The unique event, which was held at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California on November 10th, was a rare opportunity to join an inspiring and thought-provoking discussion about key issues of Jewish identity.
“We constructed the day so that it wasn’t just a collection of speakers and panels, but, rather, we took our participants on an educational journey,” explains Rabbi Amitai Fraiman, Director of the Z3 Project. “The overarching theme was ‘1 People, 2 Centers, 3 Opinions,’ and we bookended the day with our modern-day prophets – Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Professor Ruth Gavison. To create an experience which engages with a variety of learning modalities, we had roundtable conversations, movement workshops, comedy, art exhibitions and more.”
Over 65 influential speakers from across the Jewish world addressed the conference – representing a broad range of religious and political affiliations, as well as a diversity of ages and backgrounds. They discussed the critical issues of our times – focusing on identity, culture and social responsibility – and helped to rethink the relationship between the two great centers of Jewish life, North America and Israel.
The Z3 Project was created to promote a rejuvenated relationship between Diaspora Jewry and Israelis based on peoplehood, shared values and a common destiny through conferences, conventions and coalition building. “We are still one people. We need unity, not uniformity,” said Zack Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family JCC. “This new Zionism must honor our differences but transcend them to embrace the oneness of the Jewish People. It must insist that Israel and the Diaspora engage as equal partners. And it must prioritize a diversity of voices”.
Influential thought leaders
The speakers at this year’s conference included award-winning politicians, journalists, religious leaders, and social activists from around the world. Their talks explored multiple identities and viewpoints and considered ways to find common ground.
Among the highlights:
Tzipi Livni, former Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, spoke eloquently about her belief that, “We [Diaspora Jews and Israelis] need to be connected by a shared vision. It’s not enough that the fact that we have enemies connects us. We need a new dialogue between us. There are many legitimate voices that need to be heard.”
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg told the audience: “There aren’t two competing communities. Israel is a resource for our future, and it is our responsibility to keep the U.S. on Israel’s side politically.” He also stressed the importance of visiting Israel through trips such as Birthright and one-year post-high school programs. These types of Israel experiences are common among Orthodox Jews and should be encouraged among the non-Orthodox community as well.
Prof. Noam Pianko, author of Zionism and the Roads Not Taken, warned about “the need to bridge the growing gap” between the different values of Diaspora and Israeli Jews. While American Jews care deeply about minority rights and liberal values, and are very concerned about the Palestinian issue, he noted that Israelis are much more troubled by the role of religion than they are about the Palestinians. “The key challenge to peoplehood is that we are not talking about the same issues,” he lamented.
Towards the end of the day, Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, editor and columnist for The New York Times, received a standing ovation for his fascinating and inspiring talk, which was filled with poignant anecdotes. “Israel’s job is to protect its people. We need to defend American values as well as Israeli values,” he asserted. Referring to the complicated relationship between American Jews and Israel, Stephens said that, “All marriages begin with love, but if there’s no respect, the marriage will collapse.”
Many other speakers presented different perspectives on this crucial conversation, including 2019 Academy Award® winners Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, former Knesset members Rachel Azaria and Yehuda Glick, and African-American Orthodox rabbi and social commentator MaNishtana.
The Z3 Project’s Rabbi Fraiman hopes attendees will become involved in the ongoing conversations relating to Gen Z Israel engagement, feminism and Zionism, and that they will continue to explore issues of belonging and identity as a minority group in America. “We are very happy with the result and already have people registering for next year!” he notes with a smile.
For more information and to register for next year’s conference: https://www.z3project.org/