'My stomach was turning in Florida'

Kobi Sella expresses his disappointment after attending the Israeli IAC conference in Florida. Opinion.

Kobi Sella,

טראמפ נואם בוועידת ה-IAC
טראמפ נואם בוועידת ה-IAC
צילום: ערוץ 7

Last week, I visited the Florida IAC Conference, considered the largest Israeli gathering on the continent, and possibly the entire Jewish world.

Some of the sessions in the conference were conducted in Hebrew, they spoke Hebrew at the meals and the performers sang in Hebrew.

I met senior Israeli journalists, busy Israeli politicians, our own diplomats and heads of Israeli organizations, support organizations, good people with excellent intentions and a strong desire to unite the Israelis across the ocean with ... what, in fact? That's it. It's hard to say.

Two hours after I got there, I started feeling gloomy. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was bothering me so I went along with the surge of people, journalists, and young people who were crowding the event and the thousands of Israelis who were there.

First of all, from the sidelines: If you disregard the food (who came to Florida to eat?), the event was exemplary. The production ran efficiently, the impressive panels started and finished, the performances began on time and even the enormous line to meet with the US president didn't mar the good feeling of a hug from a cute president who loves Israel, who came to speak to Jews and Israelis.

Whoops, did I say "Jews"? Of course, I meant "Israelis."

A proper and dramatic disclosure: I came to this event myself, I was not invited. The Israeli-American Council that ran the conference did not pay my flight costs, nor my stay at the hotel, and perhaps because of this, it's easier for me to relate to what happened there in an unbiased way.

Five hours into the event and I began to understand what's bothering me: I like to travel around the world, enjoy meeting other cultures, but always, always, I'll view Israel as my home, the cradle of my people. Even if I enthuse about the beauty of other places in the world, I'll always remember that my home - in my case, in Beit El, is the most central place in the world.

At various "Israeli" events I attended around the world, including Israel's Independence Day on Fifth Avenue in New York, I felt that my home in Israel came with me there, smiling in front of the towers and skyscrapers and indicating to me what and where is truly important. This time, at the IAC meeting, I didn't see it, I didn't feel it and almost never heard it. Here, it turns out, for the first time in my life, I've encountered a place that speaks Hebrew but doesn't speak my native language.

The atmosphere at the event was Israeli only in the sense of language. The people there, those who in the past were called "yordim" [those who descended or emigrated from Israel] in Israel and hid in shame when they were called that, are no longer ashamed, nor insulted, nor missed. For the first time in my life, I encountered an event whose sole goal was to unite Israelis overseas, in essence, outside the homeland, like a spaceship that rid itself of the launching ship and cruises alone in infinite space, and this made me very angry.

I have never preached to anyone how to live and where. I'm realistic and understand that not every Jew can live in Israel and there's no lack of reasons for that. But, I always knew that every man in exile, even if he lives in a palace of gold, travels in an expensive car, lives well and is the most popular neighbor in the village, knew inside that someday, he had to return home, to the homeland, as part of an eternal hope.

I met men and women at this conference who dedicate all their time and souls to preserving their Israeli identity; otherwise, even this small portion will fade away. I admire them and my heart goes out to them, but I also heard the assimilation statistics that are immeasurably large among Israelis living there, far beyond the Diaspora Jews who have always lived there, and my heart aches.

In my opinion, by the next 2020 conference, the State should make a switch and reconsider cooperating with a body that has actually disengaged from the State.

The politicians who are invited to the next conference should talk about the homeland, should instill Zionism in the hearts of the brothers and mothers who abandoned the concept, and must increase the effort to remind our sisters and fathers across the ocean that we are waiting for them here, miss them very much and want them here with us in Israel.

"And even if he is delayed, at least hope remains."