I want to welcome you to The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly—one of the most important Jewish community gatherings in the world. This is the 10th GA I have had the privilege of hosting, and it’s hard not to look back on how some things have changed and others have remained the same.
Many of you are familiar with Theodor Herzl’s famous line: “If you will it, it is no dream.” To be sure, my dream for Israel has always and will always be a strong, vibrant, healthy, and prosperous Jewish State. Like Jewish communal leaders from across North America, our commitment to Israel is solid and unwavering, but I would be dishonest if I did not concede that recently, we have been tested.
Israel’s new “nation-state” law was disappointing, but what was more upsetting was that it wasn’t a one-off event. The questioning of a Conservative rabbi in Haifa on grounds that he officiated at weddings that were not sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate, and the Israeli government’s decision not to extend surrogacy rights to same-sex couples clearly demonstrated that things in Israel have changed. The politicization of issues seemingly without consideration for how they impact Jews worldwide IS new and will require a new approach by Jewish Federations and the pro-Israel community across North America.
That is why “We Need to Talk.”
The theme of his year’s GA is about addressing these issues—putting everything on the table—and trying to find common ground. Today, defining the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is complicated. Although three-quarters of Israelis believe in their common destiny with Diaspora Jews and 95% of all Jews are proud to be Jewish, opposing opinions exist. We need a new language and possibly a new approach to making sure we never lose sight of the fact that we are One People.
Our history is full of examples of Jewish resilience and accomplishment made possible because we worked together as One People. These include caring for Holocaust survivors, the shared imperative to establish the State of Israel, and freeing Soviet Jewry from oppression. As one people, there is little we can’t do, and our commitment to Jewish peoplehood—regardless of our differences—must always remain in our minds and propel us.
This year’s GA will focus on this sacred responsibility. We will talk together about how to keep building peoplehood while investing in one of our greatest assets: our diversity. The Israel-Diaspora conversation has to change, and at GA 2018 we will take a first big step forward.
Each one of us is precious, and it is in celebrating our differences that we will advance our growth, distinction, and ultimately, our peoplehood.