The gap between Israel and the American-Jewish community has grown wider in recent years, but the drift has nothing to do with the countries’ political leadership, according to Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
“I think the Jewish people have experienced worse challenges,” he said in a phone interview with NJJN from his New York office. “I think there are educational strategies and conceptual strategies that are possible. As an educator, I think of these as long runways and long-term strategies. The desire for short-term strategies is the problem.” The Shalom Hartman Institute is a center for Jewish thought and education dedicated to strengthening Jewish peoplehood, identity, and pluralism.
On Dec. 13, Kurtzer will elaborate on “Israel and American Jews: The Future of a Challenging Relationship,” during the Ruth and Alan Rockoff annual program of Rutgers University’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.
While for much of the 20th century the American-Jewish community was closely aligned with Israel, denominational and partisan divides have seemed to mar the relationship recently. The two societies have different contexts and value systems that exacerbate the political, ethnic, and ideological differences.
“The policies and practices of the Israeli government come across to American Jews as a complete anathema, and the reverse is true about the American-Jewish community, whose politics are incomprehensible to Israelis,” he said.
Regarding differences in Jewish values, Kurtzer said, “American-Jewish values are trying to take care of the widow and orphan while Israeli-Jewish values are in building a Jewish state, and they don’t have to be pulled apart in different directions.”
He said many of the problems stem from a different worldview. “I don’t buy the argument that if we didn’t have this prime minister and this president” that the relationship would be different, he said.
He said his talk will address what diaspora Jews want in a relationship with Israel and how to actualize that vision, among other topics.
“This is a long-term reality, but I think it’s possible to build a stronger fortitude among the Jewish people,” he said.
Kurtzer sees little changing in American political attitudes toward Israel, even with the recent election of several new members of Congress who appear hostile to the Jewish state.
“I’m not too concerned about the new Congress,” he said. “There is a hobby among American Jews about being drawn to anger and crisis. This is a way to be drawn to crisis, but whether it portends a major ideological shift is what I’m attuned to.”
If you go
What: “Israel and American Jews: The Future of a Challenging Relationship”
Who: Yehuda Kurtzer, president of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America
When: Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: College Avenue Student Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Cost: Free; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 848-932-2033