Pushing the Button

Issues arise in the headlines. We read the concise few words, we may read a few paragraphs of a few articles, but we rarely have the chance to dig in to the issues underlying the headlines, and learn from a plethora of voices.
In this section we shall be “pushing the button” – inviting short responses from interesting and unusual people throughout the world of Jewish and Zionist education and culture – trying to explore beyond the surface to find the real conversations. 

Encouraging Aliya – insensitive?

The videos produced by the Absorption Department encouraging Israelis in North America to return to Israel, ignited a controversy. Within a few days the Prime Minister himself ordered the campaign to be cancelled.

Yet in the meantime, an interesting and important dialogue had begun to open up. Were the commercials really so offensive?

Or were they mainly touching on a subject that itself is terribly sensitive yet crucial: What is the value of Jewish life in Israel as compared to the Diaspora? Indeed, how do we define a valuable Jewish life?

R. Elliot Cosgrove, Park Avenue Synagogue


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Left, right or center – the American Jewish community must stand with Israel.

  • If you are philanthropically able – support those efforts to provide comfort and security to Israeli civilians and soldiers living in harm’s way.
  • Write to your elected representatives to voice your belief in Israel’s right to live in safety.
  • Argue Israel’s case in the court of public opinion. Would we (or anyone) tolerate the indiscriminate targeting of our civilian population?
  • Find a community rally and show up!   Your presence makes a difference!
  • Pray for peace

Haviv Rettig Gur, journalist


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War is messy, but it can also be clarifying. Arab world schisms, Hamas’s proud use of human shields, Iron Dome’s efficacy, Netanyahu’s endless efforts at restraint — all these only became clear because the conflict forced choices on its participants.

In that same vein, the most important thing at a time like this that Israel needs from Diaspora Jewry, and Diaspora Jewry from Israel, is clarity, the making of choices.

If you support Israel against its enemies (who are also, in this case, the enemies of any Palestinian future worth living in) make it abundantly known in every medium you can access.

If war inspires a sense of belonging — again, by clarifying through ordeal where the roots of one’s identity lie — then join Israel. Make aliyah, now, during the conflict. This does not mean leaving your current home, but simply adopting the second home, where your people live and struggle, to help see them through the war. It means telling Israelis that when they face their enemies, they have at their backs the strategic depth of the love and brotherhood of Jews everywhere.

These are simple acts, born in the clarity forced upon us by conflict, but all the more profound for their simplicity.

The L word and Israel

February 14, 2014 by

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Image by Neil Mercer

I would like to talk about the L word.


It is a word that went out of fashion many moons ago for many people, but it still lives in our relationships.  To Full Post

Hillel Open and Closed: 5 comments

February 9, 2014 by

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Mahatma Gandhi once famously said: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

It would seem that the gusts of wind currently swirling through the Hillel environment are throwing up a similar assumption and a similar question. The assumption is that Hillel is someone’s home which visitors are welcome to enrich but not to change. And there is a hanging question as to what might knock us off our feet?

A fascinating and healthy discourse has emerged over National Hillel’s guidelines for Israel programming on campus. We at Makom have been following the discourse with great interest. As key advisors to the Hillel-Jewish Agency Israel Engaged Campus initiative, as seasoned practitioners of complex dialogue on Israel throughout the Jewish community, and as consultants to Jewish organizations around the world on exactly the same issue of guidelines and red lines – we’ve noticed a few anomalies and a few opportunities. To Full Post

Drawing the lines

February 8, 2014 by

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Recent controversies within the American Jewish community over what kinds of Israel-related activity should be allowed within Hillel Houses, raise issues that are much bigger than just student life on campus. Debates about Open Hillel and Swathmore College, touch on questions of communal boundaries and in particular of what ‘red lines’ Jewish institutions should draw in excluding some kinds of Jews.

 Israel, once a unifying factor in Jewish communities, has become a source of communal discord

In my forthcoming book Uncivil War: The Israel Conflict in the Jewish Community (David Paul Books), I discuss how Israel, once a unifying factor in Jewish communities, has become a source of communal discord. I argue that a plurality of Jewish positions on Israel have emerged in recent years and that supporters of these positions often come into conflict with Jews who hold other views. In response, I make the case that it is essential that Jewish communities begin to come to terms with the divisions within them. To Full Post

“What does your school do on Rabin Day?”

October 6, 2013 by

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For two years at the turn of the millennium, I would ask this same question at every school I visited in Israel.

Studying Jewish Educational Leadership with the Mandel School, we would go out on field trips throughout Israel. Dialogical alternative schools, Shas schools, Haredi schools, different shades of Orthodox schools, Jewish/Arab schools, teaching colleges – the lot. And at every school I would ask only one question, the answer to which would tell me all I needed to know about the school.

“What does your school do on Rabin Day?” To Full Post

Women of the Wall.

September 3, 2013 by

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Recently a young college student produced a film about her questions about the Women of the Wall. The film portrays her inner conflict regarding innovation versus tradition in the Jewish religion in general and the   Women of the Wall in particular. We’ve added subtitles to the  movie subtitles and asked the Makom team what they think about the film.

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The Secret of Rachel Azaria and Bnai Jeshurun

June 20, 2013 by

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First appeared in Haaretz blog in Hebrew, 17/6/13

Here’s a story for you: With the help of Makom, the leaders of the Bnei Jeshurun community in Manhattan arrange a meeting with Rachel Azaria, Jerusalem council member of the Jerusalemites party.

They hear of her battles for a pluralistic Jerusalem, the fight for afternoon schooling, the struggle against the exclusion of women, and more. And they look to understand from her what New Politics is all about.

azaria point

Azaria has three children and a baby. It’s the evening, and she has to be on Skype with New York. Her husband is on reserve duty, and her father arrives at her apartment in Katamonim to help out with dinner and showers. To Full Post

Can we pray about Israel in our synagogues?

June 9, 2013 by

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This is a follow-up article to the conversation that can be found here. First appeared in The Jewish Week.

Can Jewish religious life be full and fulfilling with no connection to Israel? Must a connection to a concrete Israel live separate from synagogue worship? Should our religious rituals ignore Israel in any way other than the metaphorical, or should it accept that the establishment of the State of Israel affected not just Jews but also Judaism itself? To Full Post

Robbie Gringras, Makom – Does Israel live in Diaspora Synagogues?


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First appeared in The Jewish Week.

I went to a wonderfully inspiring religious service on Friday night at Romemu congregation on the Upper West Side. Beautiful singing – much of it in Hebrew -, an inspiring sermon, a warm and welcoming community atmosphere. In some ways, it was a snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.

A snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.

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