Israelis Divided From Rest of Jewish Atlanta
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Israelis Divided From Rest of Jewish Atlanta

Both sides struggle for interaction and understanding despite differences in language and culture.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Israel Scouts hold Israeli flags during the singing of “Hatikva” at the conclusion of the community Yom HaZikaron ceremony April 30, 2017, at The Temple.
Israel Scouts hold Israeli flags during the singing of “Hatikva” at the conclusion of the community Yom HaZikaron ceremony April 30, 2017, at The Temple.

On the night of Sunday, April 30, the pews of the ornate sanctuary at The Temple were full. The overflow stood along the side or rear walls or sat in the balcony. All told, some 750 people turned out for the annual community observance of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.

Israel is a small country. A family that has not suffered its own loss likely knows people who have. The deaths since 1948 of more than 23,500 military personnel and 3,100 victims of terrorism are mourned collectively. That is why Yom HaZikaron holds such significance for Israelis, including those living abroad.

The evening, which included remarks in English and Hebrew, ended with a robust singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. Standing in the doorway as the audience filed out, you heard little English, mostly Hebrew.

American Jews are not shy about expressing opinions about Israel, so why had relatively few from the Atlanta community — maybe 50, a participant in the event estimated — turned out for Yom HaZikaron?

“The Americans that are there are the same Americans who were there a year ago and two years ago and three years ago,” said Guy Tessler, the president of Conexx: American Israel Business Connector. “They’re not there to bridge a gap. They’re there because they feel a part of it.”

America’s Memorial Day has become an occasion for a three-day weekend, store sales and swimming pool openings. In Israel, the equivalent day is somber, punctuated by a siren that sounds nationwide for two minutes, during which pedestrians and motorists, including public transit, stop and stand in silence.

Israelis “fail to appreciate the community and social aspects of synagogues” in the United States, says Greenberg Traurig lawyer David Schulman, who lived in Israel for 12 years.

Yom HaZikaron is “really something that all Israelis feel very deeply, and the solemnity of that day is something that is important to all Israelis,” said Greenberg Traurig lawyer David Schulman, who lived in Israel for 12 years growing up and today conducts business in both countries. American Jews “don’t have that experience, so they don’t relate, and they don’t understand the importance of that particular event.”

The Yom HaZikaron ceremony exemplified a gulf between the communities. Religion, ethnicity, culture and language all play roles. There is much that American Jews and Israelis do not understand about each other. Individual relationships are common, but interaction at a communal level in Atlanta has been rare, though there are signs that this is changing.

A community survey done in 2006 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta estimated the Jewish population of metropolitan Atlanta to be 119,800. Federation’s 2016 market survey did not estimate the population, but mirroring the growth of the general population, that figure today would be about 130,000.

Only 4 percent of those contacted in the 2006 survey identified as Israeli. Since then, the Israeli population in metro Atlanta has grown from just under 5,000 to at least 10,000 and perhaps as many as 15,000, meaning Israelis could account for more than 10 percent of the area’s Jews.

Rabbi Menachem Gurary says Israelis are moving into the neighborhood of the Chabad Israeli Center Atlanta, which is on the Brookhaven-Chamblee border.

“Nobody really knows the numbers,” said Rabbi Menachem Gurary of the Chabad Israeli Center Atlanta. “I’ll tell you what: It’s growing every day.”

Israelis are found throughout metro Atlanta, though there are concentrations, of longer term in the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs area and more recently in and around Alpharetta (linked to the growth of Israeli high-tech companies in the area, most prominently AmDocs).

They come to further their education, to advance their careers, to start businesses, to live a more relaxed lifestyle than they knew in Israel, with its narrow borders, constant security concerns and, for some, aspects of life controlled by the religious establishment.

“They come here for some kind of opportunity, whether with a university or with a company, or they see a relative thriving here, and they want to do the same and start finding ways to engage,” Tessler said. Conexx is not a Jewish organization but supports Israel through its work with Israeli companies, more than 50 of which have locations in Georgia.

Jews who emigrate to Israel are said to have made aliyah, a Hebrew word meaning “to ascend.” Conversely, Israelis who left their homeland were disparagingly called yoridim, “those who descend.” That word is used less now, as the high-tech Startup Nation has spurred the movement of Israelis to the United States and elsewhere.

