Two L.A. Rabbis Participate in International ‘Common Destiny’ Forum in Israel

September 25, 2019
Rabbi Sharon Brous

Acknowledging a growing rift among Jews and the increasing challenges presented by a shifting of Jewish identities, a group of 30 Jewish scholars, rabbis and activists from a wide spectrum of Jewish affiliations from Israel and the Diaspora came together on Sept. 10-11 in Jerusalem to launch an initiative designed to strengthen the bonds among Jews worldwide. 

“It seems like such a critical moment for the Jewish community. The rifts are so profound between religious and secular, between left and right, Israel and the Diaspora,” Los Angeles’ IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous told the Journal. “The idea to understand and articulate what our shared values are and how we can lead with those values in such tumultuous times really resonates with me.”

Brous, together with Rabbi Pini Dunner of Young Israel of Beverly Hills, were among the American delegation to the Our Common Destiny initiative, a joint project of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the government of Israel under the patronage of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. 

The group was comprised of one-third Israelis, one-third American Jews and one-third Jews from Europe, Latin America and Asia. There were also an equal number of men and women.

In their final declaration, which they presented to Rivlin on Sept. 10, the group called on Jews to “rise above internal disputes.

“We must transcend the ways in which we have understood our relationships to each other. We must move forward from a sense of shared fate, a ‘Covenant of Fate,’ one that focuses on a past in which we had less self-determination, to a covenant of a shared future, a ‘Covenant of Destiny,’ and join together to create a future that we can determine for ourselves,” they said in the declaration.

Rivlin welcomed the initiative, noting that as Jewish communities have successfully integrated into their home countries, they now face new challenges to their Jewish identity and the Jewish people. 

“The future of the Jewish people depends on three things: preserving our core values — traditions and identity — mutual respect for our differences,  and mutual responsibility to each other,” he told the group. “We must embrace our unity and our diversity. We must see our diversity not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength. When I say that the future of the Jewish people depends on preserving our identity, mutual respect and mutual recognition, I mean also the future of the State of Israel.”

Rivlin added that those who hate Jews don’t differentiate between one stream of Judaism and another. “Secular, Charedi, Reform, Conservative, Masorti — for them we are all Jews,” he said.

“The future of the Jewish people depends on three things: preserving our core values — traditions and identity — mutual respect for our differences, and mutual responsibility to each other.” 

— Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

The final declaration will be shared with Jewish communities around the world, and they will be asked to review and discuss it, and add their comments and views so that when the document returns to Israel by next year, it will encompass a wide selection of opinions. Rivlin said he was hopeful that the document would be an impetus for “conversations between communities, streams and generations” and that it could “serve as a roadmap for the future of the Jewish people.”

Ilia Salita, president and CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy group, told the Journal the input on the document from Jews of all perspectives was one of their main goals and they hope the possibility to contribute to the document will excite people who have not been involved in their Jewish communities and “allow them their voice.”

The Genesis Philanthropy Group, a global group of foundations, initially was established to strengthen the Jewish identity of Russian-speaking Jews worldwide. Today, it also works to strengthen the bonds and understanding between Israeli Jews and Jews in the Diaspora. 

From left: Gennady Gazin, chairman of Genesis Philanthropy Group, Ilia Salita, president and CEO of GPG, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Sanford R. Cardin, chair of Our Common Destiny Advisory Board. Photos by Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

One of three speakers invited to address the gathering at the president’s house, Brous noted that the Jewish community is well aware of the external threats it faces. 

“As an American Jew, I can tell you that the past three years have felt like no other time in my life, as the rise in white nationalism has led to synagogue shootings, anti-Semitic vandalism, death threats and competing allegations of dual loyalty and disloyalty from the highest offices,” she said. “But we have, until now, failed to adequately address our internal struggles — which matter just as profoundly. The challenges facing the Jewish people are not superficial; they are foundational, and we must reckon with them honestly and openly.”

Dunner told the Journal that there are no easy answers to the existential question “How do we function as Jews with fundamental differences?”

“How do we find a common destiny? As much as we talk about the ‘Jewish people’ we are generally speaking of our own communities,” he said. “We live in our own bubble and very rarely do we venture out.”

He cited the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as being one of the more divisive issues among Jews. 

“All this is part of a total disconnect between the Israeli narrative and the Jewish narrative,” he said. “The gulf is so wide, unless we work to bridge that gap … the destiny of Jews as one people will be a disaster … [and will] destroy the idea of a common destiny.” 

Israeli Rabbi Yaacov Meidan, head of the religious-Zionist Har Etzion yeshiva, expressed his support for the initiative in his address to the group and said he viewed opening the final document to Jews around the world “with great importance,” not only so they can contribute to the text itself but so they can help formulate a future vision for the Jewish people.

“The ‘streams’ of the Jewish people have became greater than the colors of the rainbow,” he said. “Under no condition is the document we present today to erase or blur the differences which exist between us today. The differences exist and they will continue to exist. … The strength of this document is that in spite of all the differences as great as they may be, our similarities are greater and more important than the differences.” 

Argentine Rabbi Silvina Chemen said that for her as a Jew from a country with a tiny Jewish population — out of a population of 45 million people, only 180,000 are Jewish — it was important that the point of view of the non-American Diaspora also be represented in the document, as they live in a different reality.

“It is very hard to understand but it also has to be a part [of the document],” she said. “When I was asked to participate, I realized they understand the complexity of what it is to speak about the Jewish people. I was called because I also have a voice.”

Judith Sudilovsky, a Cleveland, Ohio native with Latin American roots, is a veteran freelance journalist covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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