President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin spoke this evening, Wednesday, with leaders from Jewish communities across the United States by videoconference, talking about the challenges they face in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The conversation was held under the title of ‘a family gathering’.
The conversation was held in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the participation of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Speaking from the American Jewish community were CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations William Daroff; President and CEO of Sinai Health System, Chicago Karen Teitelbaum; President of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs; President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America Eric Fingerhut; spokesperson for the Monsey Jewish community Rabbi Yisroel Kahan; Senior Rabbi of IKAR, Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous; President of the Koret Foundation and Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children's Services of San Francisco Dr. Anita Friedman; Associate Director of Hillel at Emory University, Atlanta Lauren Blazofsky; and JCRC San Francisco Executive Director Tyler Gregory.
“These are days when we are all facing the challenges of the coronavirus and, more than ever, it is most important to deepen the bonds between us. it is time for us to be there for each other,” said the president at the beginning of his remarks. “As I enter my final year as president, I reflect on my first days in office. I will be honest. I have gone through my own journey in terms of understanding the American Jewish community, with all of its different streams and today I am happy to have had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of American Jewish life.”
The president spoke of the many challenges, in the coming period: the challenge of providing Jewish education when Jewish schools and camps are closed, the challenge of connecting young people to Israel when Taglit, Masa and other programs are on hold, the challenge of combating antisemitism which he said he feared will only grow worse in the coming year. “We must stand together in fighting all forms of antisemitism. We must stand together in fighting all forms of racism. Antisemitism and racism are two sides of the same coin, and we must fight them wherever they appear,” he said.
“We must strive to build a new dialogue between us,” said the president. “In 1958, Ben Gurion faced the difficult question: ‘Who is a Jew?’. In order to answer that question, he turned to fifty leading Jewish thinkers, from all different backgrounds: in the United States, in Europe and in Israel, and asked for their opinions. Well, we still have not solved all of the difficult questions of the Jewish People. But this is the spirit of true dialogue, between Israel and the Diaspora that we need today.”
“Friends, I look forward to working with you, together with our Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi and Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich. We shall build new bridges of understanding and give practical expression to our values of mutual responsibility and unity, among the entire Jewish family.” At the end of his remarks, the president said, “For many years, the American Jewish community has stood with Israel. Today, we are here to hear you, and to see how we can help in any way. Because despite the distance between us, we feel closer today than ever before. Todah Rabah. God bless you.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi MK: “Thank you, Mr. President, for the welcome initiative to hold this important meeting. The sense of mutual obligation between the State of Israel and the global Jewish community is a cornerstone of Israeli diplomacy around the world and for me personally as foreign minister. I salute the leaders of the American Jewish community for their leadership as they confront the coronavirus pandemic. We share the same fate and we must work together to get through this crisis.”