Looking at Zion

A Jewish Perspective on Israel-Diaspora relationship: 235 members of Jewish communities around the globe answered a questionnaire, which asked them to articulate their thoughts and feelings towards Israel

Jay Ruderman (photo: Noam Galai)

Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Boston (photo: Noam Galai)

“I feel connected to Israel, both as an Israeli and as an American-Jew, but I believe that Israelis need to be given the independence to elect their own government and to decide the future that they think is best for them.”

The Interviewee – Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in Israel and the Jewish community worldwide and educating Israeli leaders on the American Jewish community. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Funders Network and is a member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Executive Committee. 

He lives in Boston with his wife, Shira, and their four children. Jay can be followed on Twitter @JayRuderman and liked on Facebook.  

In your opinion, what importance, if any, does the existence of a Jewish state have to you personally and to Jewish people in general?

“For me, Israel is the center of Jewish life both religiously and historically. Israel is integral to a meaningful and vibrant Jewish existence. For me personally, I married an Israeli, lived in Israel, raised my children in Israel, and run a business that has an office in Israel. So, Israel is part of my daily thought process and existence.”

Do you feel committed in some way to defend the future existence of Israel?

“Yes. I think that without the modern State of Israel, Jewish life around the world would look very different. I believe that Israel’s existence is vital to the future strength and prosperity of the Jewish people. I also served in the IDF while I was living in Israel, so my choice was to play an active role in Israel’s security.

Do you affiliate yourself with a specific denomination in Judaism? What is your view regarding the dominance of the Orthodox denomination in Israel religious establishment?

“I see myself as a traditional Jew. I attend an orthodox synagogue, my kids go to an orthodox Jewish day school, and we have an observant Jewish home. However, I believe that the Jewish people is made up of many different types of observance and my foundation, the Ruderman Family Foundation, has major partnerships with the Reform Movement, Conservative Movement, and Chabad. I think that the reality in the American Jewish community and the reality in Israel are different realities. And what the Foundation has been advocating for is for Israelis to treat Jews in the diaspora, who maybe see their relation differently, with respect. It’s important for Israelis to understand that these different Jewish communities in the United States has a direct impact on Israel’s future and security.

Do you feel morally responsible for Israel’s actions (such as its management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)?

“I feel connected to Israel, both as an Israeli and as an American-Jew, but I believe that Israelis need to be given the independence to elect their own government and to decide the future that they think is best for them. Israelis are living in the country, paying taxes to the country, sending their children to serve in the IDF. They should decide the future of how Israel approaches their political challenges. But I don’t think that Israelis should ignore diaspora communities that directly have an impact on their future.”

In your opinion, what is the main thing Israelis fail to understand about the reality of being Jewish outside of Israel?

“I think that there may be a belief in Israel that all Jews are connected to Israel just because they’re Jewish. The reality in the diaspora is very different. I believe that Jews can be very committed to Judaism and very much part of the country they live in, and don’t see any separation between the two. Israelis do not always understand the reality of being a Jew in a different country.”

How would you describe Israel’s policy (formally and in practice) regarding its relationship with the Diaspora?

“I think that historically it’s been a one-way relationship, with discussions whether Israelis are visiting the diaspora or the diaspora Jews are visiting Israel, the discussion is all about Israel’s challenges and needs and threats to the country. Whereas I think that Israelis need to be more sophisticated and understand the diaspora communities and approach them as equals in a partnership and not just a resource for what Israel needs.”

In your opinion, does Israel have an obligation to defend and help Jewish communities in need?

“Yes, I think that Israel should take an active role in ensuring the security and the vibrancy of Jewish communities. If Israel wants to take on the role as the center of Jewish life, I think that they should assume that responsibility. And I think that they try to take on that responsibility.”

Have you ever been to Israel? if you have, can you summarize your impression from the Israeli reality?

“Yes, I’ve lived in Israel for nine years, raised my family there, and ran our Foundation from there. There’s a lot of beauty in Israel as a country that is run by Jews where the majority of people are Jewish. To me, Israel feels like a very vibrant Jewish reality. But I would say that any person that makes aliyah has challenges of being an immigrant in a new country.”

What was your best experience of Israeli culture in the past year (book, music, TV, movie, theater etc.)?

“Well I think that the best experience was recently when our Foundation took a major role in celebrating 100 years of contribution by American Jewry to the State of Israel in the Knesset. In a ceremony that was attended by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Knesset, representatives from the American Jewish community, and the Israeli political establishment.”

Can you tell us a bit about the Jewish community in your hometown?

“Currently, I’m living in Boston, where I grew up. I find it to be a very vibrant Jewish community with a great mix of Jews in all sectors of society, from all different parts of the world. I think that Boston’s abundance of colleges and universities have really contributed to the vibrancy of the Boston Jewish community.”

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