The kvetch at The Shuk

As always, this year’s Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (JFNA’s GA, or #JFNAGA for millennials), held in Jerusalem, was a snapshot of Israel through the eyes of establishment American Jewry. And, as always, there are those Israelis who wonder why the issues that are dear to them tend not to surface at one of the most noteworthy Jewish networking events of the decade. Sadly, those who exercise reactionary avoidance, in response to the highly selective nature of Jewish Federation inclusiveness, ultimately perpetuate the imperceptibility of their cause.

It’s interesting to note that this year’s GA was self-proclaimed “The Global Jewish Shuk – A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate”, aka The Shuk in shorthand. The bombastic heading was, to a degree, accurate. It was a meeting place for people, cultures and ideas, and an opportunity to generate new opportunities. But The Shuk wasn’t for everyone. It’s fair to say that, though open to the public, the overwhelming majority of Israelis were unaware that the event was taking place. And for those who were aware, some felt disenfranchised.

In the days preceding the GA, a typical debate surfaced within the Judea and Samaria advocacy community as to whether or not to attend the GA. There were voices that suggested a policy of engagement, though they were the vocal minority. The general refrain was familiar. There was a sense that the GA is a waste of time. That they’ve never paid attention to Judea and Samaria and never will. That the JFNA is either too politically biased, too disconnected or too narrow-minded to involve itself in internationally sensitive matters.

It’s true. The JFNA overlooks and, in most cases, ignores the communities and cities of Judea and Samaria. Before, during and following the days of the Partnership 2000 initiative, no JFNA community has dared to partner with an entity located east of the Green Line. There have been times when financial aid was received by these communities, though few and far between. Indeed, a policy of consistent rejection has relegated those that represent communities in Judea and Samaria to lower the bar and express sincere appreciation on the rare occasions when JFNA delegations to Israel magnanimously opt to visit the region that everyone from the White House to the local daily paper can’t seem to stop talking about. It’s an awkward set of circumstances, when much of the world can’t get enough of “the settlement issue” and the JFNA couldn’t possibly distance itself any more than it has. But how might that change?

The residents of Judea and Samaria are one of Israel’s most pioneering, forward-thinking and creative societal and national contributors. Though boldly capable of withstanding and counterbalancing the most fierce international pressures and hate-based de-legitimization campaigns, something happens when our brothers and sisters from across the Atlantic are those who undermine us. Even when their hands-off approach is unintentional, we tend to be genuinely insulted. And when Israelis get insulted, their otherwise uncharacteristic kvetch mechanism goes into overdrive.

Yes, there’s a lot to kvetch and complain about. And yes, it may provide a fleeting sense of vindication and moral justice. But when everybody else is at the party, the kvetchers simply lose out.

Personally, I went from skeptical to pleasantly surprised. Networking events are a great way to meet new people and rekindle seasoned relationships, but that was only the beginning. Though refined and thereby limited in scope, The Shuk addressed a wide variety of issues that are essential to understanding the Israel-America continuum. Politics, religion, philanthropy, leadership, society, identity and more. None of the sessions dealt directly with Judea and Samaria, but all were pertinent to the lives and lifestyles that we’re building in our communities.

So what will it be? Are we in, or are we out? Are we part of the Israel-America continuum, or do we sit on, or perhaps beyond, the sidelines? What about Israel’s internal, domestic continuums? Are we on the map, or have we decided to let others define who and what we are on our behalf?

Friends, we need to engage with our counterparts on a level playing field. There is a wealth of collective knowledge and experience wandering the halls of the GA, and so much of it is untapped and carelessly unaware. Notwithstanding the antiquated structure of JFNA and its uncertain future, they remain a cutting edge powerhouse when it comes to articulating the issues of their interest and developing meta-strategies to tackle those issues. If we do not engage we will never learn from their successes. If we are not forward thinking we will not be part of their tomorrow.

It’s not about the funding, and it’s not about the spotlight. It’s never has been about those things. It’s about Judea and Samaria being an integral part of the Jewish story, just as it’s always been since our nation’s humble beginnings. Let’s look at the big picture that we’re accustomed to coloring and designing. Let’s respectfully and organically step into their story, so that by the time the GA returns to Jerusalem there simply won’t be anything to kvetch about.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.
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