What ‘Am Echad’ looks like in the new world

Ben-Gurion Airport, Courtesy of Adele Stowe-Lindner

Something in the way Israel and the Diaspora perceive each other changed on October 7th. On October 6th, we saw a strong, confident Israel, arguably more distant from the Diaspora in economic, philosophical, and material terms than in decades past. On October 7th, the relationship transformed.

Israel’s lesson to the Diaspora shifted from the economic miracle of the Start-Up Nation with inspiring innovation, and its emergence from geopolitical isolation, to something much simpler yet incredibly powerful: resilience. Conversely, the Diaspora now offers more than admiration and charity; it presents its own valuable lesson in community and relationships.

I recently returned from Israel, for a visit to see friends and family, give a hug and receive one in return. It was a chance to be among my people, see Hebrew street signs and order coffee in Hebrew, as well as bear witness to recent atrocities.

It struck me that while we in the Diaspora and Israel have not been as unified in recent years (“am echad”) as we are now, the narratives in Israel and the Diaspora remain different and often conflicting. There is a lot of potential to learn from those opposing narratives.

From Israel, I flew directly to Munich for a seminar hosted by Habonim Dror Olami and the World Zionist Organisation. The seminar brought together adults from progressive Zionist backgrounds worldwide and Israelis from Israel to share experiences, learn from each other, and discuss leadership in this new world.

Over four days, Jewish people with first languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German, and English communicated in Hebrew to explore the Diaspora experience of the past eight months. The most striking dialogue was between Diaspora university students and adults, and Israelis.

In Israel, the prevailing sentiment seemed to me to be, “We are not victims; we are hurt and traumatized but we will rebuild strongly.” A common refrain is, “Do not compare this to the Holocaust because now we have a state.”

Meanwhile at the same time, in my hometown Melbourne, Australia, I missed the Never Again is Now rally. I applaud this project led by Christian groups supporting the Jewish community, just as the Jewish community supports causes such as Indigenous land rights. However, the Diaspora often views issues through a Holocaust lens. Given the large numbers of Holocaust survivors in many Diaspora communities, the obligation to “never forget” and the understandable intergenerational trauma have sometimes morphed into a fear that everything can lead to the Holocaust.

In Israel, I was reminded of the power of language in shaping narratives. Visiting a treatment center for Nova survivors, the director and psychologists explained that it is termed a “Resilience Center,” not a trauma center, emphasizing their mission to help survivors rebuild their lives. I was moved by the resilience I witnessed, from pubs and cafes to music concerts, shabbat dinners, and visits to kibbutzim in the Otef region.

On October 7th, many things became clear to all of us. For secular Israelis, it may have been a reminder of their Jewish identity. Today, you see Magen David and Israel map jewellery everywhere, bought primarily by locals, not tourists. In the Diaspora, many have also reconnected with their Jewish identity post-October 7th.

Israel was established not only as a safe-haven for Jews in times of need, although it serves this purpose too. Zionism has long fostered a passion for Jewish people returning to their land to re-establish community pride, regrow roots, and contribute to the world as a “light unto the nations” from a place of strength and resilience.

The relationship between the Diaspora and Israel has been symbiotic since the State’s establishment. So, what is required of that relationship now? Communities outside of Israel, once termed the “Golah” (exile), are now recognised as “Tfutsot” (diaspora), having something to offer in their own right.

Many in the Diaspora have been shocked by the resurgence of antisemitism, both masked as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist sentiments and in more blatant forms. This has affected people across the political spectrum. Antisemitism has long influenced behaviors, such as avoiding putting Israel-oriented organizations on resumes or removing kippot for activities like playing football in public teams.

This undercurrent of antisemitism keeps us aware of our Jewish identity in the Diaspora. We often ask, “Is it good for the Jews?” This awareness sometimes leads to shame or hiding our identity, consciously or subconsciously. In our current climate, it is tempting to see antisemitism everywhere, to seek it out by looking around corners.

Perhaps we might consider continuing to sweat the big stuff which is crucial, but overlook some small things, rather than position them as equal. We in the Diaspora could learn from Israel about resilience, to consider caring a bit less about what people think, to avoid a victim mentality that could make us fearful, inward-looking and alone or a shamed mentality that could make us overly eager for acceptance.

Israel, too, can learn from the Diaspora. Like Israel, Diaspora communities know we are safest when we are strongest. To that end, we have learned to live within our neighborhoods, speak the local languages, and work with the surrounding communities. We understand that we stand to gain from what we give to our outside communities. In community life, caring about what others think sometimes leads us to compromise for a higher purpose of just getting by at worst, and thriving at best.

Israelis who say, “To hell with the rest of the world, we will do what we need to do,” are being naïve about the economic and political reality that surrounds them. If only on a transactional level, Israel needs political cover in international forums, economic supplies and military equipment. Israel’s geographic reality is such that in order to stand on its own two feet, it needs to be shaking hands at the same time.

Israel was established for Jews to have a state with a Jewish and democratic character as part of the community of nations. Motivated by love for the world’s only Jewish state existing on our ancestral land, I suggest that just as the Diaspora could learn resilience from Israel, Israel could learn humility from the Diaspora – questioning its security rather than assuming it, and, most fundamentally, learning to care more about the perceptions of others: its friends and its foes.

Bound together, the Diaspora and Israel are “Am Echad” today in a deeply intertwined way. Our daily experiences differ vastly, and this offers opportunities. As a modern “take” on cultural Zionist Achad Ha’am’s vision, for our strength as a nation to be fully realized, Israel and the Diaspora communities must continue to listen and learn from each other. For our worldwide community to thrive as one nation, we must mutually offer support when most needed and mutually listen hard, to internalize lessons that strengthen us as a people.

About the Author
Adele Stowe-Lindner sits on the boards of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Maccabi Tennis Club Victoria, Australia. She has a Masters in Leadership, and has worked in the community sector, managing change, for over 20 years.
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