By Shira Ruderman
One of the greatest challenges facing us is how to present Israel to young Jews, how to make them want to engage with it. Should we focus on what unites us and on the positive we see in Israel, or is it preferable to spend more time on our disagreements with it? However, at the base of this discussion is an often overlooked problem: most American Jews simply don’t know or understand Israel, just as most Israeli don’t know or understand American Jewry. To properly engage our children and their friends, we must first educate ourselves about Israel. Israel’s upcoming elections are a unique opportunity to do just that.
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As Israel heads to the polls, American Jews (and the rest of the world) can once again see the vibrancy of Israel. On April 9th millions of Israelis will choose between dozens of political parties vying for seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. With less than two months left, it looks like some 13 parties have a realistic chance of getting the minimal 3.25 percent of the vote needed to pass the threshold. For Americans used to talking about two political parties and a handful of independents, this is almost a foreign concept.
An abundancy of parties means there are multiple answers to almost every imaginable policy question. This is true for Israel’s education system or tax regulations, and it is true when discussing issues closer to the hearts of most American Jews.
For example, too many times I have people saying ‘Israel opposes egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.’ Without doubt, this is an important issue for many American Jews. However, if this is how we view Israel, we cannot engage our community in a meaningful way. Rather than giving blanket statements we should acknowledge Israeli leaders have different opinions: Some parties, including Shas, Jewish Home and many in the Likud oppose the idea, others – including Meretz, New Right and the recently formed Kachol Lavan party – endorse and support such a solution.
Another topic we can break down has to do with the conflict with the Palestinians. Portraying all Israelis as thinking alike about this ongoing issue is a disservice to those people we’re trying to educate and connect with. Some of the parties running for the Knesset, such as Labor and Meretz, believe in a two-state solution through agreement. On the other hand, the New Right, Likud and others oppose this solution and promote a Palestinian autonomy.
Understanding just how diverse Israel’s political parties are can allow us to engage with it in an informed and meaningful discourse. This is why we must view Israel’s elections as an educational opportunity for American Jews. With such diverse political platforms, it is possible to find a relatable politician or party. It might seem obvious to some, but there are too many Jews outside of Israel, especially young Jews, for whom ‘Israel’ and ‘Netanyahu’ have become interchangeable.
For the next two months, Israelis will uphold the most sacred Jewish tradition and argue about everything. We should listen. Israel’s elections are an opportunity for all of us to learn about how Israelis, and their leaders, view the challenges facing them. Parents should encourage their children to read more on the topic. Teachers and educators need to find appropriate ways to engage their students.
Soon the Israeli elections will be over. When friends and family gather for this year’s Passover Seder Israel will have a new Knesset. Shortly after, it will form a new coalition government.
Each of us can find an Israeli leader or platform to relate to, to feel part of. And this is the best way for us, as a community, to engage with Israel. By learning about Israel’s rich political landscape we can understand just how diverse and complex Israel is. And, by embracing this diversity, we can allow for more members of our community to engage with Israel in a sincere and meaningful way.
Shira Ruderman is the Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation which works to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community