One sign of greater acceptance is the role of Israeli House, a venture of the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, which works out of the Israeli Consulate in Midtown. Recognizing that many Israelis are making a life chutz l’aretz, “outside the land,” Israeli House keeps them connected through social and cultural programs in Hebrew.

(Note: The Israeli Consulate declined requests for an interview with Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, the consul general to the Southeast.)

Tali Barel says Americans fail to understand that Israelis today are “Tel Aviv more than Jerusalem.”

The attitude in years past was that “everybody who leaves Israel is like a little traitor,” said Tali Barel, a native of Haifa. “Not many Israelis will say this: You live here always with a guilt feeling, that you left a little country that’s struggling.”

Barel and her husband, Tzachi, own a business dealing with automobiles in Central and South America. After 13 years in the United States, for roughly half of which they have been dual U.S. and Israeli citizens, she considers herself an Israeli-American.

The Barels are active in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and she speaks enthusiastically of the potential for the Israeli-American Council to be a “game-changer” and a “channel through which Israel can connect” with Jewish Americans.

A Pew Research Center report issued last year reported that about two-thirds of Israeli Jews felt they had a “a lot” or “some things” in common with American Jews, while 31 percent had “not too much” or “nothing” in common.

The communities differ in their approach to religion.

“Your Jewish pluralism is religious, is denominational. Our Jewish pluralism is ethnic,” the American-cum-Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi told the September 2016 Zionism 3.0 conference hosted by the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

Jews make up 2.3 percent of the American adult population, according to the 2017 profile of American religious life by the Public Religion Research Institute. PRRI determined that 37 percent of American Jews identify as Jewish by culture, not religion. The largest denomination is Reform at 28 percent, followed by Conservative at 14 percent, Orthodox at 10 percent and Reconstructionist at 2 percent.

Israeli Jews, who make up three-quarters of Israel’s population, come in four varieties: Haredi, the ultra-Orthodox; Dati, Modern Orthodox; Masorti, traditional (closest to Conservative in American terms); and Hiloni, secular.

Estimates put the secular population at more than 40 percent and the Orthodox (Haredi and Dati) at slightly more than 20 percent. As in the United States, higher birthrates are steadily increasing the Orthodox percentage.

“By some measures, Orthodox Jews in Israel are even more religious than U.S. Orthodox Jews, and non-Orthodox Israelis show higher levels of religious engagement than their U.S. counterparts,” such as keeping a kosher home, Pew reported when examining Israeli attitudes toward religion.

“In Israel, to be a Jew, you just have to go to the street,” said Rabbi Gurary, who has been in Atlanta for a decade. “Here you can be very secular. At the end of the day, if you don’t want your kid to forget that he’s Jewish, you must go to the synagogue.”

Rabbi Gurary’s wife, Liba Leah, with whom he has six children, is the daughter of longtime Chabad of Georgia Rabbi Yossi New at Congregation Beth Tefillah. Rabbi Gurary is a native of Holon, a city south of Tel Aviv, where his father is the Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

The Chabad Israeli Center is an address for Israelis who want to maintain religious observance similar to what they knew at home and others who might only want to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah or celebrate a bar mitzvah.

“You do need much more spirituality when you’re out of Israel,” said Rabbi Gurary, who cited an increase in the number of families buying homes near the Chabad center. “When you come here, we have more in common than not in common, which means we all want to give our kids a feeling of Israel, a feeling of Ya’hadut, even if he’s secular.”

Roey Shoshan, who leads Federation’s Israel and overseas programs, says Israelis don’t understand the Federation organizational model when they arrive in Atlanta.

“To be Jewish in the United States, you need to have a religious affiliation: Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, whatever it is, even an atheist. In Israel, you’re religious … or you’re not,” said Roey Shoshan, who directs Israel and overseas programs for Federation.

Shoshan goes to synagogue on Friday nights, observes the holidays and keeps a kosher home. “But I don’t keep Shabbat. I don’t put on tefillin every day. For Americans, who don’t really know what Israeli secular life looks like, with a touch of tradition, they think that if I keep kosher, I’m probably religious. And I say, no, I’m not.”

