Israel Update from Jerusalem

Avital Leibovich is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office. Ms. Leibovich established the Interactive Media Branch of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit before joining AJC. She was the face of the IDF during the Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense operations. I had an opportunity to interview her. We discussed the challenges Israel is facing, and what they mean for the Jews in the diaspora.

According to Avital Leibovich, there are difficult regional challenges for Israel. It is hard for many Americans to understand the reality of what is occurring from what they see and hear in the media. Israel is facing strategic challenges along its borders. Iran is trying to infiltrate Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (via Hezbollah).

The issues of the Middle East have implications beyond the Middle East. What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. One example is the situation with the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were guarding prisoners who were members of ISIS in Syria. The United States decided to pull out of the Kurdish area of Syria. Turkey invaded Northeastern Syria in order to be able to send Syrian refugees back from Turkey to Syria. Now the ISIS prisoners held by the Kurds have been freed by Turkey. They are at liberty to go to Europe and other places to commit acts of terror there.

Ms. Leibovich told me that there is a gap between Jews in Israel and the United States. She shared the results of AJC’s 2019 Survey of American Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019, and of AJC’s 2019 Survey of Israeli Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019/Israel. Avital Leibovich thinks that we must work together to foster greater unity between Israeli Jews and Jews in the United States. Israel is a glue to Judaism. If this glue melts away, so does Judaism. Many Jews in the diaspora don’t know how liberal Israelis are, or how many values they have in common with US Jews. Young people are not reading, and they are not educating themselves. 50% of American Jews have never visited Israel. Yet there is a record number of tourists to Israel from all over the world.

The Jewish community and Israel must work together for the sake of the younger generation. At the end of the day, Israel is the country of the Jews, and it is imperative for Jews in the diaspora to find a way to connect with it.

Avital Leibovich will be in Philadelphia at the end of October. She is scheduled to speak to a small, invitation-only gathering of leaders of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Ms. Leibovich will update them on such topics as the recent Israeli elections, the security situation, and relations with the Arab world. To find out more contact Andrew Demchick at the AJC office, [email protected] or call 215.665.2300

Jews and Latinos: Natural Allies

This week the American Jewish Committee honored Sally Bleznak, the founder of the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition, with its Human Relations Award. Ms. Bleznak understood that Jews and Latinos have similar values and aspirations. She created a framework in which they could work together to help each other.

Mr. Juan Dircie, an assistant director at AJC, explained that many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States as refugees. Who better than the Jewish community to understand what that is like?

Family is central for Latin American immigrants. Many of them send a portion of their earnings to support the relatives they have left behind. When the whole family lives in the United States, the adults sacrifice to create better opportunities for their children. Like the Jews, the Latin American immigrants come here to work hard and fulfill the American Dream.

Some of the Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States are also Jews. They form a natural bridge between the American Jewish community and the Latino community.

According to Mr. Dircie, the majority of immigrants from all countries have legal status in the United States. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of them Latin American. Almost all of these undocumented immigrants are making a positive contribution to American society.

The AJC advocates for a fair immigration system that will ensure the security of the United States. The Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were minors, are of special interest. AJC advocates to provide them with an opportunity to become full members of society.

In order to successfully work together, AJC united the two communities by forming the Latino – Jewish Congressional Caucus. This is a bipartisan group that has worked on immigration reform and global anti-Semitism.

One of the highlights of the year for the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition is a model Passover Seder held in Miami. Hispanic leaders are invited to enjoy a service held in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Ladino. Along with the Haggadah, there are texts that highlight diversity, immigration, and acceptance. Most of the Latino guests, whose families came to the United States to escape persecution, had no idea that Jews celebrate freedom too. Many of them are surprised that the Seder ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” They remain attached to their countries of origin, and appreciate that all Jews have a 3,000-year old relationship with Israel.

The Latino community makes up 18.1% of the population of the United States, and it is growing. By focusing on common issues and shared values, Latinos and Jews can pave the way for a stronger collaboration.

Latino Jewish Entrepreneurial Summit

Alan Weisleder, Nelson Diaz, and Wayne Kimmel at theLatino Jewish Entrepreneurial Summit. Photo: AJC

American Jewish Committee and its Latino Jewish Coalition hosted a Latino Jewish Entrepreneurial Summit at Temple University’s Fox School of Business on May 15th. Established in 2013, the coalition works in a collaborative manner to expand interactions and works in areas, such as immigration reform, economic empowerment, civic engagement and homeland/diaspora relations.

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AJC Brings Innovative High School Program to Philadelphia

By Max Buchdahl

When Ryan Berger was about to enter his sophomore year of high school, the current University of Pennsylvania freshman watched coverage of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas with nervous eyes. He was surrounded by people he cared about who had differing opinions on the war — and he wanted answers.

So Berger asked his mother, who is involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York, what he could do to learn more about the issues. He wanted to know how a high-schooler, with little expertise but a large desire to get involved, could advocate effectively on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. [Read more…]