Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog warned Tuesday of the “existential threat” posed by a growing rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, and called for urgent dialogue to renew amity between Jews in Israel and abroad.
Addressing the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Tel Aviv, Herzog, a former leader of the opposition appointed to lead the Agency in June, spoke of a need to find common language or “risk losing a significant part of the Jewish people.”
Noting the demographic dangers of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the identity crisis of many young North American Jews, Herzog said: “Ironically, in this, the first era in our history when the external existential threats we face have greatly diminished, we ourselves are endangering our own existence.”
He pointed to mutual indifference as a large part of the problem, with some Israelis refusing to recognize non-Orthodox US Jewry and some Americans dismissing Israel’s centrality to Jewish life.
“We were, we are, and we shall always be reliant on one another,” he said. “We must take action — and we must take it now.”
Herzog called for a new approach, one that recognizes and celebrates the communities’ differences rather than attempting to paint over them.
“We can no longer pretend we are all the same. We are not. We can no longer pretend that there are no major disagreements between us. There are,” he said. Israeli and American Jewry must create “a new ethos of a pluralistic union” and “foster a new spirit of a loving critical discourse.”
The Jewish Agency head said he planned to advance “hundreds of faction-crossing, stream-crossing and continent-crossing dialogues” between Jewish communities that would educate and encourage mutual appreciation.
“We shall learn from one another and learn to appreciate one another — and endeavor to resolve our internal divide,” he said.
Israel and Diaspora Jewry have seen growing divisions surrounding the Orthodox grip on the country’s institutions. A particular point of contention has been the long-delayed pluralistic plaza at the Western Wall, plans for which the government canceled following ultra-Orthodox pressure, but has since resurrected in reduced form.
On Monday President Reuven Rivlin too called for a new agreement to be forged between Israel and Diaspora Jews that would put more emphasis on Israelis familiarizing themselves with Jewish communities around the world.
Speaking at the GA, an annual event held in Israel once every five years, Rivlin said Israel and world Jewry “need to talk, we have to talk, and we need to listen.”
He added: “It may not be easy to have a truly honest conversation, but this is, I believe, what needs to happen. We cannot escape from returning to the table and re-discussing our disputes.”
The president also expressed support for a “reverse Birthright” trip for young Israelis to educate them on world Jewry.