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More on My Promised Land

Since I wrote my blog about Ari Shavit's monumental book, My Promised Land,

I became, in the eyes of many, an expert on Shavit and a seasoned commentator on Israeli attitude to his book. It got worse when they discovered that we both have a similar, almost identical, biography and that we carry the same initials.


Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The truth is that most Israelis have never heard of this book as so far it is written and published only in English. But even when it is out in Hebrew I am not sure how shocking it will become for the typical, cynical Israeli reader. Yet, here the book has rapidly become popular and it is really fascinating to observe how American Jewry, mostly Israel lovers, are struggling with its surprising, painful, criticizing, at times frightening, content.


Anyway, as part of my new role as My Promised Land maven (expert) I was invited a few weeks ago to speak about it to a nice, sophisticated group who was gathered in a private home for a book club discussion. When they asked me what I thought about the book and why I keep my optimistic attitude, I shared with them the following experience:


"Last weekend," I told them, "was the first one after a while that I didn't have any major professional commitments, so my wife and I decided to have some fun. After Shabbat we went to the movies, on Sunday morning we went to West Harlem, and for lunch to Times Square. We had great weekend." "Happy to hear that you are enjoying your time in America" said the book club host with a suspicious voice, "but please, with all due respect, how exactly does it relate to My Promised Land?" "Great question," I replied. "Let me elaborate."


"The movie that we saw was 12 Years a Slave, the West Harlem experience was the religious services of an African American church, and at Times Square we ran into a huge demonstration of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Without planning it, this weekend became a learning experience and an exact symbolic illustration of my analysis about My Promised Land.”


The movie was extremely painful and hard to watch. The dark era of slavery in American history is not something that we talk about much. I am sure that everyone in the theater hall was as embarrassed and shameful about it as we were, probably even more. What was encouraging, however, is the fact that in the hall, sitting side by side, eating popcorn and drinking Coke Zero, were Americans of all backgrounds, all ages and all colors. Together they were facing the hard reality of their past because the nation is now mature enough to do it.


At the church this insight was even clearer: when we arrived at the entrance we immediately were directed to a special section for "tourists." There, politely, with smiles, but between ropes and barriers, all white people were concentrated, whether they are from New Zealand, Germany, Israel, or Long Island. At the same time, through the main path, all the regular members of this congregation were welcomed as very important people into the sanctuary. The wonderful gospel music and the passionate words of wisdom by the clergies were all uplifting, but from our seats in the back balcony among all the "tourists," we couldn't resist recalling the previous night's movie and closing a full circle.


The Times Square experience was surreal: thousands of American citizens, dressed in old European outfits, were standing in a large demonstration shouting loudly in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Their complaints were against the sovereign, elected government of the state of Israel. They want this foreign Zionist government of the Jewish democratic state to allow yeshiva students in Israel to study Torah all their lives without serving in the army or joining the labor force, as all other Israelis obliged to do. 


We were standing there watching and couldn't decide whether this was funny or sad, good or bad. However, it brought us to the same conclusion a the previous two experiences of that weekend: Israel is now mature enough to deal with some of our fundamental bleeding wounds. My Promised Land is doing exactly that. The complex relations between veterans and olim (immigrants), Palestinians and Jews, religion and state, Jewish and democracy, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, are some examples. That's why they reached the book stores, the movie theaters, the State Department, and Times Square.


Ari Shavit puts a mirror in front of our faces. I suggest that our people, on both sides of the ocean, should look straight at it, accept the fact that mistakes were made, acknowledge the fact that shaping a nation’s society is a long, painful process, build on the amazing achievements that we’ve gained, and find the right, sensitive way for conciliation in moving forward. I am sure that we will prevail. That is why I remain optimistic.


Ari Shavit will be speaking at Drew University on April 9. Find out more.


Drishat Shalom,







Posted by: admin (April 01, 2014 at 11:13 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Greater MetroWest — An Adjacent Possibility to Act as an Ecosystem

In spite of the sophisticated headline above, I am not a person of big words, deep visions, thoughtful strategies, or complex theories. I don't have anything against them but I think that usually life itself is the best navigator in life.