He described himself as Masorti.

Barel explained the difference by contrasting Israel’s capital and its most cosmopolitan city.

“Don’t get stuck in the religious culture, and don’t treat Israel as Jerusalem. Call it also Tel Aviv. Because it’s a big issue. We are Tel Aviv more than Jerusalem,” she said. Americans “don’t understand, and it’s very important. They don’t understand why we’re not going to synagogue. … They don’t understand that to practice Judaism in Israel, you wake in the morning. The holidays are around you. You’re Jewish in a Jewish state.”

The religious Jews in the United States “are not what we see in Israel. It’s not controlled by the government. It’s not political. And it’s so beautiful here,” Barel said. “You have so many options,” including men and women sitting together at religious events.

“I think it is difficult for American Jews to understand the challenge Israelis face when determining their own expression of Judaism in a country where the religion is not inherently a part of their daily life and the society around them, where they need to seek that engagement instead of being surrounded by the Jewish language, holidays and food. I often find Israelis who are surprised by the immense Jewish pride engaged Americans exhibit about their religion,” said David Hoffman, who directs the BBYO programs for Jewish teenagers at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, which also hosts the Israel Scouts program.

“The institutions around which American Jews congregate, in particular synagogues, which provide a spiritual center and a communal center, it does not serve that function for Israelis in Israel,” Schulman said. By not joining a congregation, the Israelis “fail to appreciate the community and social aspects of synagogues.”

Differences in religious practice are just one aspect of what separates the communities.

More than one Israeli interviewed for this article said, “American Jews love Israel. Israelis? Not so much.”

Tessler knows that feeling. The Jerusalem native, who lived in Los Angeles for several years before moving to Atlanta, said, “When I arrived here in 2004, I came from a high-level position in a very respected Israeli community organization, and, as I was starting to introduce myself to potential employers, I received the advice that Jews love Israel, not so much Israelis. … I think my experience did bear it out to be true, with some exceptions.”

He added: “Israelis are not American Jews with a tan. They’re different. They think differently. They have a different approach to religion. They have a different relationship with Israel.”

Israeli Jews are divided nearly evenly between the Ashkenazim, whose family origin is generally European, and the Sephardim or Mizrahim, descended from the Jews of the Middle East, North Africa and the Iberian peninsula.

The U.S. Jewish community is estimated to be 90 percent Ashkenazi, and many American Jews may not fully grasp how Israel has changed from its earliest years.

“A lot of the American Jewish experience comes, I guess, from an Ashkenazi, Brooklyny type of notion of what being a Jewish American is,” Tessler said. “And Israel is becoming more and more a Middle Eastern country. It’s not the Israel of Ben-Gurion, Golda and Begin, all these Polish Jews who are now in the history books.”

Today, he said, it’s “the Israel of hummus and falafel, the Israel of Middle Eastern music and various things that are different than Israel of the ’50s and ’60s, where a lot of the Jewish community, in its perspective of Israel, is still stuck.”

Barel sees a difference in self-identity between a country that is 75 percent Jewish and another that is 2 percent. “Israelis have what American Jews never had and never will have. It’s a sense of majority. And it’s so important, because here Jews live like a minority.”

Ron Brummer served three years in Atlanta as Israel’s deputy consul general to the Southeast. He returned to Israel in the summer of 2016 and now works in the Prime Minister’s Office, managing efforts to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“Americans and Israelis are very different from each other, and you can see it in daily life activities,” Brummer said. “While in Israel you can schedule a play date for your kid for the same day while bumping into the other kid’s parent at the entrance of school, in America you need to schedule two weeks in advance via email. While in Israel time is very flexible, and being late to events is very common, in America time is money, and being late is considered a terrible thing.”

Taking the Israeli out of the Israel does not change everything.

“We can be described as chutzpanim (insolent). We can be described as loud. We can be described as very angry and upfront. … And we talk with our hands,” said Tamar Gez, the director of the Israel Scouts program in Atlanta.

“I don’t think American Jews fully understand the Israeli way, the Israeli culture, the Israeli mentality of sometimes being a little pushy and sometimes being more direct,” Shoshan said. “The cultural differences are very noticeable when you put us in a room together. We do things different. … We’re just living the way we’re used to.”

