By Doron Krakow
Last night I was privileged to attend a reception and program in honor of Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal. Hosted by UJA-Federation of New York and attended by much of the leadership of the American Jewish community, the event had a palpable energy, a sense of high-spiritedness, following Herzog’s triumphant address before a joint session of Congress the preceding day in Washington, D.C.
It was only the second time in history that a president of Israel had been given such an honor; the first was in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Israeli independence, and that president bore the same last name as this one—Herzog, Isaac’s father, Chaim. Among the many luminary members of this illustrious family are a former chief rabbi, two ambassadors to the Unites States, several military heroes, and the first significant voice in Israel’s environmental movement.
A visit by a president of Israel will always warrant a gathering of this kind, but this night was different. Amidst the political crisis that has brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets in protest—and has exposed deep and profound rifts in Israeli society—the United States Congress welcomed President Herzog in celebration of another milestone anniversary—Israel’s 75th. In his remarks to America’s assembled elected leaders, Herzog delivered a powerful reminder of who we are—and all that we share. Two of the world’s great democracies. Defenders of freedom, at home and aboard. An unwavering commitment to justice, to peace, and to self-determination.
While acknowledging both ongoing and emerging challenges, those internal to Israeli society and those of shared concern on the wider geopolitical landscape, Herzog powerfully affirmed the unshakeable bonds of friendship between two great nations. He emphasized that ours is:
A mutually beneficial partnership that has withstood a host of challenges and weathered any number of disagreements, because it is based not on uniformity of approach, but on the currency of trust. It is not dependent upon operation in harmony, but on the history we share, on the truths we cherish, on the values we embody. This partnership is based also on the similarities and the affinity between our peoples, the courageous immigrants, and the trailblazing pioneers.
Ultimately, Israel and the United States stand—and indeed, have always stood for the same values. Our two nations are both diverse, life-affirming societies that stand for liberty, equality, and freedom. At our core, both our peoples seek to repair cracks in our world. Having said this, I am well aware that our world is changing. A new generation of Israelis and Americans are assuming leadership roles. A generation that was not privy to the hardship of Israel’s formative years. A generation that is less engaged in the roots that connect our peoples. A generation that, perhaps, takes for granted the U.S. Israel relationship.
Yet, at this moment I choose optimism. Because to me it is clear that the shift in generations does not reflect changing values. Nor does it indicate changes in our interests. When the United States is strong, Israel is stronger. And when Israel is strong, the United States is more secure. [full text]
None of this obviates the need to attend to the problems we face today—in either country. But President Herzog’s message was a powerful reminder that we must resist the temptation to see catastrophe around every corner, to remember to acknowledge progress and celebrate the good. The arc of history is long—its currents dynamic, shifting, uncertain. But we have much about which to feel proud, and President Herzog gave us all the opportunity to remember how far we’ve come, even as we acknowledge how much further we have to go.
Affirmation was very much on my mind throughout the last week—a week that followed the triumphant success of the JCC Maccabi Games® in Israel; a week in which I spent time with JCC executives, prominent lay leaders, and the remarkable members of the JCC Association professional team.
I had a long overdue catch-up with Ellie Kastel, the extraordinary senior executive at the Boro Park Y in Brooklyn, New York. Boro Park is a largely ultra-Orthodox community—as is the membership at the Y. Founded in 1917, it has evolved over the course of more than a century, adapting to its changing community and surroundings. Today, visitors are as likely to hear Yiddish in the halls as English, and it has become a pioneer in social service work focused on the children of a diminishing population of Holocaust survivors. Another of the more than 170 unique faces of our field.
92NY, the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, recently added the remarkable Rabbi David Ingber, founder and spiritual leader of Romemu, one of the most successful and dynamic spiritual communities in the congregational world, to its professional team. A kindred commitment to greater Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life animates his approach to this new role and augurs well for a JCC Movement increasingly thinking in terms of community building—both within and beyond each institution.
The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California, just announced this year’s Z3 Conference, which will be held on November 5. The theme is “Meet the Moment,” and Z3 is expected, once again, to draw more than 1,000 participants—most of whom will come from beyond the JCC community. A dozen or so JCC executives from across the movement will also attend to explore the possibility of developing a similar program at their JCCs. A two-day Z3 Learning Lab will follow the conference and serve as the setting for edification and deliberation around our shared commitment to making JCCs the places in our communities where we welcome and embrace a diversity of views on the major issues confronting today’s Jewish world.
Such encounters are par for the course for me—a privilege of being a part of a broad and dynamic field. They are a stark reminder that there is much more happening in our communities, our country, in Israel, and across the wider Jewish world than the issues that seem to dominate the airwaves. The challenges are real and the solutions elusive, but we would be wise to remember that beneath the issues that dominate the surface, are ties, shared values, a common history, and a remarkable record of achievement—factors that transcend communities and bind us together as a people irrespective of where we choose to make our homes and raise our families. Something about which we were reminded by Israel’s president.
Special note was made last night that President Herzog brought the members of a broad and bipartisan Congress to their feet 29 separate times. Twenty-eight were in response to remarks about shared values, mutual commitments, common principles, and the unshakable bonds that bind our countries together. The 29th came in reaction to his closing words—spoken in Hebrew, with no translation, but understood by every person in the chamber: Am Yisrael Chai | עם ישראל חי.
Shabbat Shalom | שבת שלום
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
In July of 1948, Israel and Czechoslovakia entered into an agreement for the sale of 59 British Spitfire fighter planes, turned over to Czechoslovakia by the Royal Air Force at the end of World War II. By the end of the year, 24 of the planes had been flown to Israel. Thirty-five more were disassembled and shipped from a port in Yugoslavia, arriving in Haifa on February 18, 1949. Together, they would dramatically increase the size and significance of the nascent Israeli Air Force and alter the course of the war.
And that’s the way it was…