Tonight, Jan. 22, Congregation Beth El in South Orange will host a discussion about progressive Zionism with its president, Nomi Colton-Max, who trained as a foreign policy analyst specializing in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf.
Colton-Max, a South Orange resident and mother of two, has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and for a private energy consulting firm. In addition to her involvement with the American Zionist Movement, she has been a member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and is a long time member of Ameinu, the American Zionist organization established in 2004 as the successor to the Labor Zionist Alliance.
The event is part of a series run by Hadassah, each one featuring a different scholar, activist, or community leader. Titled “Defining Zionism in the 21st Century,” it was launched in 2013, with the goal of inspiring American Jews to explore different views on Zionism and to step up their engagement with Israel.
“It’s an honor to be asked to take part in this series,” Colton-Max said. A graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, she has lived, worked, and traveled throughout the Middle East and speaks Hebrew, Arabic, and French.
Her own involvement in progressive Zionism goes back to her childhood in Canada, Colton-Max explained, and her political and social activism began prior to her becoming bat mitzva.
“I grew up in a home and in a community that supported Israel and the Jewish community,” she told NJ Jewish News. “I started attending a Habonim Dror summer camp” — the Progressive Labor Zionist organization which she still serves as a member of the Na’aleh Camp committee — “when I was 10 years old.
“It was there that my counselors first discussed that Israel was an amazing country, but that not everything was milk and honey,” she continued. “I learned that Israelis struggled with issues of inequality, sexism, and racism. I learned about the importance of social activism. It was in Habonim Dror in my early teens where I first learned about the Green Line and settlement expansions and started to advocate for a two-state solution.”
The event will be streamed simultaneously on Livestream, a service similar to Skype. People can watch and participate from home, or come to Beth El to take part in person. Stephanie Bonder, president of the Northern NJ Region of Hadassah, will be the moderator.