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Dear Federation Trustees, Community Clergy and Organizational Executive Directors:

Over the last few months, with the passing of the UN Resolution 2334 and the coming of a new administration in Washington, we have seen an increasing division among American Jews about the best way to support Israel. This increased division threatens not only our shared commitment to the Jewish state, but the very sense that we are a single community. The intensity of discourse and dialogue comes as there is a significant increase in hate speech and action that requires us all to remember that no matter our disagreements, we cannot lose sight of our collective responsibility to one another.

The intensity of the dialogue around Israel is also having the effect of alienating a new generation of our community from wanting to get involved at all. We believe that apathy and disengagement of American Jews is the greatest threat to Israel’s existence and the fostering of a vibrant Jewish community here in St. Louis. To that end, we have identified resources that we and our community partners have to help you navigate this increasingly divisive time for you or your organization. I encourage you to share this message with your own organizations.

In the information below you will find:

  • An explanation of Federation’s practice concerning policy statements and opportunities for you and your organizations to be involved in advocacy and public policy around Israel.
  • A list of resources that can help you support a secure democratic Jewish state of Israel.
  • A suggested reading list to help you strengthen your own understanding of the challenges facing Israel today, along with the growing gap between American Jews and our communities and the State of Israel.

Federation also invites you to join us on January 24 at 6:30 pm at the Jewish Community Center – Staenberg Family Complex to hear former ambassador Dennis Ross speak about the changing landscape in the Middle East. The event will be preceded by a commemoration of the life of Shimon Peres, coordinated by Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rabbi Jim Bennett of Shaare Emeth, and Chair of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association. For more information, please contact Nancy Tully, Senior Director of Marketing, at 314-442-3884. RSVP required to APakett@JFedSTL.org. Event cosponsored with the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

I hope you will join me in reconfirming that our disagreements with each other must be understood as disagreements about the best way to achieve our shared goals. Please continue to treat those with whom you disagree with respect and tolerance. Through engagement, education and advocacy, we can learn from each other and maintain the sense of purpose as a Jewish People despite our significant and growing disagreements about the best way to support Israel.

Thank you so much for your investment, involvement and engagement in creating and sustaining a vibrant Jewish St. Louis.

Andrew Rehfeld
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of St. Louis

Statements, Politics and Policy

Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ support for a secure and sustainable democratic Jewish State of Israel is one of our six strategic priorities. We recognize, however, that there are many conflicting views about what policies should be followed to achieve our goal.

Reflecting our role as a community organization, Federation does not routinely take positions on policies, particularly where there is significant principled disagreement around them in the community. From time to time JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) does issue policy statements. While our local St. Louis Federation is a participating member of JFNA, JFNA is a separate and independent organization. It does not necessarily speak for our community or any other individual community within North America.We do encourage the engagement of the community in policy and advocacy related to Israel. For those of you who are interested in policy and advocacy, we recommend getting involved with the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council, an independent and representative voice of our community. Other key organizations and lobbying groups include the AJC, ADL, AIPAC, NCJW and JStreet.

For those of you interested in furthering your own skills in advocacy, we will be sponsoring a training program in Washington, D.C. this May. The program, co-sponsored with the JCRC, is non-partisan and focuses on providing participants skill training to be actively engaged. For more information please contact Karen Sher at KSher@JFedSTL.org or 314-442-3824.

Supporting Israel and the Work You Do

Jewish Federation of St. Louis can help you connect with Israel in the following four areas: Travel, Education, Social Services and Economic Development.

Travel: Federation’s Israel Center consults with individuals, groups and synagogues to create meaningful Israel travel experiences and offer limited funding. Programs range from Birthright missions to year-long opportunities and more. For more information on how we might help you or your organization experience Israel, please contact Israel Center director Karen Rader at 314-442-3756 or KRader@JFedSTL.org.

Education: Your synagogue and congregation are the single best place for your learning and engagement about Israel; we strongly encourage you to seek out your clergy and educational leadership to learn directly from them. Additionally, we encourage you to read and subscribe to The St. Louis Jewish Light, and to explore the Jewish Community Center’s cultural and educational programs-including their New Jewish Theatre, the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival and the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival. Federation’s Center for Jewish Learning and our Brodsky Library can also be used as resources, providing reading programs and talks through the SH’MA: Listen! Speaker Series, adult education classes and support for your own congregation’s teacher and curricular development. For more information, please contact the Director of the Center for Jewish Learning, Cyndee Levy at 314-442-3754 or CLevy@JFedSTL.org.

Social Service Support: Jewish Federation of St. Louis supports a range of social services in Israel as part of our sense of collective responsibility to the Jewish People. We maintain our close partnership with the city of Yokne’am and Megiddo region, as well as supporting targeted projects throughout the country.  We support the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee as they help new immigrants resettle in Israel and ensure food, clothing, housing and education for those in need. Additionally, we provide targeted grants for programs that strengthen civil-society, including those that foster Arab-Jewish coexistence and religious pluralism. For more information on how you can get involved please contact Stephen Cohen, Vice President of Planning and Allocations at SCohen@JFedSTL.org, 314-442-3800 or Michael Oberlander, Chief Philanthropy Officer at MOberlander@JFedSTL.org, 314-442-3845.

Economic Development: Jewish Federation of St. Louis believes we must promote the economic strength of Israel and use economic development to build stronger and more permanent economic relationships between our regions. We are a founding and sustaining partner of the Israel Action Network that has been the most effective organization countering the boycott Israel movement (BDS) on campus and throughout the United States. We have supported the establishment of a Missouri trade desk in Israel that promotes economic development between our state and Israel. We continue to work with BioSTL and other community partners to attract North America offices of Israeli companies to our region, promoting human and financial relationships for mutual benefit. For more information please contact Don Hannon, Chief Financial Officer at DHannon@JFedSTL.org or 314-442-3755.

To Deepen Your Understanding

Finally, I recommend the following sources to help you deepen your own understanding of the dynamics of what is now happening.

This collection from Moment magazine provides short perspectives by a range of writers on the growing gap between American Jews and Israel. It is an excellent overview.

On the UN Vote itself, I have found this page from Boston’s Jewish Federation helpful. These columns from David Harris, AJC’s executive director have been useful as well: a commentary about the Palestinians’ desire for a state; the second is Harris’s response to Kerry’s speech.

As a single volume history, I strongly recommend Daniel Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a Nation RebornI have read many treatments and have found nothing better that covers the origins of Zionism through contemporary times.

Finally, for those of you who would like to understand the ideological struggle at the core of the settlement debate, I would recommend Gadi Taub’s The Settlers and the Struggle Over the Meaning of ZionismTaub does an excellent job explaining the tension between traditional Zionism and settler Zionism. This key dynamic has been reflected in some of the debates within our own community over the last few weeks and I suspect it will continue to grow.