Jewish Leaders Discuss the Challenge of Being Jewish in the Diaspora

The Presidential Conference continues into its second day in Jerusalem, featuring world leaders alongside movers and shakers, for a plethora of discussion on the Middle East and its economy.

Israels fourth annual Presidential Conference, an event focusing on issues related to the Middle East and its economy, continued into its second day on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Plenary sessions, panels, round tables, and master classes delved into questions as diverse as whether the U.S. is losing its central role in the international arena, where the social protests sweeping across the globe are heading, and how Israels recent social and economic awakening might shape its culture.

Foreign participants in this years conference come from a variety of backgrounds and countries, and include U.S. political pundit Peter Beinart, former French presidential adviser Jacques Attali, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Alassane Dramane Ouattara, the President of the Ivory Coast.

Wednesday's panel on the Diaspora includes Malcolm Hoenlein (Executive Vice Chairman and CEO, Conference of Presidents), Rabbi Rick Jacobs (President, Union for Reform Judaism), and Rachel Korpus (President, Zionist Federation of New Zealand). 

5:58 PM: Jacobs to Hoenlein: To what extent is Israel contributing to that Jewish unity? Here, people are not allowed to be married by the person of their choice. Back home, my good friend, An Orthodox rabbi, fought to have the Reform synagogue included in the Eruv (that demarcates the community for the Sabbath and holidays) and he said that it was so that the entire community could celebrate together.

Hoenlein: Aliya remains the highest value, but the Torah was given as a constitution, outside the Land - we were the first people to have a constitution before we had a country. 

5:54 PM: Hoenlein: dictators often tell the truth. I don't accept the comparisons to the 1930s, but when I look at (Iran) I understand the comparisons to the 1940s. The great strides of Judaism were made at times of achdut, Jewish unity.

Korpus: I'm not sure how much the waitress in Tel Aviv cares about the Jews of New Zealand, or about her own Jewishness.

Fiano: There is increasing danger of anti-democratic and neo-fascist movements in places like Italy. We don't have to participate in battles only about our people.

5:38 PM: Judith Liwerant of Mexico: The question everyone asks, how many Jews are in Mexico? There are close to 400,000 Latin American Jews, and an equal number of Latin American Jews living abroad. I would point out that there are 50 million people in the US who belong to the Hispanic communities. Israel has always been central. But this is undergoing transition.

5:37 PM: Linde: Playing devil's advocate, isn't it the Haredim who account for the growth in The Jewish community of New York? (Applause from Orthodox members of the audience) Rick Jacobs: I won't be lured into a discussion about which Jews are more legitimate. (Applause from the other half of the audience) 

5:37 PM: Rick Jacobs: You can make a strong case that it is easier to be a Jew in the Diaspora, than to be a non-Orthodox Jew in Israel. In 1964, Look Magazine ran a cover story titled "The Vanishing American Jew." We are today going strong, and I defy you to find Look Magazine. The fastest growing group in American Jewish life is what is called the unaffiliated. I don't like that term. Unaffiliated means it's their fault. I prefer the term uninspired. That means it's our fault. And that's our challenge. To find ways to inspire them. 

We must treat the stranger well, even if that stranger came from Africa. Our goal is not survival for survival's sake, but a life of meaning and depth. Israel is a miracle. Israel needs us to stand up for it. Last month we won a great victory, I believe a victory for all the people, when the Israeli government agreed to pay Rabbi Miri Gold for her services to her community. 

5:13 PM: Emanuele Fiano of Italy: Our community of Italian Jews numbers about 30,000. But, because we are also Italians, we say that we are 50,000. The other Italians think that we are 1,000,000. And we let them. Let us open the doors to all Jews in the Diaspora. Jews cannot say that any other Jew is less Jewish than he is. We have to have an open policy to all Jews in the Diaspora. 

5:13 PM: Rachel Korpus of New Zealand: There are three main challenges to the New Zealand Jewish community. There is remoteness. Ladies and gentlemen, the next step after New Zealand is Antarctica. The size of our community is a challenge. On a good day, we have 15,000 Jews, plus Israelis. And that's another story. And there is leadership. Stated simply, the young birds want to leave the nest. 

5:00 PM: Malcolm Hoenlein from the U.S.: We have failed this generation, we failed them when we allowed Zionism to become a pejorative term. The Catholic Church had it right when it said give us your children until age six (to educate) then you can have them back. Young Jews are intimidated, Jews on campus are afraid to stand up, to register as Jews. Christian children are not intimidated. We were able to anticipate delegitimization because we looked at the British model. We have to fight 21st century challenges with 21st century tools. 

4:44 PM: The panel, moderated by Jerusalem Post Editor in Chief Steve Linde, includes Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rachel Korpus, President of the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, Professor Judit Bokser Liwerant of Mexico, and Italian legislator and former senior Jewish community official Emanuele Fiano. 

4:44 PM: Lay of the Land: The panel is to cover challenges of being Jewish in the Diaspora, how Jewish existence in the Diaspora can be ensured, and what role Israel can play in the process. The intention is to discuss threats to Jewish existence, among them terror and anti-Semitism, assimilation, the weakening of Jewish identity, financial difficulties in maintaining community and educational institutions, multiple identity, and social trends which encourage individualism and distancing from the community.

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