What do you get when a diverse bunch of Jewish politicians, academics, activists and journalists all sit in a room to discuss Israel?
An opportunity, says Jerusalem-born Rabbi Amitai Fraiman.
For the fifth year in a row, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto will be hosting the Z3 Conference, bringing together a large swath of Jewish thinkers from across the political spectrum to discuss Israel, Zionism, problems, possible solutions, and relations between diaspora Jews and the Jewish state.
Formerly called Zionism 3.0, the powerhouse conference will take place over eight hours on Sunday, Nov. 10, followed by a cocktail reception. All of it is open to the public, with advance tickets on sale now.
“Israel has become a difficult topic for many to discuss,” said Fraiman, who was put in charge of the Z3 Project in January after spending six years in New York as the founder of Interwoven, a group that aims to bridge the gap between Jews in Israel and the diaspora. “There is a value in coming together. It is a testament to the resiliency of our community.”
Some 75 speakers and moderators will descend onto the OFJCC campus for the day, with headliners to include center-left Israeli politician Tzipi Livni, conservative New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens and human rights professor Ruth Gavison.
Others include Rachel Azaria (a recent Knesset member), Uri Keidar (executive director of Israel’s largest grassroots movement fighting for religious freedoms and Jewish pluralism), Daniel Gordis (the author of 12 books on Judaism and Israel, including “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn,” the Jewish Book Council’s 2016 book of the year), Blu Greenberg (founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance), Dan Libenson (founder of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future and co-host of the popular Judaism Unbound podcast), Rabbi Shais Rishon (writer who deals with issues of Jewish and African American identity, widely known by the pseudonym MahNishtana) and J. Editor Sue Fishkoff.
Fraiman said Israelis live under starkly different political and cultural realities compared with diaspora Jews, part of the reason there’s a divide between the two groups. This increasingly tense relationship is something Fraiman said he hopes can be addressed through constructive discussion.
The conference will feature panels on how Zionism is perceived at U.S. universities, the generational split over Israel and the role of disagreement in Jewish culture. There also will be a live recording of “The Promised Podcast,” a Tel Aviv-based, English-language podcast about life in Israel.
“Both communities don’t understand the perspective of the other,” said U.S.-born Jerusalem Post reporter Herb Keinon, who will moderate a panel on “diaspora negation,” the idea that once Israel was strong enough to accept and sustain all Jews, the diaspora would fade away.
“Israelis live in the most inhospitable part of the planet and are worried about their own security,” Keinon pointed out. “American Jews live in the most benevolent society with their own set of problems. If you aren’t living here in Israel, you don’t know what Israelis go through. And if you don’t live in America, you don’t understand the [anti-Semitic] dog whistles.”
The Jerusalem-raised Fraiman, who served as a tank commander in the Israel Defense Forces, said he hopes people come to the Z3 Conference “with open hearts and open minds … I hope they are challenged from all angles [and] that they come ready to hear other opinions.”
The conference, billed by organizers as “the nation’s largest conversation about diaspora Jewry and Israel,” falls under the auspices of the OFJCC-based Z3 Project, which “promotes the ongoing evolution of Zionism … through conferences, convenings and coalition building.” A Los Angeles event is planned for Jan. 26, 2020, with other events in the works in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.
Past speakers at the Palo Alto conference have included the Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Knesset member Sharren Haskel and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.