For better and for worse, my entire professional career and any of my achievements or failures were based mainly on intuition. I enjoy identifying opportunities, utilize them early on, and come up with the next thing. I like developing platforms layer by layer, based on one another. I am always looking for ways to creatively move forward and be on the cutting edge. I am privileged and blessed to have the guidance and full support of many lay and professional leaders at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ who have led our community in this route and over the years developed this informal, practical culture.

However, I recently discovered that what we were doing all these years on the Israel and overseas front, what we considered to be gut feelings, are actually based on two well-respected scientific and sociological theories. So now we need to share the credit for our success stories with some academic researchers, but at the same time also blame them for any of our failures. Not a bad deal.

The two theories that I am referring to are "the organizational ecosystem" and "adjacent possibilities." I was exposed to them during the fascinating and most important deliberations about "the Government of Israel-World Jewry Joint Initiative." In a nutshell: the Israeli government is willing to put up a big chunk of money, matched by the Jewish people worldwide, to develop and operate together an action plan that will help the younger generation better connect to their Jewish identity, communities, Israel, and their people.

This plan will work as an ecosystem; namely, it will include various immersive experiences, programs, activities, and projects that will operate under one umbrella, supplement and feed each other, and together create a varied vehicle for connections.

The method to develop these programs and projects is through identifying the "adjacent possibilities." According to this theory, all great developments and innovations, both in biology, science, technology, and sociology, were not started from scratch. They are all based on existing infrastructure, the result of pushing the boundaries of various domains and of taking baby leaps to create new, adjacent ones. It is the theory of evolutionary process, the spiral progress. It is the concept of developing platforms, layer by layer, based on one another.

So is how all this connected to us? I would like to suggest that the "Israel Center of Greater MetroWest" is an ultimate example of an operative "organizational ecosystem" and that its structure and many of its activities were developed unintentionally but precisely according to the theory of "adjacent possibilities." The Israel Center includes the following 10 components, which were built layer by layer over the last few decades. They are our well-functioning ecosystem.

  • Israel and Overseas Committee (IOC)
  • Religious Pluralism Committee (RP)
  • Partnership Together Committee of Arad (P2G Arad)
  • Partnership Together Committee of Ofakim- Merchavim (P2G OM)
  • Overseas (outside of Israel) Committee (OC)
  • Israeli Arabs Issues Committee (IAC)
  • Ness Foundation Advisory Board ( Ness)
  • Legow Family Israel Program Center in NJ (IPC) and the Greater MetroWest office in Israel
  • Nine member shlichim (emissary) delegation
  • Seven geographic partnerships in Israel and two in Ukraine

All of the above ingredients have their unique identity but are working under one conceptual umbrella and are part and parcel of our community's culture. This is our Israel ecosystem at its best. The powerhouse of our Israel and overseas involvement.

Here are some examples of Greater MetroWest signature projects that in retrospect were developed according to the theory of the "adjacent possibilities":

  • Atzmaut Plus. When we pushed the boundaries and used the platform of the veteran and structured Project Atzmaut in order to develop new methods to improve the integration of Ethiopian Israelis into Israeli society.
  •  EtzioNegev. When we connected two of our existing partnerships, Gush Etzion and Sha'ar Hanegev, to cooperate during the disengagement from Gaza. For next year we are considering another " adjacent possible" leap: formal "mini mission" operations between all of our seven partnered communities in Israel.
  • Onward Israel Negev Fellows. Based on the power of the Israel Experience, Birthright Israel, Masa, Mifgashim (encounters) and our own three Negev partnerships.
  • Peoplehood Project. When we looked for a creative way to demonstrate the new paradigm of Israel-Diaspora relations, Peoplehood was the natural “adjacent possible” program based on the pillars of our P2G renewal process.
  • Pluralistic Jewish identity opportunities in the Negev. Using our interest and platform of regional partnership in conjunction and collaboration with our interest and platform of religious pluralism gave birth to a variety of programs in this regard.
  • Rishonim (young emissaries). Pushing the boundaries of the shaliach model to introduce a pre-army, young, enthusiastic, authentic "year of service" in our community. The rishonim are recruited mainly from our partner communities, and many of them are graduates and future participants of our other projects. For next year we are going to have a sibling of a former rishona and a graduate of Atzmaut, our integration project for Ethiopian Israelis, in our rishonim delegation.

