This article is dedicated to the memory of Shimon Peres, an inspirational leader whose leadership, thought and spirit continue to bring out our creative potential.
The mythical walls dividing the Israeli-American community from the American Jewish community were completely shattered this past weekend as more than 2,100 conference attendees convened at the 3rd Annual Israeli-American Council National Conference in Washington DC. Israeli-American and American Jewish activists, program directors, philanthropists, educators, and 500 Jewish or Christian youth dealt business cards like a fast Uno game, and exchanged ideas and suggested possible future connections to each other to further each other’s success.
I attended with my colleague Rachel Raz, Director of the Early Childhood Institute and founder of the Jewish Early Engagement Forum (JEEF), who was a panelist in the “Israeli and Jewish American Education: Jewish and Israeli Identity” session and also was the moderator for a panel on “The Power of Engaging Young Families to Secure a Strong Foundation of Identity.” Invariably, people asked me about my connection to Israel. Sometimes when I would tell people about my work with the Boston-Haifa Early Childhood Educators’ Connection, or the Community Leadership Program of the Shalom Hartman Institute, or the iEngage Video Lecture series that teaches ways for the community to engage with Israel with open and honest discourse, I ran out of time to tell people that my husband spent 7 formative childhood years in Israel, or that my mother-in-law’s scholarly father had a street named after him in Jerusalem.
The schedule was packed with plenary sessions and break-out sessions; Barry Schrage of CJP spoke, as well as Sheldon Adelson, Adam Milstein and other major supporters of the IAC. Several Members of the Knesset were invited to speak at the plenary sessions, as well as former Israeli Ambassadors to the UN, American Congressmen and other politicians and journalists. Session topics ranged from the current state of leadership in the areas of Science and Business public diplomacy in Israel, the challenges of the BDS movement and the Iran Nuclear deal, to the conference themes of Jewish Israeli identity of the young generation, Israeli American and Jewish peoplehood, and Israel as a Nation State of the Jewish People.
Conference attendees were particularly delighted to receive a video greeting from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reiterated how important it is for the Israeli-American community to become a strong advocate for the State of Israel. He explicitly shattered another myth, that the State of Israel looks down upon Israelis who choose to live in the United States. On the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed how much he values the Israeli-American community, and his belief that the success of the Israeli-American community is bound to the success of the State of Israel and vice versa.
Finally, Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson announced a pledge of $15 Million to the IAC and the goal of opening six more regional offices for a total of 20 regional offices across the United States by 2017. The spirit of the conference was animated by new energy dedicated towards solidifying ties between the Israeli American and the American Jewish communities and by rejuvenating energy to all participants to continue to pursue their creative ideas and network to find partners with whom to work and grow.
The only sad part about the conference was that it ended, but there’s always next year to reconvene the entire community – both Israeli-American Jews and American Jews – and the non-Jewish community – together to forge unlimited possibilities for the future.
Linna Ettinger is the Assistant Director of the Early Childhood Institute (ECI) of the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education. ECI offers an on-line Master’s in Jewish Education degree with a concentration in Early Childhood Education and an on-line Certificate in Jewish Early Childhood Education. Linna also co-chairs Adult Education at Temple Emunah in Lexington, and is a group leader for the Community Leadership Program(CLP) of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Linna is a recipient of the Torch Bearer Award bestowed by the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts in recognition for her leadership in the Jewish Community. For questions about the Seventh Annual Early Childhood Jewish Educators’ Conference, Adult Education at Temple Emunah and/or the CLP Program of the Shalom Hartman Institute, contact Linna at firstname.lastname@example.org.