Ruderman Fellows coming from Israel to learn about American Jewry

Free transport for students to forum tonight in Newton

2012 Ruderman Fellows, from left, Ofir Akunis, Likud; Lia Shemtov, Yisrael Beitenu; Ilan Gilon, Meretz; Raleb Majadele, Labor, and Fania Kirshenbaum, Yisrael Beitenu.

Five members of the Israeli Knesset are due to arrive Sunday for the second round of the Ruderman Fellows Program, a partnership between Brandeis and the Ruderman Family Foundation aimed at strengthening relations between Israeli political leaders and the American Jewish community.

The fellows, who are broadly representative of the Israeli political spectrum, will participate in an intensive agenda of classes with leading scholars, meetings with American leaders and public conversations March 25 through March 30 in Greater Boston and New York City.

The group’s major public event in this area will be a Town Hall-style meeting at Temple Emanuel in Newton at 8 p.m. Monday, March 26. Free round-trip transportation to this event is being provided to students by the university. Those interested in attending may pick up tickets for the bus at Brandeis Tickets in Shapiro Campus Center.

President Fred Lawrence, Ruderman Family Foundation President Jay Ruderman ‘88 and Israeli Consul-General to New England Shai Bazak will speak to the Knesset members at an opening lunch Sunday.

Prior to the Temple Emanuel event Monday, they will hear talks by Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis’ Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, on “American Jewry: Past, Present, Future,” and by Richard Fishman, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, on “The Politics of the American-Israel Relationship.”

The Israelis also will meet with a host of government leaders, including U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Congressman Michael Capuano and Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman.

Tuesday, the Knesset members will immerse in the diverse perspectives of American Jews, engaging communal leaders and organizers, opinion-makers and students in a series of small meetings.

“Nothing is more important to the American-Israeli relationship than exchanging ideas and knowing each other well,” Lawrence said. “It is simply essential that we learn from each other and understand the commonalities and differences in our political positions and social outlooks.”

Ruderman said the idea for the program arose several years after he moved to Israel six years ago, when he began making personal friends in political life there. 

“When I engaged them about the Jewish community of the United States, the relationship of that community with the community in Israel and the influence of this relationship on the security of Israel, I realized they didn’t have the same idea of the importance of the relationship that I did,” Ruderman said.

He cited a member of last year’s inaugural group of Ruderman Fellows who led him to understand that “many Israelis look at American Jews as Jews who happen to live in the United States but whose first allegiance is to Israel and whose eventual desire is to make aliyah or contribute” to the building up of the state.

In contrast, Ruderman said, “I think American Jews look at themselves as Americans who are also Jewish, who are very comfortable as Americans, and who may or may not have a strong relationship to Israel.”

He said Israeli political leaders need to understand better that strong support for Israel from the U.S. government and Congress is not merely the result of American security interests or support for democracy.  “American Jews work very hard” to keep the support strong, Ruderman said. “Israeli Jews should understand that if the relationships change, that may change.”

“The point of this program is to educate them, so that when they become ministers or are voting on issues like ‘Who is a Jew?’, they are going to have a broader view of what this very important community across the ocean is going to think,” he said.

 Ruderman said the main change this year from the inaugural year of the program has been expanding the number of political parties represented by the fellowship group and including parties such as Yisrael Beitenu that have influence but do not have huge memberships.

“It will be interesting how their positions are viewed by the American Jewish community,” he said. “What may be popular in Israel among a certain part of the population may not be popular in the United States.”

The Ruderman Fellows for 2012 and their parties are Ofir Akunis, Likud; Ilan Gilon, Meretz; Fania Kirshenbaum, Yisrael Beitenu; Raleb Majadele, Labor; and Lia Shemtov, Yisrael Beitenu.


The bus to the Town Hall Meeting at Temple Emanuel will depart  from Spingold Driveway at 7:15 p.m. March 26. Attendees must have a ticket and a Brandeis ID. Brandeis Tickets is open Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 pm.  Ticketing provided by the Department of Student Activities.

Categories: International Affairs

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