For nearly a decade, The Jewish Federations of North America has been hosting trips for top Israeli leaders to visit Jewish communities throughout the United States and Canada. The experience has been truly eye-opening

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Knesset members at the University of California, Berkeley
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Co-sponsored by The Jewish Agency for Israel, annual trips bring members of Knesset and top Israeli journalists and thought-leaders on weeklong journeys to meet with North American Jewish communal lay and professional leaders and the heads of religious streams. They also become acquainted with the needs and interests of young people.

“These trips often provide leading Israelis with their first real in-depth Jewish communal experiences,” said Rebecca Caspi, Director General of JFNA’s Israel Office. “They aren’t travelling to a community to deliver a speech. They are going to listen and learn; and when they return and express how eye-opening the trip was for them, we know it was a success.”

Knesset members who travelled to North America with JFNA delegations reported that the experience greatly improved their understanding of American Jewry and its relationship with Israel, and that it would undoubtedly impact their work as legislators. Here is a sample of their impressions:

MK Eli Ben-Dahan

Eli Ben-Dahan is an Israeli Orthodox rabbi and politician who was born in Morocco and immigrated to Israel as a child. He is currently a member of the Knesset for the ‘Jewish Home’ party, and is the Deputy Minister of Defense. Ben-Dahan lives in Har Homa in East Jerusalem with his wife and nine children.

This is what he said after participating on a recent JFNA trip to Jewish communities in North America:

“A few months ago, I visited the Jewish Federation of Chicago and the Jewish Federation of Greater Miami. The direct contact with representatives of the Federations, from youth to adults, deepened my understanding of the difficulties faced by Jews in the Diaspora and how important a visit of this sort is, since it strengthens the connection between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry.”

MK Aliza Lavie

Dr. Aliza Lavie is a social activist and author who has served in the Knesset since 2013 as an MK for the ‘Yesh Atid’ party. She is head of the Knesset caucus on religion and state, and is a member of a number of other parliamentary lobbies. In 2015, MK Lavie was named “Outstanding Member of Knesset” by the Israel Democracy Institute.

She spoke very enthusiastically about her experience as part of the JFNA delegation:

“As a representative of the public, I see strengthening relations between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry as one of the great missions of our generation, and I devote a large part of my political and public activities to this subject. I think that one of the main problems today is that many Israelis are not sufficiently familiar with the various streams of Diaspora Jewry, and therefore the delegation is a central tool for deepening the relationship through direct meetings that enable an open and honest dialogue.

“A meeting between Knesset members and young Jewish Agency emissaries on campuses left a particularly deep impression. The issues that were raised may have been familiar to most of us, but when they came from young emissaries who serve as wonderful ambassadors for the State of Israel and work hard to strengthen relations, I realized for the first time the enormous significance of the decisions adopted by the Knesset and the scope of their influence outside of Israel. It was clear that the MKs came out of the meeting with a more informed view of the magnitude of the challenge and the huge responsibility placed on their shoulders regarding the preservation and future continuity of the relationship. Hearing first-hand accounts and being able to hold a sincere and direct dialogue is one of the trip’s greatest benefits. It provided us with significant tools to continue our activities in Israel, through a shared sense of destiny and responsibility towards our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora.”

MK Omer Bar-Lev

Omer Bar-Lev has been a member of Knesset since 2013, representing the Zionist Union (Labor Party). After retiring from the IDF with the rank of Colonel, he became a technology entrepreneur and social activist.

MK Bar-Lev reported that taking part in the JFNA delegation profoundly affected the way he understood Israel’s relationship with North American Jewry:

“My participation in the parliamentary delegation and the many varied meetings with members of the Jewish community in the eastern U.S. reaffirmed what the poet Yaakov Rotblit wrote: ‘What you can see from there, you can’t see from here.’ The visit underscored the huge gap between the deceptive feeling of closeness to America, felt by most Israelis because of the warm handshakes between President Trump and the Prime Minister of Israel, and the de facto distancing from Israel of American Jewry in general and of the younger generation in particular.

“In the medium and long term, it is clear that the crisis between U.S. Jewry and Israel constitutes a strategic threat to both Israel and the unity of the Jewish people. Therefore, Israel must mend the rifts with American Jewry in order to preserve the unity of the Jewish people and strengthen our special relationship with America, our closest ally. The Israeli government must act to preserve Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state, one that accepts all Diaspora Jews, whether they are Conservative, Reform or Orthodox, and assures them and us that Israel will always be their home.”