Strategy or intuition. Theory or luck. Philosophy or opportunity. Please take pride.

Drishat Shalom,


Amir עמיר


Posted by: admin (March 10, 2014 at 3:10 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Unrest in Ukraine

a guest blog by Paula Saginaw, Chair, Overseas Committee  

The current uprising in Ukraine has caused me great concern and sleepless nights for the well- being of the Jewish community living there.  The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ (Federation) has a sister city in Cherkassy and in Odessa and we are strong supporters of the work JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel are doing on the ground.  I have spent a lot of time in Cherkassy and have developed some very strong relationships with many people there. My wish is for their safety and strength during this difficult time.

Starting in November, the government announced that it would not sign a deal to strengthen ties with the European Union and dozens of protesters took to the streets.  Since that time there have been violent protests where four activists were killed, 300 wounded in intense clashes with security forces and eight have disappeared.  Most recently the opposition movement has moved from Kiev to other local government offices in surrounding towns. The stand-off between the government and opposition groups resulted in the Parliament passing a law restricting the right to protest on January 16.  Fortunately, on January 28, the Parliament voted to rescind anti-democratic laws curbing free speech and free assembly and the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned.  People are now calling for re-elections of the parliament.

However, we still don’t know how this will end.

We have been in contact with our partners in Kiev on a daily basis and they are monitoring and reporting back to us about the situation.  The Jewish community is representative of the debate in Ukrainian society; some see the Jewish community as supporting the government, while others see them as supporting the opposition. There have been two anti-Semitic acts in Kiev during the past ten days.  Also, in Cherkassy anti-Semitic slogans were heard being chanted during some of the demonstrations.  Dmitry Spivakovsky, Hessed Dorot Director in Cherkassy, explained that they were advising community members to stay away from the epicenter of the demonstrations. JDC does not see a connection between the political and social unrest in Ukraine and the anti-Semitic incidents. It is believed to be a result of the feeling on Kiev streets of less government control.  We all hope these events are not a signal of a new wave of anti-Semitism. JDC will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

While some areas of Kiev are dangerous, it’s been reported that not too far from the danger zones you would never know that anything is happening.  (Something like when rockets are falling in the south of Israel and they don’t feel it in Tel Aviv.)

It is important to know that JDC is continuing to serve the Jewish communities, helping clients and making sure that they receive the regular assistance they depend upon. JDC reports that their operations were not influenced so far by these last days of unrest. They have developed a contingency plan which they hope will not need to be implemented, but they are ready should the situation deteriorate further. They also continue to work tirelessly to get Humanitarian Committee approval from the government which guarantees tax exempt status and continue to apply pressure through many partners and friends in the US and German governments as well as local Jewish leaders.  On behalf of the Overseas Committee and the Greater MetroWest Community at large, we pray that the violence ends quickly and peace and serenity are restored to our partnership communities in Ukraine.

Posted by: admin (January 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Sharon, Shavit, and Me

Ariel Sharon
During the last couple of weeks, while vacationing in beautiful exotic countries, I have found myself conducting some unexpected, but very serious Zionist existential soul searching. 


The Lord of history has created the following stage and set of events for me:


Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was fighting his last battle for life during these same two weeks, after eight years in a coma, Whenever I found an internet connection, I glued myself to the reports, anecdotes and stories about his unique personal, military and political legacy. Nothing was really new, however, after eight years, I suddenly had a different perspective. Sharon’s passing led me to think a lot about the fundamental question of our people’s continuity.


Add to it that, during those same two weeks a tireless and determined secretary of state, John Kerry, was leading two sets of historical middle-eastern negotiations; between Israelis and Palestinians and Iranians with the rest of the world.


Believe it or not, it was not Kerry, nor even Sharon that contributed the most to my Zionist soul searching, it was Ari Shavit. Probably the tranquil effect of the calm tropical bays, sitting under palm trees, away from my daily routine and freezing NJ, gave me the courage and motivation to cope with reading My Promised Land. This monumental book by Ha'aretz columnist Ari Shavit was not an easy read for me. Not because of its 450 pages of sophisticated English, but because of its message. Shavit puts a very vivid, colorful, sharp mirror in front of our faces and asks us to face it head on. Some of the chapters of the book are painful, even depressing. Some are encouraging and up-lifting. The overall story of the impossible, yet miraculous Israeli history and reality in which we live, challenges readers to thoroughly reflect and think about the issues. 


