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  • Writer's pictureRotem A. Oreg

The Strange Case of Jennifer Klain

(From the statement of Rotem Oreg, director of the Israeli-Democratic Alliance, in an emergancy conference at the Knesset regarding improving the relations with young Jews in the diaspora)

"Good afternoon, everyone.

I would like to share with you the strange case of Jennifer Klain.

Jennifer Klain is an eighteen-years-old high-school student from Manhattan, New York, who grew in a Jewish, Zionist home, where she is taught to love Israel. Even if she's not fully familiar with the nuances of Israeli society and Israeli story, her heart is in the right place. And just as she is a Zionist by birth, she is also a progressive by choice, as this is the generation she was born to and those are the values she believes in.

Pro-Israeli protestor in Los Angeles, 2021. There's no contradiction between Zionism and liberalism (Photo: Levi Meir Clancy)

For all her life, Jennifer believes those two values are not contradicting one another. But when Jennifer goes to college there some people around her saying "Honey, you're confused, you need to choose - you are either a Zionist or a liberal". And in an environment in which the social circles are liberal and workplaces are liberal, and the professors are liberal, many time there is a natural tendency to choose liberalism and drift away from, or be unaffiliated with, Zionism.

Our job, in order to fulfill the mission written outside this room, we need to tell Jennifer not to "choose to be a Zionist". We need to tell her, "Don't choose. Be both."

There is no contradiction between Zionism and liberalism. There is no contradiction between Zionism and progressivism. That should be our message.

I am proposing three practical recommendations: one, I very much agree with what had been said here earlier about how we need to talk in a complicated manner. We call it Pride and Progress: I am a proud Israeli, I am sure all of us are otherwise we wouldn't have been here, and we need to talk about it, there's plenty of things to be proud of in Israel even in these times. But at the same time, God knows, there is plenty of amends to make. And the moment we'll put on the table the things that needs to be amended in Israel and we invite our siblings in the diaspora to be a part of that amendment, and I am using that word on purpose, in the sense of Tikun Olam, the conversation will already be different.

Second, Israelis don't understand young diaspora jews and the diaspora in general because we don't understand the global arena in general. I have a friend in the ministry of finance, before he worked at the prime minister's office, alumni of the Hebrew University, a smart, brilliant, talented guy - and to him, vice president Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the same person. Anyone who knows some American politics knows it's like saying Gideon Sa'ar and Aymen Odeh are the same person. There is severe lack of awareness regarding what's going on in the United States, even before we talk about American Jewry - what's liberalism, what's progressivism, why in Israel it is often describes as lunacy and this is just wrong. We must amend that. We must as Israelis, before we understand American Jews - let's understand America.

And third, and that's the action item I am inviting people in this table to be a part of, is a project of the Israeli-Democratic Alliance called Better, Together in which we bring together liberals from Israel and the United states, Jews and non-jews alike, around mutual agendas. When an Israeli feminist and an American feminist sit in the same room and talk on what they can do to ensure women's rights over their body, one this is Tikun Olam, and two this is the most positive message that Israel can have. When an LGBTQ+ activist from Tel Aviv and an LGBTQ+ activist from San Francisco discuss the dangers - not just the achievements! - the dangers their communities face, in Israel from the government and in the U.S. from the supreme court, that's as Tikun Olam as it gets and it's as positive as it gets. That's how we keep the relations with diaspora Jews.

I want to thank everyone, I learned a lot and I'm looking forward to working with you all, and special thanks to Member of Knesset Roll for organizing this event.

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