The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ launched its new Israel Center, cementing the organization’s bonds with the country even as its army and citizens sought relief from a rain of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.
The center — whose inaugural gathering took place Nov. 15 on the Aidekman campus in Whippany — was created to provide an umbrella for all the Israel endeavors of the two federations that merged earlier this year to form the Greater MetroWest federation. The goal, said organizers, is to enhance the connection between the committees and departments of GMW that relate to Israel.
“The Israel Center represents the synergy of what we’re bringing here from Israel, and from here to Israel,” said Robert Kuchner, chair of the federation’s Israel and Oversees Committee, who chaired the gathering.
The center includes the Israel and Overseas Committee, the Legow Family Israel aProgram Center, the Religious Pluralism Committee, the Partnership2gether Committees, the Overseas Committee, the Keren Ness Fund, and the Greater MetroWest Israel Office.
Kuchner said the center would link all those groups, plus the seven communities in Israel and two in Ukraine that partner with the federation in sister-city relationships.
Underlining these connections, the federation’s executive vice president, Max Kleinman, said that among the very first foreigners to arrive in the United States to help Hurricane Sandy victims were 18 workers from IsraAID, a quasi-governmental relief agency. “And now the tables are turned again, and we are raising funds to help people in Israel deal with the attacks from Gaza,” he said.
‘Perfecting the state’
Keynote speaker Gil Troy — professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem — said that his wife was in Israel, dealing with the anxiety from missile sirens and trying to keep life normal for their children. “On an evening like this when my soul is hurting, it is uplifting to be taken into your merged community,” he said.
A Queens native whose books include Why I am a Zionist, Troy applauded the NJ community “for not being afraid of the ‘Z word.’”
In many places, he said, “The ‘Z word’ is less and less popular. It doesn’t ‘poll well.’ They say it’s too controversial.”
The focus of his presentation was his new book, The Moynihan Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism (Oxford University Press), which focuses on the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s role in combating the infamous “Zionism with racism” resolution as United States ambassador to the United Nations in 1975.
Troy was a teenager at the time, and described the massive pro-Israel rallies that opposed the resolution as a stirring affirmation that brought support even from a black civil rights leader like Bayard Rustin.
Acknowledging that Israel is “an imperfect expression of human work and human action,” Troy said the challenge of “Zionism 2.0” is “perfecting” the state. Doing so, he said, calls for “the to and fro” between Israel and its supporters in the Diaspora. It also calls, he added, for another Moynihan, a leader who can boldly demand American support for Israel and all the deeper values Zionism offers.
Among the 100 people present were a number who said their children were studying or living in Israel, and others who had recently returned from a mission.