a man stands speaking at a podium. a banner in the background reads "A VIBRANT DIASPORA"
Oshman Family JCC CEO Zack Bodner speaking at Zionism 3.0, Dec. 9 2018 (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)

Zionism 3.0: Time to step it up on Israel-diaspora issues

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Think about the Jews you know — both in the diaspora and in Israel.

Now, among them, do you know a diaspora Jew whose relationship with Israel has become tainted by Israel’s politics or policy decisions — specifically Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians or non-Orthodox Jews?

What about an Israeli who couldn’t care less about what diaspora Jews think, since they are certain diaspora Jews will be gone in a generation due to intermarriage and assimilation?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you know someone who fits each description.

And that’s the problem.

Today, Jews in Israel and the diaspora are speaking past each other. We are focused on the areas of disagreement, misalignment and frustration. Each of us is unwilling to accept the other if they don’t share our opinions on politics or identity. We are willing to disassociate ourselves from the entire body politic of the other simply because we don’t see eye-to-eye.

But when have the Jews ever agreed with each other?

Did Joseph and his brothers get along? Did the Sadducees and Pharisees agree? Did the Maccabees embrace the Hellenized Jews? Did the students of Hillel and Shammai light Hanukkah candles together? Did the soldiers of the Haganah lay down their guns when facing Irgun soldiers?

In case you were wondering, the answer is “NO!” Jews have always had deep disagreements, yet we have not only managed to survive as a people, but woven those divergent strands deep into our shared identity.

That’s why it’s time to reimagine diaspora-Israel relations. It’s time for Jewish peoplehood to grow up. It’s time for Zionism to evolve to its next phase: Zionism 3.0.

Why 3.0?

Because Zionism 1.0 was the pre-1948 Zionism of theory, of the pioneers, of Theodor Herzl, Ahad Ha’am and Rav Kook. It was the Zionism of creating a sovereign Jewish state where Jews could be safe and live without fear of pogroms or Nazis.

Then in 1948, Zionism evolved to its next phase. Zionism 2.0 was the Zionism of reality, of the builders like David Ben-Gurion, and A. D. Gordon. Israel’s existence was threatened by its neighbors and a vital piece of its survival was diaspora support. Zionism 2.0 was defined by the “rich American uncle” — the notion that those in the diaspora who didn’t make aliyah were obligated to support those who did. It was the Zionism of diaspora negation; the thinking that the Jewish future lies only in Israel, and those in the diaspora were somehow lesser Jews.

But now, for the first time ever in Jewish history, we have two strong, independent, thriving centers of Jewish life: in Israel and in the West, primarily in North America. We have different characteristics, but we are both flourishing. And now we depend on each other in new ways, and can enrich each other in new ways. So the model must evolve to Zionism 3.0, the next phase of Zionist ideology.

We must recognize that Jews in both places add to the other — not just for security, but with each other’s spiritual and cultural contributions, as well. We can’t let political frameworks dictate the nature of our relationship, but must use our shared sense of peoplehood and our common destiny to frame our relationship.

The Z3 Project strives to do just that by embracing three central principles:

1. Unity not uniformity. We aim to honor our differences while working for the oneness of the Jewish people.
2. Engaging as equal partners. We bring together Israelis and diaspora Jews to build our common future.
3. Diversity of voices. We convene Zionists of differing backgrounds and perspectives across the political and religious spectrums.

For the last five years, we’ve hosted a full-day conference at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto that’s attracted more than 1,000 people at a time to engage in this conversation.

This year, we are making the experience available to people all over the world by moving to a 100 percent virtual experience over the week of Hanukkah, from Dec. 10 to Dec. 17, and inviting JCCs around the globe to participate.

This innovative online experiment is so much more than just a web conference. Thanks to the partnership of JCC Association of North America and JCC Global, more than 30 JCCs will bring Z3 to their own communities.

Each day during Hanukkah, we will have a couple hours of programming that starts with a marquee speaker followed by a panel of experts. Throughout the program, we will stream articles and videos full of rich information about the panel topic and ask participants to delve into their thoughts. Then each community will break out and host its own localized discussion. Most exciting of all, the week will culminate with every attendee casting a vote on which deserving nonprofits will receive support from the pool fund created by registration fees. It will be the world’s largest Jewish giving circle!

This is an exercise in active participation. We are done with passive teleconference calls where we just watch interesting speakers. Help us reimagine diaspora-Israel relations together by taking the first step and joining us at Z3Project.org.

The Z3 Project and all who participate this year are putting our money where our mouths are, working collectively to move Zionism and peoplehood to the next level.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Zack Bodner
Zack Bodner

Zack Bodner is Chief Executive Officer of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.