Yos Tarshish

It’s Time We Returned to Hugging and Wrestling

Over a decade and a half ago, Robbie Gringras, a British-Israeli writer, crafted a powerful metaphor for the evolving relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews. In his series of blog posts titled “Hugging and Wrestling,” he called for a more dynamic and engaged approach, one that simultaneously embraced and challenged Israel. As we find ourselves in a time of renewed tensions and shifting global dynamics, it’s worth revisiting Gringras’ vision and recommitting ourselves to its core principles.

Hugging and Wrestling: A Recap

In his original article, Gringras highlighted the importance of both “hugging” and “wrestling” in the Israel-Diaspora Jewish relationship. By hugging, he meant the unconditional love and support that Diaspora Jews often provide to Israel, while wrestling represented the critical engagement and questioning that are equally necessary for a healthy relationship.

Gringras argued that focusing exclusively on hugging could lead to complacency and a lack of critical thinking, while an overemphasis on wrestling could damage the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jews. He called for a balanced approach that would allow the global Jewish community to thrive together.

The 2006 Postscript and Its Relevance Today

In a postscript written in 2006, Gringras reflected on how the Second Lebanon war had shuffled the cards, leading to a resurgence of hugging. He recognised the importance of this support during a challenging time but also questioned whether this dynamic was one we wanted to perpetuate.

Today, we face new challenges and opportunities in the Israel-Diaspora Jewish relationship. In light of recent events and an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, it’s essential to return to Gringras’ powerful framing and reassess our approach.

Recommitting to Hugging and Wrestling

Encourage Dialogue and Debate

One of the core tenets of Gringras’ vision is the importance of open, honest dialogue between Israel and Diaspora Jews. Jewish organisations should promote spaces for these conversations, embracing differing opinions and encouraging debate on the critical issues facing Israel and the Jewish world.

Foster Connections and Shared Experiences

To strengthen the bonds between Israel and Diaspora Jews, we must create opportunities for shared experiences. This can be done through programs like Birthright Israel, Masa Israel Journey, and other immersive experiences that allow Diaspora Jews to connect with Israel’s culture, history, and people.

Support Israel’s Internal Growth

As Gringras emphasised, we must also recognise the internal challenges facing Israel and provide support to address them. By investing in initiatives that promote social cohesion, education, and economic development, we can contribute to Israel’s long-term stability and prosperity.

Embrace Complexity and Nuance

A healthy Israel-Diaspora Jewish relationship requires us to embrace the complexity and nuance of the issues we face. Rather than resorting to black-and-white thinking, we should strive to understand the intricacies of the challenges before us and engage in thoughtful, informed discussions.

Cultivate Empathy and Understanding

Finally, Gringras’ vision calls for empathy and understanding between Israel and Diaspora Jews. By recognising our shared history, values, and aspirations, we can work together to create a brighter future for the Jewish people worldwide.

In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to return to the wisdom of Robbie Gringras’ “Hugging and Wrestling” metaphor. By striking a balance between love and critical engagement, we can foster a resilient, thriving Israel-Diaspora Jewish relationship. This is why I think it’s time we recommit ourselves to this vision and work together to build a stronger, more connected Jewish community.

By revisiting Gringras’ framework and incorporating it into our current context, we can ensure that the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews remains vibrant and dynamic. Jewish organisations must take the lead in promoting dialogue, fostering connections, supporting Israel’s internal growth, embracing complexity and nuance, and cultivating empathy and understanding.

As we move forward, let us remember the lessons of “Hugging and Wrestling” and strive to create an environment in which both support and critical engagement coexist. In doing so, we can strengthen the ties between Israel and Diaspora Jews, ensuring a brighter future for the global Jewish community.

It’s time we returned to hugging and wrestling, embracing the full spectrum of our relationship with Israel, and working together for the betterment of our people. As Gringras so eloquently expressed, our tradition tells us of the sun and the wind, each with their own power, ultimately working together to create change. May we, too, harness our collective strength and wisdom to forge a strong, united Jewish community that is capable of weathering any storm.

About the Author
Yos Tarshish is the Director of Queen's Hillel in Kingston, Ontario, bringing a decade of experience in global Jewish student communities. A UK native, Yos previously served as President of both the Union of Jewish Students and the World Union of Jewish Students. Passionate about social activism and building inclusive Jewish communities, he holds a BA in Youth & Community Studies, sits on the steering committee of IPF Atid Toronto and on the board of Kingston's Beth Israel Congregation.
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