DECEMBER 13, 2018 – There are many organizations, programs, and trips designed to teach American Jews about Israel. But what about the other way around?
Aaron Kalman, a program officer in Israel-American Jewish relations for the Ruderman Family Foundation, recently helped organize a delegation of influential Israeli journalists to spend five days in Boston and New York City, where they learned about everything from different groups within the American Jewish community to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, to Lower East Side tenements.
“What makes [our program] rather unique, not exclusively so, but rather unique in this field, is that we understand the relationship to be two ways: you also have to educate the Israeli side,” said Kalman, who lives in Jerusalem. “It’s not enough for an American Jew to learn about Israel – the conversation is going to get stuck unless the Israelis know about the Americans, too.”
Jay Ruderman, the president of the foundation, sees the value in the exchange. “The relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community is a two-way street,” he said. “The Ruderman Family Foundation leads the efforts to expose Israeli opinion leaders to the history, reality, challenges, and opportunities of American Jewry, since mutual understanding is a key component of building a constructive conversation between the sides. We have been hosting delegations for almost a decade and this year’s mission, with the backdrop of recent tensions between Israel and American Jewry, proved yet again the need to expose the Israeli leadership to the various parts of the American Jewish community.”
From Nov. 4 to 8, the foundation helped nine Israeli journalists with a diverse range of viewpoints do just that for the eighth year in a row. The delegation included heavyweights who are household names in Israel, such as Aryeh Golan, the host of the flagship morning news program on Israeli radio; Maya Ziv, the host of Israel’s leading morning television news show; Shay Sapir, the head of social media operations at Ynetnews.com, Israel’s leading news website; and Yaakov Grodka, the editor-in-chief of B’Hadrei Haredim, one of the largest ultra-Orthodox news sites in the world.
“It was a very diverse group both in terms of the media outlets they represent, and the goal is to help bridge the conversation,” said Kalman.
During their stay, the group was able to meet twice in New York with top American Jewish journalists. After a visit to the New York Times’ headquarters, there was a panel discussion on the American media’s coverage of Israel that included, among others, freelance journalist and author Peter Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic, and New York Times book review writer and editor Gal Beckerman, who also is a correspondent for The Forward.
The next day, editors and writers for Jewish publications hosted a panel about the American Jewish media, addressing political issues surrounding Israel and its relationship with the United States. Consultant and lobbyist Jeff Ballabon and former New York Congressman Steve Israel hosted discussions on the U.S.-Israel political relationship, while representatives from the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League hosted a panel on the BDS movement. The group also attended the annual gala to benefit the New England Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
However, the trip was not solely devoted to media and politics. The group attended a historic tour of the Lower East Side with local Rabbi Andy Bachman. In a panel event entitled “The Next Generation and Israel,” the group met with a series of students from Jewish organizations at different universities in Boston to discuss the current climate on American university campuses for Jewish students.
“How do we dissect the American Jewish community? Because a lot of people, especially in Israel, talk about Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox, but there’s many, many different ways of looking at that,” said Kalman, of the Ruderman Foundation. “Are we talking about American Jews who are fourth or fifth generation [here], such as we encountered with the student panel? Are we talking about American Jews off of the student panel who themselves are in their young 20s and moved from Iran to the States in their lifetime? I just mentioned three conversations – each of them challenges in a different way.”
According to Kalman, challenging old viewpoints and raising new questions was one of the most important goals of the trip.
“We at the foundation hope [the Israeli journalists] leave with questions,” he said. “If they come back saying, ‘We have questions that we didn’t ask before,’ then that’s a success for us.”