GESHER IS ALL ABOUT BRINGING TOGETHER DIVERSE SECTORS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE TO EXPLORE, BUILDAND STRENGTHEN A COHESIVE SOCIETY, NOT ONLY INISRAEL BUT ACROSS THE WORLD.
Gesher L’Tfutzot is a program run by The Gesher Leadership Institute, in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, as part of a joint venture known as “AM”I”. We strive to deepen awareness and connection amongst Israeli opinion-shapers towards Diaspora Jewry. The underlying principle of the program is that the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora are interconnected entities that, by their very nature, contribute to the other’s physical and spiritual existence.
Day 1: Introduction to American Jewry
Guila introduced the group to the Jewish Community of Greater Washington. She spoke about the important work of the JCRC acting as the voice of the Jewish community to other groups and faiths and of their work confronting and tackling the central issues facing the Jewish community including anti-Semitism and support for Israel. She spoke about how “It’s hard to love a country that doesn’t love you back” in reference to the Israeli government’s policy towards non-Orthodox Jews and their ways of practicing Judaism.
Brian introduced us to AIPAC and important role it plays in the community. He spoke about AIPAC’s new strategy of creating a PAC to endorse pro US-Israel relationship candidates across the 50 states and creating a Super PAC to further help those candidates succeed in winning office. This new strategy is a direct result of the increasingly partisan world we find ourselves in. AIPAC continues to support politicians from both sides of the aisle with an eye and singular focus on strengthening the US-Israel relationship.
Day 1: Gen Z in Jewish America
Day 2: Israel and The Jews in US Politics
Jamie, Adena and Jason laid out for the group what it’s like to be Jewish on an American College campus today. Both of the Hillel Directors on the panel stressed that the students today are first and foremost dealing with their own issues of mental health belonging and finding their way. They strive to find ways to engage the students Jewishly and light that spark with which the student can grow and flourish on his or her own Jewish journey.
Alexandra and the GatherDC members who also joined shared with our group the ethos behind this upstart organization. After the students have a Jewish home on campus at a Hillel or elsewhere, all of a sudden as they flock to the big city without family they seek connection and community. GatherDC connects Jewish young professionals across the DC metro area. They enable an entrance into the Jewish community in innovative ways suitable for the younger generation of Jews who are shunning old school institutions.
Day 2: Israel and The Jews in US Politics
Being a Jewish American in Politics Elisa Catalano Ewers leads the Senate Foreign Relations committee and hosted the group in the US Capitol. She emphasized how the shared values and interests between Israel and the US remain the bedrock of the support in congress for the relationship and how that plays out on issues discussed in her committee on issues like Iran, the Abraham Accords, foreign aid, etc.
Being a Jewish American in Politics Sarah, Roger and Daniel engaged with the group about being Jewish in DC politics and how their Jewishness has informed their idealism and their work for the American government. While they are members of different political parties, they also spoke about how oftentimes small fringe voices in their respective parties get amplified and give the wrong impression that their parties are turning anti-Israel.
J-Street Adina shared her passion for a two state solution and why she believes it is in the interest of Israel and the United States. She described how J-Street lobbies the US Government towards that goal.
In & Around Washington, D.C.
Day 2: The Impact of Jewish Philanthropy on the Community
Dinner at the home of Manette & Louis Mayberg
Manette and Louis graciously hosted a lovely dinner at their home for our group. We were joined by their Foundation team, leaders from Momentum and Mr. and Mrs. Doron Almog, the head of the Jewish Agency. It was a great evening of food, conversation and getting know our respective communities.
Day 3: Anti Semitism and Jewish Culture
Anti Defamation League (ADL)
Jonathan laid out the mission of the ADL and updated the group with the latest statistics on the rise of anti Semitic incidents across the world. He shared with us how the ADL trains law enforcement, tracks incidents and serves to protect the Jewish people.
Alana shared with the group how innovation, Jewish culture and putting those into context help inform her readership on Jewish issues.