On the very last day of my vacation, I finished reading My Promised Land while at the same time Ariel Sharon, in the words of his son Gilad "decided to go." I would like to share with you some insights that I had during these last two weeks. They are in no particular order of importance or meaning:


·         In biblical terms, Ari Shavit is the prophet and Arik Sharon is the king. Sharon is a doer, a bulldozer; Shavit is a writer, an observer. Sharon, for better and for worse shaped the impossible yet miraculous reality that Shavit ably describes. 


·         Ari Shavit, Arik Sharon and I all have the same initials: A.S. 


·         Arik Sharon and Ari Shavit represented for years two opposing sides of our Israeli political spectrum. Now they would both be considered centrists. They marched, each in their own way significant mileage from the margins to the center. I haven’t changed my views very much. What does it say about each of the A.S.s?


·         Sharon was the ultimate Zionist product, the new Sabra Jew, and salt of the earth. Soft on the inside and tough on the outside. A sensitive gentle farmer. A charismatic, fearless, and creative commander. Cynic, pragmatic, and disputable politician. He was a man of action, not of thinking or processing. Shavit is a Zionist and a public opinion leader in his own way but his mega intellect and sophistication prevent him from being a popular leader. What does it say about leadership?


·         Shavit and I have a surprising parallel personal history. We were born a few days apart at the same hospital. We grew up as kids, two miles away from each other. We served in the IDF together in nearby units. We studied together at the same faculty of Hebrew University; we probably ate at the same cafeteria and went to the same parties. We worked for a while together in the media and we even share a mutual passion; we like to tell the stories of our Zionist grandfathers as a way to deliver our message. Yet, we don't know each other personally, strange as it may sound for us Israelis. 


·         I believe there is a missing chapter in My Promised Land, about Israel Diaspora relations. Shavit touches on the subject throughout his book but not in a profound way. One would expect a more meaningful analysis of this topic in a book of this magnitude. Shavit should have known better. Sharon, on the other hand, in his own awkward manner, was very connected to his Jewish identity. He defined himself first as a Jew and second as an Israeli. He always mentioned that he is a soldier, a general and prime minister of the Jewish people. He was the initiator of the first-ever true partnership in funding and implementation between the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency’s Masa Israel Journey, a long-term visit for study or internship in Israel for Diaspora young adults.


·         Ehud Barak coined the phrase: "Israel is actually a villa in the jungle." The younger Sharon as a soldier and builder adopted this concept and tried to eliminate the jungle. The older Sharon, in his second term as Prime Minister, adopted the concept and tried to enforce the villa. His “separation plan” was based on this exact terminology and philosophy. Shavit states in his book that throughout our Zionist history we continue to be faced with this dilemma.


·         Ariel SharonSharon was a people person. Behind his big body and big actions lived a delicate and warm soul. Some say it was formed in the 1948 War of Independence when his devoted soldiers saved his life after evacuating him from the battlefield of Latrun. Shavit, though I don't know him personally, is perceived to be a more cold and remote person. Yet his book is based on meeting with many people as well as personal stories of his family and other players. My Promised Land highlights the importance of this personal aspect in shaping the nation’s history. Sharon's personality and achievements are a great example of how important this is. What would our destiny looks like if Sharon had not had a second stroke…if Rabin had not been assassinated?


·         I choose to take an optimistic approach after reading Shavit's book. Partially because it is my nature, partially because it is the only way to survive in our neighborhood, and partially because of people like Sharon. He proved a few times in his career that with courage, belief, determination, creativity and operational capabilities, history can be changed. I am waiting to see if the current leadership of our world will perform the same way and shape our history for the better.


·         Yes. I enjoyed my vacation very much in spite of the serious topic that I address in this blog. We had great time.


