a huge crowd fills the streets, seen from far above
Thousands of Israelis protesting the cost of housing in Tel Aviv in 2011 (Photo/Wikimedia-meowArt.com CC BY-SA 2.0)

JCRC event will consider Zionism in light of Federation study

With only about one in 10 Jewish young adults in the Bay Area saying they are “very attached” to Israel, local organizations are continuing their efforts to promote discussion about the meaning and relevance of Zionism.

The latest is a town hall called Engaging Zionism set for Thursday, March 15, at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley. Scheduled to last two hours, the event has been organized by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and J. is the media sponsor.

The town hall comes five months after the third annual session of Zionism 3.0 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto at which speakers focused on Zionism in the 21st century and the relationship between Israelis and American Jews.

In a recently released survey of Bay Area Jews underwritten by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, 21 percent of respondents said they were “very attached emotionally to Israel. About the same number, 20 percent, said they were “not at all attached.” Thirty-two percent said they were “somewhat attached” and 27 percent responded that they were “not that attached.”

Among 18- to 34-year-old respondents, just 11 percent said they were “very attached” to Israel.

Karen Schiller, co-chair of the JCRC’s Middle East Strategy Committee, said that even though the town hall was planned long before the survey was released, getting people involved always has been the goal of the event.

“I think part of the reason for the forum is not that we’re trying to push a specific idea on anyone,” she said, “but I suspect a lot of the people who say they don’t care that much about Israel haven’t had a chance to talk about it with other people and to explore what it means to be a Zionist in the year 2018 and what it means to engage with Israel.

A lot of the people who say they don’t care that much about Israel haven’t had a chance to talk about it with other people.

“The whole process will change people’s minds about whether they care or not.”

Beyond trying to get people engaged, the forum will serve as a resource for Schiller’s committee in its yearlong effort to create a consensus statement representing what the committee calls “the perspective of the JCRC on the delegitimization and anti-normalization movement against Israel.”

JCRC’s last consensus policy statement on Israel was written more than a decade ago. Surveys filled out by participants in the town hall will be used by the committee as part of its consensus-building process.

“Our committee has been looking into how you define Zionism, who describes themselves as a Zionist, what that means to different people and how you engage with the concept of Zionism — however you define it in the world of 2018,” Schiller said.

“It’s about what does it mean. We want to be able to represent the community’s thoughts about Zionism in our consensus statement.”

According to JCRC, the town hall will begin with a historical overview of Zionism, followed by a panel of community leaders exploring its meaning and relevance today. Attendees also will be invited to participate in small-group discussions toward the end of the event.

The panelists for the town hall will be Servant Brian Woodson, founding pastor of the Bay Area Christian Connection in Oakland; Peg Sandel, the head of school of Brandeis Marin, a Jewish Day School in San Rafael; and Marc Dollinger, a professor in the Jewish studies department at San Francisco State University.

Engaging Zionism is the second of three Israel-centric JCRC town halls scheduled for the first half of 2018.

The first, held in January at the UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco and moderated by J. editor Sue Fishkoff, focused on the First Amendment and Israel on campus. The third will be held on the Peninsula in May and will examine when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

Engaging Zionism, 7-9 p.m. Thursday, March 15 at Congregation Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley. Free, but online RSVP required.

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.