Language is also an issue, with Israelis more often shifting to English. According to Pew’s 2013 survey of American Jews, slightly more than half knew the Hebrew alphabet, though far fewer understood most of what they read. One in 10 could converse in Hebrew, and an additional 5 percent said they could “sort of.”

Hebrew proficiency was greatest among Orthodox Jews and higher among those who attended a yeshiva or Jewish day school. (Note: Interviews for this article were conducted in English.)

“The basic difference is the lack of formality in Israel vs. the formal American society. Israelis feel very uncomfortable in American presence because they need to change the way they are and the way they behave in order to be accepted by the locals. I believe it is very human to try to stay in your comfort zone and not go the extra mile in order to be liked by others,” Brummer said.

“I represent a fairly sizable number of Israeli companies in the U.S. and some American companies with their transactions in Israel, so I definitely deal with the cross-cultural issues every day. … I’ve sat in meetings where I’ve seen clear gaps in communication and helped people overcome differences because of gaps in expectations,” said Schulman, who holds U.S. and Israeli citizenship.

Halevi, who grew up in New York and made aliyah 35 years ago, highlighted another distinction in his remarks at the Zionism conference.

“We are a militarized society, not a militaristic, but we are a militarized society. And American Jewry is a demilitarized society. This is an American Jewish generation that does not know military experience. So that is built in to the disconnect,” he said.

Serving in the Israel Defense Forces is the great leveler for most of Israeli society.

Shely Izardel Parness, a mother of three who oversees the local Israel Scouts chapter, says all the Israelis here know at least one soldier who died.

“Each one of us knows at least one soldier who died,” said Shely Izardel Parness, the parent who oversees the local Israel Scouts chapter. “All of us grew up the same way, so we have something in common.”

“We were all soldiers,” Barel said, adding that the alumni of her high school in Haifa include 302 fallen Israeli soldiers or victims of terror.

The second of Barel’s three children, a 22-year-old son, is a lieutenant in the IDF. His mother does not always know where he is serving.

Seth Baron, the executive director of Friends of the IDF’s Southeast Region, said that each year 25 to 30 men and women whose families are in Atlanta serve in the IDF as lone soldiers. They’re the children of both Israeli and American Jews.

The life experiences of Americans and Israelis also divide the communities.

AJC Atlanta Director Dov Wilker, who made aliyah, then returned after 2½ years, says Israelis define their identity through their own victories, whereas American Jews see themselves through the lens of the Holocaust.

“We have enough troubles trying to communicate with our own denominations. Throw in the Israeli perspective of what it means to be Jewish, and that’s a whole other element. The Israelis have their Israeli identity separate from their Jewish identity,” said Dov Wilker, the Southeast regional director of American Jewish Committee, who made aliyah with his wife in 2009 and returned to the United States 2½ years later.

“I don’t think Israeli Jews understand the organization context, the diversity of religious practice, and they don’t understand the American Jewish experience,” Wilker said.

“The Holocaust reigns supreme in the American Jewish ethos. We teach about it. We hear about it. It’s how Jews are defined in America. Israelis define themselves more through their own victories in battle than the Holocaust. Their experience is more related to fighting in wars, where the American Jewish (experience) is more about anti-Semitism,” he said.

“There are prejudices on both sides, that Israelis have about American Jews and that American Jews have about Israel,” Schulman said. “They bring those prejudices to any experience they have in Atlanta once they start interacting with each other.”

He also said, “As in any cross-cultural interaction, there is a lack of appreciation of where one comes from, or a lack of knowledge, or ignorance of what their experience was.”

“They don’t know the history of Israel, and we don’t know the history here,” said Barel, whose master’s thesis in international relations from Tel Aviv University examined a triangular relationship among the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. (She also holds undergraduate and law degrees from TAU.)

“We used to think about American Jews as an uncle from America,” Barel said. “He had no face, but he had big pockets.”

While some Israelis engage with the local Jewish community, many remain within what Shoshan called “their own cocoon” and Gez referred to as “the kibbutz.”

