a bald man speaking at a podium
Gidi Grinstein speaking at the 2018 Zionism 3.0 conference (Photo/Saul Bromberger)

Great Jewish divide analyzed at Z3 in Palo Alto, but no ‘miracles’

After three years of arguing about the philosophical gulf separating Israelis and diaspora Jews, officials at this year’s Z3 conference stressed that it’s time to begin the process of healing.

Speakers at the Dec. 9 conference, “Making Miracles Here & There: Uniting a Divided People,” called for new ways of communicating across that gulf and of creating new institutions for bridging the gap. The event at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto was sold out in advance, with a limited number of at-the-door ticket sales pushing the attendance to about 1,100.

For the most part, there were more questions than answers, and many of the continuing tensions within world Jewry surfaced at the all-day conference. But organizers treated the event as the beginning of a new process, which continued Dec. 10 with a five-hour workshop at the OFJCC with a much smaller group of attendees.

“This is the year we start to talk about healing. For the last three of these conferences, we’ve talked about the issues that divide us,” Zack Bodner, CEO of the OFJCC, said in opening the conference.

“Right now it’s time to talk about how to move forward, how to unite people. The good news is we have the answer. It’s about our shared legacy, our shared destiny and our sense of peoplehood.”

The main conference sessions were held in a giant tent on the OFJCC’s recently opened sports field. There were 80 speakers at the event, and Bodner said one-third of them came from Israel.

Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Tel Aviv-based Reut Group that is beginning a partnership with the OFJCC on the Z3 movement, said Israel and world Jewry both are weakened if they are estranged.

Decades of negation of diaspora life led to a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance.

“We have to acknowledge this is a moment of crisis, because we’re drifting apart,” he said. “In Israel, decades of negation of diaspora life led to a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance that led to a domineering outlook. We have to fix that with more modesty, respect and knowledge.

“In the diaspora, Jews rarely stand up for their legacy and their history. We have to fix that, as well.”

Former Knesset Minister Yossi Beilin said the key is creating new organizations to help Israelis and diaspora Jews work together on issues that now divide them, such as the Chief Rabbinate of Israel refusing to accept the marriages of many American Jews.

“The most important thing is to create the missing link between Israel and the United States, to create a kind of Israeli-American Jewish committee which we never really had,” Beilin said. “The Jewish world needs something much more vibrant than the old Zionist organizations.

“If my daughters and grandsons do not recognize your daughters and grandsons in the future as Jews, we are doomed. And rather than talking about it, we need an institution that deals with the different questions of how to deal with the next generation of mixed marriages.”

But Beilin’s comments drew the ire of a fellow panelist, Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal. Troy said he fears discussion of Israeli-diaspora relations that veer into criticism of organizations such as the Israeli Rabbinate often turn into sessions on “why Israel sucks.”

Each Z3 attendee received a five-sided dreidel that included the Hebrew letters representing what is on standard four-sided dreidels. The unique Z3 dreidels are meant to represent the bonds between Israelis and their diaspora brethren.

Bodner wished the attendees luck in figuring out how to spin the Z3 dreidels and joked that the secret to playing with the unusual toys will be the subject of next year’s conference.

Rob Gloster

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