By Robert French
Recently, I and thousands of others from North America and across the globe were woven into the fabric and experience of Israel. For 2023’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America didn’t take place solely in the halls of Tel Aviv’s Expo Center. It was purposefully scheduled over what is affectionately called the “Yoms” (Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzma-ut) to commemorate Israel’s Memorial Day and to celebrate Israel’s 75 years of Independence.
After our opening ceremonies, plenaries and breakout sessions at the conference hall (the brief shouting match in the Rothman session did not overshadow the conference hall sessions nor dominate the conference, in spite of media attempts to portray it as such) we then ventured out among the people and across the country; the young, the seniors, the olim chadashim (new immigrants), the bereaved, the protestors, the supporters and most everyone and everything in between at high schools, homes, absorption centers and the like.
We sang, we wept, we laughed, we learned, we talked, we danced, we celebrated and we came back with some key takeaways.
We certainly didn’t shy away from the subject of judicial reform and the Law of Return, but these subjects can’t be allowed to be the sum total of how we approach and think about Israel at 75. Israel is a work in progress and is a place of challenges. However, democracy is alive and well in Israel and there is so much more taking place there than what we see in the news.
We are 100 percent part of her story, completely intertwined with her story, and share her accomplishments and sorrows. We know that diversity brings value and that it can be very hard to be a Jew — but that it’s a great honor, too. We learned that as leaders in our communities we must continue to educate and to learn about what’s happening there, but we care deeply too about Sinat Chinam — baseless hatred. We care deeply about the unity of the Jewish people.
The few days we spent there were an emotional roller coaster. To witness Israel on Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzma-ut is unparalleled and, in spite of my countless visits there, something I have experienced just twice in my life, but something I strongly recommend.
I return concerned, yet beaming with pride at Israel and her accomplishments against overwhelming uncertainties. The road ahead is bumpy, the future somewhat foggy. But I have faith in our people’s resilience and determination. In the words of JFNA Chair Julie Platt, “Nothing is ever black and white, but it looks so great in blue and white.”
Happy 75th, Israel. Here’s to the next 75 and beyond.
Robert French is CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.