“As much as the Israelis are coming in numbers and sticking together, they’re becoming Chinatown. The little Israel in the American condition,” Barel said. “They need to go out from the bubble, the Israelis. I’m saying it to my friends all the time.”

“I’m really sad about it,” Parness said. “I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it’s right … just because it’s easier, because of the language. It’s about culture.”

“Like it or not, the American Jewish experience and culture is slightly different than the Israeli Jewish experience and culture,” Schulman said. “There are cultural differences, language differences, that, all things being equal, will cause people to prefer their own community.”

The Israelis are keen on keeping their children connected to their homeland.

On a sunny and breezy Sunday afternoon in October, dozens of boys and girls, ranging from fourth to 12th grade, gather in the campground of the Marcus JCC.

Two things about this group are distinctive. They wear khaki shirts bearing insignia (including an Israeli flag) and scarves of various colors, and their conversation switches back and forth between English and Hebrew.

They are children of Israelis living in Atlanta (and a few American children who attend Jewish day schools), and this is Tzofim Tzabar, the Israel Scouts in the United States.

The Atlanta shevet (chapter), one of 24 in the United States, was formed a decade ago by Sigi Goldstein and Eva Ribak. What started with 20 boys and girls has grown to nearly 200.

They meet for a couple of hours every Sunday to play games, play music, work on projects, plan holiday events, hold discussions and socialize with other Israeli children, mostly in Hebrew. The 10th- to 12th-graders lead the groups of younger children.

“The Israel Scouts here is the only organization for teenagers, for teens to get together as an Israeli generation here, because they are a very unique generation. They, like my kids, were born in the United States,” Parness said. “They are not exactly Israelis and not exactly Americans. They are a little different. After a while, they also get separated from Israel. They could forget about where they’re coming from, and we want to connect them.

“They are a little bit different. When you ask a kid from our group, ‘What do you feel, more American or more Israeli?’ it’s half and half. So we are taking care of the Israeli half.”

The mission is personal for Parness, the parent of two girls, ages 13 and 11 (both in the Scouts), and a 7-year-old boy. She and her husband operate a solar lighting business, an outgrowth of a family enterprise in Israel.

Shai Shalev, 17, is struggling with her decision on whether to stay in the United States to go to college and study computer science or return to Israel for two years of military service next year.

One of the Scout youth leaders is 17-year-old Shai Shalev, a senior at Chattahoochee High School, whose parents work at AmDocs. Shai was born in the United States and lived in Israel from ages 7 to 13. Her 15-year-old brother is a counselor for a group of younger boys.

Shalev joined the Tzofim in eighth grade after returning to the United States.

“Ninety percent of my social life is all the kids here,” she said. “These are my best friends. I see us in 10 years still being friends. It’s more of a brotherhood and sisterhood than just being friends.”

The teens may attend different schools, but they talk frequently and maintain a busy chat group online.

“This program has helped me figure out that I don’t have to be ‘the Israeli kid,’ ‘the American kid.’ I can be like a good mix. It definitely helps figuring out your identity,” Shalev said.

She acknowledges feeling a little out of place when she visits Israel, “and it gets worse every year.” Her Israeli friends kid her, good-naturedly, about her pronunciation of words in English and Hebrew and ask a lot of questions about life in America.

Shalev tries to read a book in Hebrew every month and follows the news online in English and Hebrew.

“I count in English and dream in Hebrew,” she said.

In the months ahead, Shalev faces an important decision, one her American peers might find difficult to comprehend: whether to return to Israel after graduating high school and begin her two years of required military service or remain in the United States.

She wants to study computer science, maybe at Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia. She hopes the IDF would take advantage of such skills.

“I have a month where, oh, yeah, I’m definitely going to go to the army, and another month where I think I’m more toward college,” she said.

Most of the Israelis attend public schools, Parness said, in part because of the expense of private schools. If they return to Israel after graduation, they can enter the IDF directly or enroll in programs that will prepare them for that service. Parness said about 20 percent of last year’s graduates returned to Israel.

Also in uniform is Gez, who taught English to high school and middle school students in her hometown of Be’er Sheva. A positive experience working at a Jewish summer camp in Indiana several years earlier prompted her to apply to the Jewish Agency for Israel to be a shlicha, an emissary. Her work is divided between the Scouts and the JCC.

