Oz Bin Nun

American Jewry, Israel, and Yom Hazikaron 2023.

Yom Hazikaron Ceremony at UW Madison, 2022. (Oz Bin Nun)

1. The recent events in Israel, including the big discourse around judicial reform and the lack of stability in Israeli society, are changing the balance between the different groups inside Israel. The identity of the new coalition, and multiple problematic statements of the representatives affected Israel’s foreign relations but also changed the way that Israelis think about their country.

Well-known challenges, such as the aim of ultra-Orthodox to learn Torah instead of drafting to the IDF and participating in the workforce, the history of racism toward Sfaradic Jews, and the tension between the center of Israel and its periphery, are shaking the Israeli society at the same time, and close to a very sensitive date, Yom Hazikaron. After so many shocks, the status quo genuinely does not exist anymore, and Israeli society needs to rebuild it, even on the most consensual day of the year, memorial day. In this context, the negotiations in the president’s residence are an effort to create a new “contract” between the Israelis and themselves, and the time couldn’t be more symbolic.

Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day of this year, will be, probably, one of the most intense, complicated, and important days in Israel’s history. It will reflect all the cracks, but at the same time, it will force Israeli society to build a new bridge over the most fundamental value, our solidarity, and our shared destiny

2. The recent events didn’t affect just the relations between Israelis and themselves, they also challenged the most important connection Israel has: the connection with American Jewry. Over the past few months, many Jews in the US have felt that the gap between their views and those of the Israeli government is too wide to bridge.

This is a very scary moment, but at the same time, it is also an important opportunity for the relationship between these communities. For too long the dynamics between these communities have been that Israel is the active one and that the American community needs to decide whether to support any decision or to disconnect from the state of Israel.

The situation was so absurd that in many cases Israelis felt way more comfortable criticizing Israel for multiple reasons, while their brothers and sisters in the US had just a binary system of “yes” and “no” to express themselves regarding the situation in Israel. These limits were polarizing, forcing American Jews to decide between being “Yesmans” or “Outsiders” while talking about Israel.

The changings in the dynamics in Israel can help us stop this problematic process that has been hurting the connection between Israel and American Jewry for quite a while. It is time for American Jews to feel their right, and their duty, and become active players in this relationship.

It is important to mention that the only possible base for that shift needs to be a strong sense of shared destiny. To criticize, both communities need to feel that the other one is with them no matter what. Some parts of the American community would have to give up the ability to feel “pure”, they won’t be able to keep the “In between” situation of asking “Is Israel liberal enough for me”? Instead, they will have to ask “How do I make Israel a state that I can be proud of”?

The Israeli community will have to stop this comfortable situation which allows them to categorize every criticism as “Anti – Israel”. They will have to make this relationship an active one, instead of the old – passive dynamic that is crumbling right now under our feet.

An active dynamic is more challenging and less comfortable. But it is stronger than a passive one. Now is the time to change it, and now is the time for a real, hard, and important conversation between the biggest Jewish communities of our times. What we need now is to challenge the conversation with the basis of an unbreakable bond of shared story and destiny.

3. This idea can feel like an abstract one, but it has very practical meanings. During this time, the American communities should feel obligated to share and raise their voice about their vision of Israel, just like the Israelis (without the voting part of course). That’s why I’m inviting you all today to commemorate Yom Hzikaron, both this year and for years to come. We have to be able to argue about the future, with a strong sense of “Brit Goral”.

These are two sides of the same coin. Strong sense of shared destiny, partnership in times of happiness and sadness, and mutual conversation regarding the future. We can’t hold one without the other. We must hold them all, and this year has shown us how critical it is to start work for that.

About the Author
Oz Bin Nun is an Israeli emissary in the community and at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. He is part of the "Israeli Democratic Alliance" which works for strengthening the connection between Israel and the US based on liberal values. Oz loves philosophy, urban life, barefoot running, and coffee. He served in the Egoz unit in Israel and he’s an alumnus of "The Bronfman Fellowship" foundation.
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