BDS and all kinds of other angry-sounding acronyms.
But think about it from this perspective. Every year in June, tens of thousands of Jews (and other Israel supporters) from across the denominational and political spectrum line up on Fifth Avenue to march in the Celebrate Israel parade.
Every year when YOU participate in a Yom Ha’atzmaut event at your local JCC, college campus or school, are you wondering what the other people there think about climate change, abortion, taxes or female rabbis? Every time a rocket hits Sderot from Gaza do you wonder if the victims believe in gay marriage? When another ancient Jewish coin from 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem or another amazing medical/technological advance is discovered by yet another Israeli startup that was just founded two weeks ago, are you worried about what level of kashrut the discoverers observe? Or does all of that sort of… dissolve… into pride, joy or fear?
And when you are sitting at a table with a group of educators who would otherwise never even be in the same room with each other, learning best practices from across the world and finding out that challenging students in Paramus, NJ are not that different from challenging students in Nahariya, Israel… you start to feel like all these differences and divisions we make for each other are just that – made up.
These thoughts all washed over me as I sat there… zoning out of Eric’s presentation for a moment… as I realized all at once what unbelievable potential there is if we are able to focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. With seemingly every Pew study or Gallup poll documenting the rise and fall of one group or another (or worse… all the groups), can it be that the answer has been in front of our eyes for (at least) 2,000 years?
We have a past in Israel, but can it be that our future as American Jews can be restored through Israel as well? Can we center our community over a shared national homeland and all the tumult of emotions that come along with it?
If Israel can bring together Orthodox and Reform, Democrat and Republican, secular and religious, 1% and 99%, Red Sox fans, Yankees fans and even people who love falafel but hate shawarma (blasphemy), why not put more effort into growing these partnerships between visionaries on both sides and build a true global community of Jews?
Why not flood our communities with fun, positive, TANGIBLE programming that centers on Israel as the amazing, emotional, uniting force it is? Does that seem so crazy? It can happen – in fact it IS happening EVERYDAY – I have SEEN it in action.
But the REALLY crazy thing is that you’ve probably seen it too…you might just not have noticed it.
Don’t stop the conversation. Let’s connect:
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