“The parents feel the need (for their children) to connect to the Hebrew, to their roots, to their traditions, to their home. It’s a very difficult thing to find a home when you’re away from everything you know,” Gez said. “On Sundays, they feel Israeli because they wear the uniform and the parents are here. They speak Hebrew most of the time, and this is a very Israeli vibe. … This is their Israel. It’s their home. This is the place they can speak their language. … They can have the common ground of being born into an Israeli family.”

Shalev said a priority for the Scouts this year is “to mingle with the American community” through events with Atlanta Council BBYO and volunteer opportunities in the community.

Bringing Israeli and American teens together will show them “what it means to be part of a youth movement, to be part of something bigger than you are, and to have the feeling of belonging to somewhere or something,” Gez said. “And I think Judaism is very basic for both groups because we do talk about Israel and Judaism here in the Scouts, and they talk about it and practice Judaism in the BBYO chapters, and I feel this is a really nice way to see how we can talk.”

For BBYO, the feeling is mutual.

“Aside from strengthening one’s identity and learning about the other, increased interaction will help strengthen the greater Atlanta Jewish community by breaking down barriers that some felt separated one group from another,” Hoffman said.

“Many BBYO teens without Israeli heritage struggle to understand how Israelis embrace their Jewish identity. BBYO aims to help teens strengthen their own Jewish identity, connect with others in the Jewish community and improve the world by understanding and taking action on social issues. By bringing the BBYO and Tzofim teens together, we are able to achieve these goals through learning about others’ backgrounds and life experiences,” he said.

Living in the United States also affects the adults.

“I can tell you that most of the Israelis that live here more than seven, eight, 10 years became a little bit American. I can tell you that I’m different since I came here,” said Parness, a native of Tel Aviv whose master’s degree is from Tel Aviv University. She has been in the United States for 11 years and became a citizen a couple of years ago. Dual citizenship is not uncommon among Israelis who stay that long, she said.

Asked to which she feels more attached, Parness answered unhesitatingly: “Israeli, always. It’s my home, but I love America. I really appreciate this country … for the freedoms. … For me, the sky’s the limit here.”

Do the Israelis want to be part of the larger Jewish community?

“That’s also a tough question,” Parness said. “I can tell you that the easy way for us is to be with other Israelis. … The natural thing is to be with other Israelis. We need to make an effort in order to build our social life with American Jews. For me, it’s very important to have the connection with the Jewish community here. It’s so important, and I live here, so I want to be part of it. But I can tell you, my friends always will be Israelis.”

Turning the question around, how much do the Americans want to engage with the Israelis?

“I’m not sure,” Parness said. “Maybe if the Jewish community were a little more inviting, it would be easier for the Israelis to be part of it. Because we always feel like immigrants. … We always will be immigrants here.”

Brummer echoed that sentiment. “I believe American Jews look at Israeli immigrants as people who are just passing by in America, while most Israelis are there to stay. I think that most American Jews believe that Israelis belong in Israel and have a hard time to accept that they left Israel. This feeling, may it be true or not, is being projected quite significantly in the Israeli community, and they sometimes feel unwanted and unwelcome.”

“It needs to be something that celebrates or at least creates awareness,” Tessler said. “It’s not just about legitimizing Israelis in the eyes of the Americans. It’s the other way around as well. Create some kind of playground where they can meet on equal terms … not come to the zoo and explore the Israelis. It’s something about creating relationships.”

One entry point to the wider community could be through the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the most prominent Jewish organization and one that Israelis feel could reach out more than it has. Federation has started to do so.

Federation’s 2016 survey asked little about the Israeli community, and only 2 percent of its respondents identified as Israeli.

That survey found a desire in the Jewish community for more Israel-related programming, particularly in arts, culture and history. The vast majority of respondents affirmed an emotional attachment to Israel.

Compared with the estimated 43 percent of American Jews who have visited Israel, 75 percent of respondents to the Federation survey had made that trip. (An estimated 39 percent of Israeli Jews have visited the United States.)

Federation definitely could do more, Rabbi Gurary said. “They haven’t gone out of their comfort zone, I would say. … We could do a lot of events together. … They have the resources. They have the people.”