Day 3: Different Ways of Being Jewish in America Today
Eric first spoke about the work that the Federation does to help New Yorkers in various capacities. He then highlighted the need to work together and educate one another on our different Jewish communities. The problem has been brewing for decades and Israelis don’t understand how their words affect the Diaspora Jewish communities, This has led to a widening distance between the two communities. If we continue to meet each other and dialogue, there is room for optimism.
The Different Streams of Judaism
The group heard from three Rabbis representing different denominations of Judaism in New York. On the panel was an Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Rabbi. They each discussed the clear differences between the streams, the challenges facing their communities and how they approach the topic of Israel. But they also discussed where they work together.
Panel of Students at New York University. The students, spoke about why they chose NYU and what the Jewish community on campus is like. They also addressed the challenges they face on campus, including BDS and antisemitism. The students who spoke to us came from outside of New York to be on the college campus with the largest Jewish population in the US. The Bronfman center is home to much of the Jewish programming on campus.
In Between Meetings, Where the Real Conversations Took Place
Day 4: Education and Communities
The Heschel School. A visit to a Jewish school in America is a great opportunity to learn first hand of the differences between a public school education and a private school education. Especially in the non denominational Heschel school, where Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews study side by side. It was fascinating to tour the school, sit in on some classes and converse with the students and faculty.
Agudath Israel of America. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the CEO of Agudath Israel of America shared with the group what life is like for Haredim in the US and how it differs from the Haredi community in Israel. He noted that this community is the fastest growing segment of the Jewish community in the US.
Israel America Council (IAC). Tal Shuster and Amir Richulsky, both Board members of the Israel America Council relayed to the group how the local Israeli community tries to on the one hand maintain its Israeliness and pass it on to the next generation, while at the same time, also try to blend into the American Jewish community and all it has to offer. They both shared their stories of living in America and their strong connections to Israel.
Day 5: Shabbat on the Upper West Side
Paired off into groups of three, each of the participants enjoyed a unique and intimate opportunity to sit around a Shabbat table and experience how US Jews value the family time that Shabbat provides.
“A wonderful family. The discourse greatly contributed to an unmediated understanding of the challenges and opportunities of New York Jewry.”
The participants took part in the services of the local shuls on the Upper West Side including Bnei Jeshurun, Spanish & Portuguese, Lincoln Square Synagogue and more. Walking the streets of the Upper West Side, the group absorbed the atmosphere of a heavily populated center of Judaism in New York which offers a wide variety of ways to practice one’s Judaism.
“What was especially impressive in New York was the abundance of possibilities to be Jewish. At the synagogue that I visited, Bnai Jeshurun, there was such exaltation that the roof flew into the air. We went straight from there to the Modern Orthodox Jewish Center where the local community was incredibly welcoming. And then just a few flights of stairs above was yet another community of Young Professionals. All of this within just a few blocks.”
Shabbat on the Upper West Side
A tour of the local synagogues
The group spent the morning going from Bnei Jeshurun (BJ) via Barney Greengrass, to The Jewish Center and the Manhattan Jewish Experience.
Lunch with the Manhattan Jewish Experince (MJE)
After a traditional Kiddush, the group sat down to a lunch with young professionals from the MJE community including the COO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, for great conversation over a nice Shabbat meal.
Gidi Grinstein, Founder of the Reut Institute
Gidi, a leading voice on the issue of Israel’s relationship with world Jewry, engaged the group on Saturday afternoon discussing his thoughts on how we in Israel need to wake up and deal with some major issues which may pose a looming national threat if we don’t do anything about it.
Day 6: The Celebrate Israel Parade
This delegation is the highlight of a month’s long course for these leaders.
These leaders have the power to impact their large organizations, media outlets, NGOs and more.
In the coming months and years, we will work with these leaders to integrate the lessons they absorbed through the course and implement changes in their own spheres of influence to further spread and promote these values.
Gesher continues to work with the participants after the course to achieve these goals.