Israeli Americans are finding their voice, American Jewry will never be the same

In the past five years, we are witnessing a major shift of powers in the Jewish American world.

With a growing community of over 500,000 Israelis living in the US, the Israeli American Council (IAC) is the fastest-growing Jewish organization in the US. With growing political influence and tremendous impact on Israeli American immigrant communities, the IAC will have a great impact on the entire American Jewish community and the relationship between Israel and the US.

Founded in LA in 2007 as a local network of Israeli American businessmen, today the IAC has 20 regional offices and 58 active communities. Under the leadership of co-founder and CEO, Shoham Nicolet, the IAC was able to be amazingly successful with the shift of programming from the pre-COVID 19 in-person-world to the digital reality we live in today.

Today, as Israel celebrates 73 years of independence, the IAC led the Yom Haatzmaut celebrations across the United States as American landmarks and municipal buildings were light up in blue and white in honor of Israel’s Independence Day.

I would like to share what I believe are the three main reasons for the success of the IAC:

Successful adjustment to the online platforms – Using the best of the Israeli creativity, technology, and problem-solving attitude, the IAC was the first major Jewish organization to offer quality content online. Only a few days into the first shutdown, the IAC introduced Zoom to the community and offered exciting content for the thousands of children forced to stay at home. Within days the IAC was able to double their database. Tireless effort assuring the high-quality of the programs. The IAC recruited some of the best educators, artists, and influencers. By doing so, the IAC was able to re-brand themselves as a leading force in the community, one that is relevant and well-connected in Israel and the US. As an outgrowth of this creative technology came its shift to online platforms. Now the IAC is mastering its ability to combine online content with small in-person events. This social hybrid model combines the best of both worlds. Quality content is broadcasted across the country and viewed in intimate gatherings which allows local communities to bond and strengthen local relationships. Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron events, based on the hybrid model, sold out.

A bridge between Israel and the US – In a time of extreme divisiveness and hostility, the IAC focuses on the values that bring us together. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli-Americans managed to prioritize their goals, and put polarizing politics aside. This is key because it is so easy to either choose sides or become too insular. To IAC’s credit, it purposely chose to concentrate its unique position as a bridge between Israel and the US. Displaying moderation and insight, the IAC is able to connect to prominent leaders on both sides of the political spectrum. Important to mention two luminaries, Adelson and Saban, that made sure to bring liberals and conservatives to the annual summits. And perhaps most important of all, the IAC sent a clear message that the ties between Israel and the US is based on people and common values, as well as shared interests. The IAC has become home not only for Israeli- Americans but for all Americans and Israelis who love both countries and are proud to celebrate this special bond. Furthermore, the past decade has taught that Israel can’t rely solely on American Jewish organizations. Israeli- Americans are uniquely positioned to stand up for Israel, and be unswerving advocates for Israel, regardless of the political environment. As a non-political immigrant organization, the IAC is partnering with the State of Israel, in ways American Jewish organizations can’t – or won’t. The IAC’s success in putting the love and support for Israel above political debate is, again, to its credit. American Jewish organizations would be wise to take note.

Jewish identity – For the first time in recent years, Jewish identity is on an upswing. We speak of non-religious Jewish-American-Israelis who are diving into Jewish texts, deepening their Jewish identity. While living in Israel, Jewish identity, perhaps, comes too easily; it’s taken for granted. Secular Jews living outside Israel, if they are to keep their Jewish identity strong, must actively pursue and observe ancient traditions. The IAC realizes this and launched a series of programs that offer Jewish Studies. The ‘Gvanim’ programs bring together respected leaders of the community, who for the first time are exposed to the beauty of Jewish wisdom and the world of the Torah. Similar to the bi-partisan approach when it gets to Israel, the IAC focuses on the common values and works together with all the Jewish religious movements in the United States. During these learning sessions, Israeli-Americans are exposed to different ideologies, visit synagogues, and are taught to be independent thinkers who can choose their own route to Judaism.

Another area that the IAC proves successful is with regard to Israeli-American philanthropy.

Let’s first give credit, where credit is due. No organization can make the big leagues without big-league financial backing. In this respect, IAC has been blessed by the unstinting support and generosity of late Sheldon Adelson and his beloved wife Dr. Miri Adelson.

Unlike other American Jewish immigrants, Israeli-Americans have not been as financially forthcoming in terms of supporting the local community. Social organizers have theorized on this, but this is not the place to elaborate. The good news is that the IAC is making strides, and has raised significant sums. Launching ‘IAC Care’, the IAC is sending a clear message about its intentions to become a major player in community service and philanthropy. In warp speed, ‘IAC Care’ sent thousands of care packages to families that have been impacted by COVID 19. This trend in the Israeli-American community will continue.

How will all this impact American Jewry?

Hopefully, IAC’s positive energy will get American Jewish organizations to collaborate, so each will benefit. The IAC can learn much from the established federation system and their many years of experience while the IAC can inspire and share the Israeli innovation and creative spirit.

About the Author
Elkana is an entrepreneur and business manager with a deep passion for education. Since 2007, Elkana has been in the field of experiential education and social entrepreneurship, focusing on community building, social awareness, humanities, and Jewish identity. Elkana currently resides in Rockville, MD, together with his wife and two daughters.
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