“The role of Federation, it’s an integral part of the American Jewish experience,” Schulman said. “It’s something that Israelis completely know nothing about.”

“They don’t see the Jewish organizations as their own. … The Israelis here don’t belong to those institutions, those organizations. … We don’t understand that we need to take part,” said Barel, who is an advocate for Israelis getting involved.

Federation and the Marcus JCC are working to improve that dynamic.

Of the latter, Parness said the center in the past four or five years has “completely changed in the attitude toward Israelis.” She has been a member since she arrived. Her kids attended the JCC preschool. She’s involved in classes and sports.

“It’s my second home, and I can tell you from experience that every year” it gets better, she said.

Eric Robbins, who became Federation’s CEO in August 2016 (after the community survey had been conducted), said his and other Jewish organizations need to “find out what the Israelis are interested in and what they are willing to step up and support and get behind.”

Shoshan came to Atlanta in 2010 as a shaliach (emissary) working at Camp Barney Medintz. He moved on to the JCC, where he was assistant director of youth sports, then young adult director for four years. (Note: Shoshan helped coach a JCC Maccabi Games soccer team that included one of my sons.)

Less than a year ago, he moved to Federation.

“I always wanted to be involved with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but life took me to the United States to do something a little different. In a way, it’s a little bit of an ambassador role,” said Shoshan, a native of Petah Tikvah and a graduate of Bar Ilan University, where he studied political science.

Shoshan’s portfolio at Federation includes the subcommittee that allocates money to Israel, as well as the Kesher program (increasing links between Jewish Atlanta and Israel) and Federation missions to Israel.

Robbins likes to say that Atlanta is made up of multiple Jewish communities, including the Israelis. “Roey’s connected to that community,” he said. “That wasn’t an accident that Roey became part of our team.”

According to Federation’s allocations website, the agency raised nearly $11.9 million in 2017 campaigns for distribution in fiscal 2018. Of that, slightly more than $676,000 is going to programs in Federation’s Israeli sister region of Yokneam and Megiddo, and $129,000 is allocated to programs elsewhere in Israel.

An additional $1.05 million will fund Kesher people-to-people programs that build relationships between Israelis and Americans. Among them is the new program Shinshinim, in which two 18-year-old Israeli women have delayed their military service and, with training by the Jewish Agency, are spending the year in Atlanta as emissaries. Robbins calls it a prototype that could be expanded.

Federation also plans what Shoshan described as “boutique-style” missions, with smaller groups and a more targeted focus.

In January, Federation will take 65 people, including rabbis and congregational lay leaders, as well as executives of Jewish organizations and their board chairs, to Israel. A February trip for medical professionals will visit hospitals, biotech companies, rehabilitation centers and the IDF’s medical infrastructure.

A mission planned for June, to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary, will be for empty-nesters and first-time visitors. In September, a 40-under-40 mission will introduce young professional Atlantans to Israelis of the same age to talk about the Startup Nation and meet with entrepreneurs and nongovernmental organizations.

“Israel is different. The conversation has to change. That’s why the boutique missions,” Shoshan said. “If they can meet Israelis in Israel, they can better understand them here.”

If he succeeds, Federation CEO Eric Robbins says, Israelis will see themselves as part of Atlanta’s Jewish community.

“We believe that the success of those missions, in a lot of ways, is building community,” Robbins said. “For me, the way you’re really going to get a generation of young people to connect to Israeli is through personal relationships.”

Shoshan has added Israelis to Federation’s allocations subcommittee, “not because they’re Israelis, but because they’re bringing a different perspective.”

Though Federation is a fundraising organization, that is not the immediate goal for its interaction with the Israeli community.

“I want to get them in before I go and ask them for money,” Shoshan said. “I want to get them in because what we do here is very unique, and it’s a model that they just really don’t understand because back home we never had that. I didn’t understand it either” before coming to the United States.

“If I’m successful in my job, the Israeli community will feel that they are part of an Atlanta Jewish community,” Robbins said.

Federation and other Jewish organizations are planning to mark Israel’s 70th birthday with a day of activities and entertainment for all age groups April 29 at the Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. “I can generate the American Jews,” Shoshan said. “I want to generate the Israelis.”

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