An open letter from two American Israelis to our American Jewish friends
By: Tracy Frydberg and Barak Sella
Unbeknownst to the majority of Israelis protesting in the streets or roaming the Knesset halls, Israel’s internal democratic struggle vibrates across the Jewish world.
The Jewish state is confronting the major tensions of its existence; What was, what is, and what can be our Jewish character? Our democratic infrastructure? Regardless of where we fall, political sides across the Jewish world are digging deeper into their ideological caves – it’s touching our moods, our sense of legitimacy, and our very souls. Israelis have seemingly defined avenues in which to wrestle with these questions. But the loosely-defined social contract holding together the nation-state and the diaspora creates confusion for the Jewish world on how to react, if at all.
It was clear long before the current crisis that we’ve reached an inflection point. The relationship between Israel and its diaspora has changed. As a result of both pressing internal challenges and increasingly distinct Jewish identities and experiences, each side has cocooned further within itself. At a moment when this perhaps makes even more sense, we must resist the urge. In fact, we believe this chaos has opened a critical opening for bold progress in Israel-world Jewry relations.
Since its founding, Israel expected world Jewry’s simple support. This is not our ask. Instead, we urge our American Jewish friends to bring their voices into the Israeli state, society, and dare we say it, soul. This starts with framing Israel’s tensions as a global Jewish one touching on Israel’s most central Zionist purpose as the Jewish nation-state.
This space where we find ourselves – somewhere between state and soul — is clearly murky. But taking this individual and collective road is perhaps the only way to bridge the ideological divides and build a path forward wide enough for all of the tribes. This requires putting to the forefront what it means to be a Jewish state for a diverse Jewish people.
To do this necessary work, we, on a people-to-people level ought to feel empowered to join together in writing and implementing a far richer, deeper social contract to guide how we wish to be in a relationship with each other. As Rabbi Angela Buchdahl stressed in her January 27 sermon, the notion of Kol Yisrael Arevim — All Israel is responsible for each other – demands World Jewry engage and be engaged in the creation of Israel’s future – the Jewish people’s future. This deep work must continue regardless, if not davka because of unfolding political events.
This moment is a natural byproduct of Jewish sovereignty and the growing pains of building a diverse and conflicted shared society. Even now, within this anxiety, we are grateful to live in a time where our people have the ability to argue freely towards our destiny. What makes this moment so extraordinary for us as a country and more broadly, as the Jewish nation, is that it is an internal test – not one generated by foreign threats. We, as citizens, have never felt a greater sense of urgency, knowing that Israel’s future is ours to determine.
In that spirit, we ask our friends not to give up on this great and worthy experiment. To those who feel depressed and tired, we say, let us not forget what global Jewish disruption looks like. New Israeli movements are forming all around us to reconsider who we are as a state and society – from the Fourth Quarter to Israel’s Peoplehood Coalition. These social platforms must also address who we are within the context of a greater people. American Jews can reach out with this request and a vision for what it can look like. Find relevant vessels within Israeli society to amplify this message. Here, we offer our assistance.
Those who believe in our eternal continuity will organize with optimism in the days and weeks to come knowing that it is our belief that gives our ideas power. Our ideal democratic and Jewish Israel demands the involvement of the greater Jewish people to bring it about.
This piece was co-authored by Barak Sella who is the Executive Director of the Reut Institute and leads the Jewish Peoplehood Coalition in Israel. Barak holds an MA in American Jewish Studies from Haifa University and is an expert in Israel-US relations.