MK Matan Kahana and moderator Janine Zacharia at the Z3 Conference in Palo Alto, Dec. 11, 2022. (Photo/Saul Bromberger)
MK Matan Kahana and moderator Janine Zacharia at the Z3 Conference in Palo Alto, Dec. 11, 2022. (Photo/Saul Bromberger)

Z3 conference pivots to Israel at war — and lowers the price for all

Z3, the annual one-day conference in Palo Alto on Israel-diaspora relations, is yet another part of the local Jewish landscape to be dramatically altered in the wake of the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7.

Speakers have been shuffled, topics have changed, and the need for community is sharper than ever, said Rabbi Amitai Fraiman, Z3’s director.

And everything could change again up to the last minute, he notes, depending on the situation in Israel.

Now in its ninth year, Z3 — which stands for Zionism 3.0, a reimagining of the Zionist idea — invites local, national and global figures from politics, academia and the arts for a full day of lectures and workshops that draws hundreds of attendees to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Organizers estimate more than 21,000 have attended since the first event in 2015.

This year’s conference is scheduled for Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Before Oct. 7, the conference planned to focus on judicial reform and the pro-democracy movement in Israel. There were workshops or panels on what Fraiman called “the unraveling of Israeli society,” on the legal aspects of the conflict, on how to write a constitution, and on the values of democracy.

“Then the world took a turn for the worse, and the need to be together became front and center,” he told J. on Monday.

“In some ways, the intention is the same,” he said. “It’s a community-based conference whose purpose is to build community and communal resilience in the face of opposing ideas. It’s a place to get together and to ensure that we can get together, and we use one of the most important topics — Israel — to do that. It’s like going to the gym, working your muscles.”

But Israel’s war with Gaza, which as of Monday had not moved on to the expected phase of a ground invasion of the strip, is top of mind. It’s what Jews need and want to talk about, Fraiman said.

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It also meant a big logistical challenge, especially for speakers based in Israel. All were contacted immediately, Fraiman said. “Some said they could not come, they have children who were called up” to military duty, he said. “Some said they’ll see. Others said they’re coming.”

Most changed, or at least tweaked, their speaking topic. The schedule is still in flux, although Fraiman expects to post “most” of the updated schedule by the end of the week.

Registration fees, which ranged up to $185 for the full day, have all been reduced to $36. “We want everyone to be able to come, to be together and derive strength from each other,” Fraiman said.

Naftali Bennett, Israeli political leader and former prime minister, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker, but it’s “unlikely” that he will be able to attend in person, Fraiman said. A recorded message is possible, but again — it could all change at the last minute.

Elyakim Rubinstein, a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, still plans to attend in person. He was going to talk about Israel’s controversial plans for judicial reform, but now he will address the boundaries of democracy and the legality of warfare, Fraiman said.

There will be a panel on hate and antisemitism on social media. One of the speakers is Luc Bernard, the French-British designer of a video game called “The Light in the Darkness,” which aims to educate young people about the Holocaust.

There will be, of course, one major panel on what’s happening on the ground in Israel, Fraiman said, as well as a panel on organizations that are providing aid to Israelis. Hate on campus is another topic that will receive attention, as will effective advocacy and how to talk to children about antisemitism.

A new addition to the program is a counseling circle, where those who are grieving or feeling heartache can gather to share and heal.

Z3 has always been a conversation “by and for our Jewish community,” Fraiman notes. “We are not trying to convince the world of the justice of our cause. This year there is something dramatically different, and we want to provide the right platform, a place for that conversation to take place.”

Z3 Conference: Charting a Path Forward

9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, at the Oshman Family JCC. $36.

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].