Zack Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family JCC, speaks at the opening session of the Zionism 3.0 conference, Oct. 15, 2017. (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)
Zack Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family JCC, speaks at the opening session of the Zionism 3.0 conference, Oct. 15, 2017. (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)

Zionism 3.0 shifts from studying Israel-diaspora divide to healing it

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Each person who attends the upcoming Z3 conference at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto will receive a five-sided dreidel.

The four-sided dreidels that diaspora Jews spin during Hanukkah features letters representing the Hebrew words “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” meaning “There Was a Great Miracle There.”

In Israel, the four sides of a dreidel spell out “Nes Gadol Hayah Po,” or “There Was a Great Miracle Here.”

The five-sided dreidel will say both.

But the dreidels handed out at the JCC on Sunday, Dec. 9, on what will be the last night of Hanukkah, will represent the bonds between two groups often at odds — Israelis and American Jews.

The Z3 conference comes after three years of Zionism 3.0 events at the OFJCC at which the differences between Israelis and diaspora Jews have been examined, debated and regretted. This year’s gathering will be different.

“The last three years, we were really focusing on the issues that divide us,” said Zack Bodner, the OFJCC’s chief executive officer. “This year we’re focusing on how to heal the divide.”

This year’s conference also will mark the first year of a partnership between the OFJCC and the Reut Group, a nonpartisan policy think tank based in Tel Aviv.

Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Group, called Z3 “a platform for reimagining Israel-world Jewry relations and for mobilizing a global network of leaders and organizations that are committed to strengthening this relationship on the basis of equal standing between Israel and diaspora Jews.”

Grinstein, who helped design the Birthright Israel program in the late 1990s, later served as secretary and coordinator of the Israeli delegation to peace talks with the PLO when Ehud Barak was Israel’s prime minister.

He said Israelis and American Jews used to share causes such as Israel’s fight for survival, the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union and hopes for a Mideast peace settlement.

But as Israel has grown stronger and the prospect of a peace deal has weakened, Grinstein said, cracks in the relationship have grown — exacerbated by “Israel’s rabbinate becoming bolder in its disrespectful treatment of non-Orthodox Jews.”

“There is a lot of disagreement surrounding Israel’s politics, which is compounded by highly polarized and polarizing public discourse both in Israel and the USA,” he said. “These trends are both challenges and opportunities, and the Z3 movement … is our attempt to take charge of them.”

Speakers at the conference will include New York Times columnist David Brooks, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Knesset member Sharren Haskel. About 1,000 people are expected to attend, and Bodner said a few dozen of them are expected to meet the following day in a workshop to discuss building the Z3 movement.

The conference is titled “Making Miracles Here and There: Uniting a Divided People.” Past Zionism 3.0 conferences have featured heated exchanges between panelists, and groans from audience members during some of the presentations.

Zionism 3.0 represents the relationship between Israeli and diaspora Jews in the 21st century. Bodner explained at earlier conferences that Zionism 1.0 started in the 1890s and ran until 1948, when the State of Israel was created, and that Zionism 2.0 extended from 1948 to the beginning of this century.

After last year’s conference, Bodner said, community organizations in the Bay Area and beyond — including in Chicago and New York — came to the OFJCC and asked for help in setting up their own platforms for dealing with Israeli-diaspora relations.

“They came to us and said Israel is toxic in our community,” he said. “They said help us build some Z3 platform that we can talk about Israel in a way that is healing.”

Grinstein, who attended the past two Zionism 3.0 conferences at the OFJCC, said the understanding gap between Israelis and diaspora Jews has grown in recent years, and that this is the right time to start bridging those differences.

“We have a new generation of Israeli civic leadership that no longer takes world Jewry for granted,” he said. “I believe this relationship can be led into a new phase that is based on deeper and more realistic mutual understanding: on mutual respect for each other’s role in Jewish history and future, and on a covenant of destiny that is based on a shared goal of making the world a better place.”

“Making Miracles Here and There: Uniting a Divided People.” 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $30-$90 in advance; $120 at the door.

Rob Gloster

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