The long-standing relationship between American Jewry and Jews in Israel is one of the most important and central relationships between the state and the Jewish Diaspora. A comprehensive study has yet to be undertaken examining how much money has been donated by American Jewry to Israel, directly and indirectly, from the First World War until today.
However, whether directly (American Jewish philanthropy intended to improve Israeli society) or indirectly (federal funds secured via the pro-Israel lobby and pro-Israel members of Congress) there is no doubt that altogether this amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars. These contributions were sorely needed for hospitals, universities, the military, Iron Dome defense systems, and education and welfare institutions of the State of Israel. It is clear that without this support we would not be where we are today as a society.
These contributions have benefited Israeli society and have had a profound effect on its well-being and way of life. However, it seems that as the years pass by, Israelis seem to take their relationship with the American Jewish community for granted. The reality is that the flow of support to Israel is not a given.
American Jewry is changing. Jews who immigrated to the United States early last century, and who showed great affection for the early settlers of the Zionist movement, are no longer alive. Neither are their children. The affinity of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the State of Israel is weaker than their forefathers'. The feeling of admiration of the first and second generations is gone and has been replaced by a reevaluation of the relationship with Israel, at best, and indifference, at worst.
There is a clear and present danger lying at Israel's doorstep: There is a widening gap between American Jewry and Israel, and in some cases, Diaspora Jewry is losing its strong connection to Israel. If this trend continues, the consequences could be catastrophic and affect Israel economically, militarily and socially.
In order to create the desired change and bring American Jewry closer to Israeli society, we must act quickly. We believe that we must work on two levels which complement each other. The first level is developing and deepening the knowledge between American society and Israeli politicians and opinion makers. The second level is building a comprehensive academic curriculum for Israeli students where they can learn about American society in general and American Jewry in particular.
This plan is the key to training, educating and building future leaders who understand the importance of the bond between the two central Jewish communities in the world. As recent elections have shown, today's students are members of the Knesset and the leaders of tomorrow. This program will be the student's journey into the depths of the soul of American Jewry. They will learn about the emergence of American Jewry, its social make-up and contribution to the State of Israel, past and present. They will become acquainted with the three major streams of Judaism and meet with their counterparts to learn about their way of life, not out of arrogance but out of partnership and responsibility.
These connections will create solidarity based on our common past and on the need to shape the future of the State of Israel. Israel should constantly strive for dialogue and partnership with the Jewish communities in the Diaspora in general and the Jewish community in the United States in particular. This is the only way to ensure that the solidarity that characterized the American Jewish relationship with Israel in the past won’t weaken in the future. It is important to American Jews but an existential necessity for Israel.
Professor Gur Alroey is the head of the School of History at the University of Haifa. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen the ties between Israel and American Jewry.
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