It was the third day of the GA, and Baltimore saw its share of morning rain, and it was early – relatively early – when my first of two panel sessions began. So I can’t say it was a huge surprise not to have a full room for the discussion, sponsored and organized by the Toronto Jewish Federation and the Reut Institute. It was a pleasant surprise, though, that the relatively small audience didn’t make the proceedings less lively. We had an interesting discussion about Israelis in North America, a loaded topic if one looks at it from an ideological point of view, but a no-brainer for all participants – all seem to be looking at it with a sober, realistic, view.
A paper by the Reut Institute – and one I’m even more familiar with by JPPI’s Yogev Karasenty – have recently painted the way ahead for Israelis living in NA. They need to get more involved in Jewish communal life, and Jewish organizations also need them to get more involved in Jewish communal life. An organized, vibrant, Israeli component is an ingredient that Jewish communities can benefit from having. An organized, vibrant Israeli community can benefit and learn a lot from the non-Israeli Jews living in their neighborhood.
Clearly, the days of derogatory name calling ("Yordim") are over, and reasonable people understand that in an open world one has to accept and respect – if not always agree – with the personal choices made by members of his larger Israel or Jewish community. The three Israelis on my panel (Noa Eliasaf Shoham of Palo Alto, Yael Karol of Toronto and Shawn Evenhaim of Los Angeles) arrived at where they are today taking different paths and for different reasons, some of them quite good. So the only relevant question for them at the moment is not “when are we going back (if ever)?”, but rather “what do we do as long as we are here (maybe forever)?”
They are all “Israelis” – that’s what they call themselves, but there are minor differences of terminology. Toronto’s Ted Sokolsky, opening the session, referred to this group of Israelis abroad as Israeli-Americans. Noa Shoham offered a slightly, but also significantly, different term: American-Jewish-Israelis. I made an attempt to force the trio into a more philosophical discussion of the meaning of Zionism and its implications for people in their situation. But the bait was not taken; they weren’t tempted.
I asked an ideological question and got – from all three panelists – a personal answer. They are not trying to alter Zionism or to redefine Zionist theology (Eran Shayshon of Reut referred in his presentation to new models of Zionism – read about it in Reut’s paper). They are living their lives, and are trying to make lemonade out of the ingredients that they have been given, not the ideal ingredients that someone, somewhere, might want to prescribe for them. Thus, there was a discussion, but not much debate, between these three Israelis. And yes, if anyone was having any doubts – I didn’t have any - their pragmatic approach to the problem should have ended such doubt once and for all. It was a markedly Israeli pragmatism.