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For the Sake of Israel

June 1, 2011
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It's a sorry state of affairs when one of the biggest challenges for American Jewry is mobilizing our own community on behalf of Israel.

A new effort to do just that is kicking off here next week, with the launch of the Jewish Community Relations Council's Israel Action Coalition.

We wish this new initiative the best of luck.

We hope that the political divide that has paralyzed so many efforts on behalf of the Jewish state -- locally and nationally -- will not stymie this one.

We hope that those who show up for the June 7 inaugural meeting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will check their political differences at the door and work constructively to develop a meaningful strategic plan.

And we hope that above all, the effort, through education and activism, will lead local Jews to a broader understanding of -- and engagement with -- Israel, particularly among a younger generation that is increasingly disconnected from the Jewish state.

It used to be that advocating for Israel meant lobbying Congress to pass foreign aid and ensure Israel's qualitative military edge. It meant educating the Quakers and the Presbyterians. Now it's about finding ways to connect within our community.

The timing of this new initiative is auspicious, launching just hours before the beginning of Shavuot, which marks the Jewish people's collective receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Since that time, Jews have wrestled with, argued about and debated every line in the Torah. Talmudic disputes have been a hallmark of our learning and our living, strengthening our understanding since time immemorial.

No one should be asked to shed his or her ideology in order to become involved. But legitimate differences of opinion do not give license to engage in uncivil discourse, especially when the vitriol drowns out the substance and the incessant haranguing leads to paralysis.

Those who wish to show their resolve should focus on what our community can do that will most effectively advance Israel's cause. Among all the possibilities, education must be a high priority if there is any hope to reverse the trend of disengagement from Israel.

Equipping college students, for example, with sorely needed curricula and context to help them understand the complexities surrounding Israel, its history, its democratic vibrancy and its challenges, could make a difference.

Perhaps it's naive to think that Philadelphia could rise above the acrimony that has been so destructive in other communities.

But in the spirit of Shavuot, when we remember standing side by side at Sinai, it's certainly worth a try.

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