St. Louis group explores ways Israel, diaspora may grow closer


On Feb. 27, I returned to St. Louis after my first visit to Israel, a 10-day mission coordinated by Focus Israel, a joint venture of Jewish Federation and Makom — a collaborative initiative of the Jewish Agency’s Education Department, community leadership and philanthropic partners.

Makom brought together approximately 100 representatives from 10 Reform and Conservative communities throughout North America to explore the concept that “Israel has a unique contribution to the vitality of Jewish life.”


Makom recognizes that synagogues are a key component to enhancing connections with Israel. That conviction was enthusiastically supported by the St. Louis Jewish community, which provided the Institute’s largest contingency of clergy, educators, and lay leaders from B’nai Amoona, Temple Israel, United Hebrew, and my own Congregation Shaare Emeth.

As I listened to some of Israel’s “new pioneers” who are trying to fill the many social-needs holes missed by government and bureaucracy, I learned that Israel today is not the Israel of my imagination, nor what experienced travelers and Israelis themselves feel it was 20 years ago. But with many social action projects, such as “Table to Table” which collects unpicked crops for distribution to the needy, and by initiatives to strengthen Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements, there is growing recognition, optimism, and urgency that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora can and must grow closer.

While Israel is undergoing dramatic economic, social, and “Jewish identity” challenges of its own, it is clear she wants partners to help determine the future, not just for Israel, but for Jews everywhere. The good news is that we can help, whether by traveling to Israel, learning and talking more about her in our homes and synagogues, or by simply trying to gain a deeper understanding of Israel’s importance to us on a personal level.

Kenneth Birenbaum is vice president of Congregation Shaare Emeth.