Drishat Shalom



Posted by: admin (January 14, 2014 at 12:25 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

His Music and Words United Israel

a guest blog by Michal Zur

This week is the shloshim (30 days Jewish memorial) for one of Israel's icons, Arik Einstein. The loss that we all felt, the feeling of an era ending, and the hundreds of his songs played for weeks 24/7.


All of it reminded me of the feeling of winter in 1995. I was a newly arrived shaliach (emissary) in the community and our beloved hero, Prime Minister Rabin, was assassinated. Now I am back in shlichut and Arik Einshtein, my childhood hero, is dead. In spite of many differences, it feels alike.


Michal Zur, in our Israel office, writes a moving tribute that tries to capture the feelings of our nation upon this terrible loss.


- - - - - - - - -


Arik Einstein
Arik Einshtein
A couple of weeks ago, Israel lost one of its artistic legends and icons.
Arik Einshtein died at the age of 74 from a sudden aneurysm and left the entire State of Israel in a state of shock and pain. For days the Israeli radio stations played only his songs, and the Israeli TV aired his movies. Even the Israeli drivers seemed to be mourning and drove more slowly than usual.


When speaking to my American friends and colleagues, I’ve tried to explain who he was and why we all feel so sad about someone who suffered from terrible social anxieties and didn’t even perform.


How can one tell of an artist that followed Israeli history through his work for over 54 years, with more than 44 CDs (the latest still in the works), with numerous sketches and songs that accompany so many Israeli Jewish life cycle events? Many of his songs are not only part of Israeli Jewish secular rituals but in many ways his words are the modern words of prayer.


So it’s only appropriate to share three songs that might tell his story and how we all feel:


The last Naïve — It felt so sad simply because NO ONE other than him could unite ALL of Israel and ALL the Israelis. In a place where we usually disagree on anything and everything from any political statement to the weather, there is one thing on which we all agree — there was no one, there is no one, and there probably won’t be anyone as big as Arik the performer, singer-songwriter, actor, the movie star.


His career started five decades ago, as a singer in an IDF military band, singing Palmach songs. These songs told of the early days of the country, the good old Israel, the naïve one, the one in which we tend to idealize and admire its ethos.


His next step was establishing and being part of the young, kicking and (still influential today) Israeli rock music scene. During his long career he cooperated with Israel’s best artists. Some of them gathered last week and recorded a song in his memory — “The Last Naïve,” which combines lyrics of his songs with the message that somewhere along the way we lost our naiveté, and that we need to unite and by that, be able to dream again. You can watch and listen to it here.


Adon Shoco — My two year old son has a favorite song called “Adon Shoco,” which is a children’s song by Einshtein and Yoni Rechter. It talks about a chocolate milk guy walking on the street, meeting second and third chocolate milk guys and then hanging out. Sounds simple, but it is well written and has become one of the most successful children’s CDs in Israel.


During the week of the shiva, people laid letters, flowers, and candles near his house in Tel Aviv, which is something we see in many other places in the world when public figures pass away. Only this time, by the flowers, letters, and candles there were small bottles of chocolate milk, which demonstrated Einshtein’s talent in bridging generations and crossing all age groups. You can watch and listen to it here.


Ani V’Ata — One of Einshtein’s most famous songs provided a bittersweet moment for me last week and an answer to my question of how to share his memory with my Greater MetroWest family.


We were sitting in a video conference of the third cohort for our Peoplehood Project. It is the beginning of the process for the participants and the “first date” between the Israelis and Americans as part of their two-year program.

During an ice breaker, the participants had to interview each other, and one of the Americans asked her Israeli peer about her favorite Israeli music. The Israeli Peoplehoodinkit answered with no hesitation — Arik Einshtein, and added that her favorite song is “Ani Ve’Ata Neshane Et Haolam” (You and I Will Change the World).


Spontaneously, the Israeli group started singing the song, joined by some of the American participants who knew it. Despite technical challenges, and bridging the distance of 6,000 miles, the message was clear— it is in our hands! You can watch and listen to it here. You can also see the lyrics and translation here.


So who is Arik Einshtein to me? All of the above and more. His character and music are my inspiration and command me to take responsibility and continue dreaming. Listening to his music will tell you more than anything else about us Israelis.

Posted by: admin (January 06, 2014 at 1:34 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

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