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Zack Bodner
Seeker | Writer | Storyteller | Community Builder | Doer

Time for a New Jewish Operating System

This is the speech delivered by Zack Bodner at the opening plenary of the 2022 Annual Z3 Conference. The Z3 Project is an initiative of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California to reimagine Diaspora-Israel relations.

Now, I know it’s Chanukah time, but let me invoke Passover for a moment.

-If we were just coming back together again live – DAYENU!
-And, if we just were coming together on the eve of Israel’s 75th birthday – DAYENU!
-If we were just coming together at a time when Israel had formed a new government – DAYNENU!
-Also if we were just coming together at a time when antisemitism was on the rise everywhere – DAYENU!
-And if we were coming together at a time when American Jews were feeling disconnected from Israel, and Israelis from American Jews – DAYENU!

But it’s all of the above! This is the time in which we are meeting. This is the moment.

So now what? We’re here. We’re together. But what is our responsibility at this moment? As community members who care; as philanthropists who can make a difference; as thought-leaders who can influence the future – what are we going to do with this moment?

Let me do something very Jewish right now – let me start by telling what we are NOT going to do.
-We are NOT going to spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of Bibi’s new government or the new US Congressional make-up.
-We are also not going to spent a lot of time discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
-We are not going to devote a lot of time to debating the issues surrounding the Chief Rabbinate’s definition of who is a Jew in Israel.
-And we are not going to wring our hands and kvetch about the rise of antisemitism in the world today.

Yes, these topics will absolutely be brought up today – how can they NOT be? But we are not going to make them the centerpiece of today’s meeting. Instead, let me tell you what we ARE going to focus on:
-We are going to reimagine the relationship between Diaspora Jews & Jews in Israel.
-We are going to rethink our collective identity.
-And we are going reinspire a love for family, for Jewish Peoplehood.

That is the purpose of the Z3 Project. That’s the purpose of this gathering.

There’s this old joke at the heart of each of our holidays: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” You all know this joke, right?

It’s funny, but it’s based on an old operating system – an old, broken operating system centered on Jewish trauma. Well, no longer should our shared victimhood define our sense of Peoplehood.

-We have to stop pretending that anti-antisemitism will keep Judaism alive for the next generation.
-We have to stop believing that fighting against anti-Zionism will keep our kids loving Israel.
-We have to stop talking endlessly about our shared trauma, hoping this will create Jewish continuity!

DAYENU!

Friends, it’s time to upgrade our operating system. It’s time for a positive, hopeful, proud Jewish identity, and it needs to include elements from each other’s experiences: Jews from Korea and Kentucky; Yemenite and Ukrainian; Persian and Parisian; Israeli and American. Our lives are fuller because of each other – each other’s food, language, music, art, TV, humor, literature, film.

The key is, we have to stop focusing on the things that are imperfect in each other. We can’t possibly be good partners if we constantly point out each other’s flaws.

Let me ask you a question: in any relationship in your life – the one with your spouse or a sibling or a colleague – if you focus more on each other’s imperfections and the things that drive you crazy about each other, will your relationship last?

No. Of course not. Eventually, one of you, or both of you, will finally say “I’m done! I don’t want to be in a relationship where you’re always pointing out my flaws!”

It is time to recognize this is also true with Diaspora-Israel relations. Of course, American Jews aren’t perfect. We’ll be the first to complain about each other! And of course, Israeli Jews aren’t perfect. If you read Israeli newspapers, you’ll know that they point that out all the time.

But it’s not our job to fix each other any more than it’s our job to fix our life partners! Yes, of course, we will work on each other’s “stuff” – but we’ll do it together, mutually, from a place of love.

Even when we’re not criticizing each other, we are caveating our relationship. We are always conditioning it – like Barry Bonds’ homerun record, we are putting up a little asterisk in all our conversations about Israel:
-I love Israel BUT … I’m not a fan of the newly elected government.
-I love Israel BUT … I don’t approve of what’s going on with the Palestinians.
-I love Israel BUT … I don’t like how the Chief Rabbinate doesn’t accept Reform Jews.

DAYENU!

We cannot condition our love for our family! We always love each other, even when we may not like each other at the moment!

That’s why at Z3, we’re having an asterisk-free conversation. We are celebrating each other. We are bringing together people doing incredible things in each of our two centers of Jewish life. We are creating Jewish pride – pride in the contributions that Jews make to repair the world.

And that is why we are not focusing on the areas that divide us today. We believe it’s time to focus more on what unites us, not what divides us. There’s plenty of that out there already. It’s time to focus more on the things that build up our relationship, not the things that detract from it.

At Z3, our 3 core principles are:
1. Unity, not uniformity. We aim to honor our differences while working on the Oneness of the Jewish People.
2. Engaging as equal partners. We bring together Israelis and Diaspora Jews to build our common future.
3. Diversity of voices. We convene Zionists of differing backgrounds and perspectives across the political and religious spectrums.

So today, you’re going to hear from a James Beard nominated Israeli chef and a Chasidic woman from Borough Park who is a paramedic and a judge. You’ll hear from an award-winning Israeli comedian and actor, and a rabbi who is pioneering the movement to integrate psychedelics into Jewish spirituality. You’ll hear from a critically acclaimed spoken word artist known as the “Hebrew Mamita,” and a kippa-wearing Israeli Knesset Member who is working to end the Orthodox establishment’s monopoly on Judaism in Israel

Hopefully by the end of the day, you’ll understand why we created the 5-sided Z3 dreidel … because you’ll know that NES GADOL HAYA SHAM AND PO! Great miracles are happening here AND there!

-That’s the greatness of the Jewish People.
-That’s the key to our future.
-And that’s why it’s import for you to be here today.

About the Author
Zack Bodner is the President and CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, CA and the Founder of the Z3 Project, an effort to reimagine Diaspora-Israel relations. He is the author of "Why Do Jewish: A Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood," a #1 Amazon New Release in Religion and Philosophy. Learn more at www.whydojewish.com. Zack lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and three kids.
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