October 20, 2019

Jewish Covenant

As we approach the new millennium, we often discuss the unity of the Jewish people, seeking those aspects of Jewish life that will hold our diverse communal elements together after the year 2000. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchek has referred to our Jewish covenant as including our shared history, shared suffering, shared responsibility and shared action.

These components take an added significance and even urgency when we consider Jewish unity in the area of Israel-Diaspora relations. Can Soleveitchek’s model of a shared covenant hold us together as a Jewish people in a period of increasing fragmentation? And how do we build lasting bridges that encourage us to explore our common goals and concerns?

In a small way, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been at the forefront, asking these questions and pursuing answers. We should never take for granted that what has held us together in the past will do so in the future. Our societies and cultures are different, so we need to create the means to talk together, share together and act together.

It was in the context of shared concern and action that a group of Jewish Angelenos, representing our Jewish communal services, higher education and the public sector, came together this past summer with their counterparts and colleagues in Israel to establish another aspect of our partnership as a concerned Jewish community.

We tend to ignore or deny that we, as Jews, suffer from the woes of the broader society. Yet we are not immune to the stresses of modern society, either here or in Israel. That is why, more than a year ago, this community, through its Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation, began to explore some of the less attractive elements of Israeli society, specifically domestic violence. Let’s face it, the problem of domestic violence has been with us for years. But not until recent years has it been addressed at home or abroad. Yet we all recognize that a battered Jewish spouse or abused Jewish child are part of our shared responsibility wherever the domestic violence might occur. For this reason, we have participated in an analysis of domestic violence in Tel Aviv, our sister city, through the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership.

Drawn from the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the USC School of Social Work, the County of Los Angeles, the corporate sector and the Jewish community at large, seven representatives from Los Angeles spent a week in Tel Aviv to understand what we might learn from each other and what we have in common in response to domestic violence. The visit was a reflection of an amazing process now under way — the development of a volunteer committee in Tel Aviv that parallels our efforts at home.

The trip exposed the visitors to the problem of domestic violence and the creative efforts Israel is making to address it. Vivian Sauer of the Jewish Family Service, who was part of the Los Angeles group, said that looking at the faces of women and children who have been victims of domestic violence made it clear that human suffering is the same all over.

The visitors found that Israel has addressed the challenge head on through the creation of state-of-the-art shelters for abused and battered women and children. They were interested to note that the Israeli shelters are often integrated into the community. In Los Angeles, shelters are often far away from our Jewish communities, and, for confidentiality or security reasons, those being assisted are cloistered from ongoing communal life.

The Los Angeles group observed a highly integrated approach to addressing domestic violence. The mutually reinforcing concepts of community and societal pressure have a major impact in Israel on treating domestic violence. In Israel, police officers are being trained as specialists in recognizing the necessary sensitivity to the needs of women who are being abused, a concept now also being used here.

During two days of intensive workshops, the Americans and Israelis exchanged opinions and techniques. They realized that we have something to learn from each other and something to share: things such as creation of a sophisticated public awareness campaign; the creation of a domestic violence council, like we have here; or the need to increase early intervention where child abuse exists.

This small link between our community and Israel is a wonderful example of the future opportunity to share our responsibilities and to solve problems together. We are truly establishing a covenant , Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, with shared action as part of our relationship in a diverse Jewish world.

John R. Fishel is executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.