Israelis should be part of our community, too

As our cover story this week attests, there are anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 Israelis living here, mostly in the South Bay. But their contact with the Bay Area Jewish community is minimal.

Yes, some use the local JCCs for their events, but there’s very little interaction between the two communities.

It goes without saying that we are part of the same people. But the Israelis, who grew up in a country where only Orthodox Judaism is recognized, aren’t used to the myriad ways we practice our religion here. So, except for the rare cases, we don’t often encounter them in our synagogues. Nor do we see many of them participating in Jewish organizational life.

They come from a culture that worries more about terrorism than giving to charity. And after years of being on the receiving end of donations from American Jews, it no doubt would seem odd for Israelis to be writing a check to support us. Especially since their money would go to support institutions they are hardly involved in.

Their non-involvement also can be attributed to the guilt some Israelis feel about being in America at this time. They don’t want to invest in a community they’re not sure they’re going to stay a part of.

But if they do remain, they find themselves in a society where there is a price tag for taking part in Jewish life.

Certainly some of the local Israelis — though not the newer arrivals — have joined local groups. For instance, they are serving on the boards of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, its Israel Center, and local Jewish community centers. A few women are working on a start-up of their own: As it states on its Web site, it will not solicit money, and among other things, will serve as a bridge between the Israeli community and the local Jewish community.

It’s a good start. But we need to do more to bring them into our Jewish portals. The S.F.-based JCF has a Russian division, and perhaps it’s time to establish an Israeli division as well. It’s also time to do something for the children of Israelis. There is a whole generation of youth — the sons and daughters of Israeli emigres — who are growing up with an identity that is not quite Israeli, not quite American Jew.

As a community that prides itself on our support for Israel, we must reach out to the local Israelis in our midst, too. Their involvement in our institutions will only strengthen us all.