PROPOSALS EMERGE FROM UNIQUE CONFERENCE ON JEWISH IDENTITY

A joint University of Haifa and Hebrew College of Boston Web site to aid in the struggle for Jewish identity and continuity will soon be coming on-line. The common Web site was one of the proposals to emerge from an unusual and sometimes emotionally charged four-day conference involving two Jewish communities--Haifa and Boston.
> The event itself, which took place in the resort and wine-making town of Zichron Yaacov, some 30 kilometers south of Haifa overlooking the fish ponds of Kibbutz Maagan Michael and the Mediterranean beyond, and on the Mt. Carmel campus, was billed a joint exploration. (See separate story on this exploration.)
Reflecting the two communities from which they came, the sponsors of this pathbreaking conclave were the University and its Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, the Hebrew College, and the Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies. Financial backing was also provided by the Jewish Agency--Partnership 2000 program and Bank Igud (Union Bank of Israel).
A wide-ranging list of proposed projects was advanced in the reports of eight discussion groups into which the approximately 100 conference participants had been divided. The proposals, according to Michael Rukin, chairman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, constituted "a multiplicity of grass root ideas" that needed further development. Some were specific projects, like the joint home page; others were frameworks. Some homed in on specific populations while others were more generally encompassing. Their overall focus was bifurcated: on the one hand, bringing the two communities, Haifa and Boston, closer together; on the other hand, instilling and furthering Jewish tradition/education.
Exchanges between the two cities figured prominently in the various reports. They covered such proposals as reciprocal showings by Boston and Haifa artists, a joint Haifa-Boston peace corps for Israel, a reverse flow of volunteers from Haifa to help specific populations in the Boston area, the exchange of faculty and students between the University of Haifa and various universities in the Boston region, youth exchanges (for purposes of summer camps, sports, the arts), synagogue and community center partnerships, joint student projects like a charity campaign or a clean-up operation, the setting up of a hospitality network in the respective communities for visitors from the other city, the creation of a multimedia program to describe each community and to help overcome each community's ignorance of life (especially Jewish life) in the other country.
Stress was placed on working together; several of the group reporters stated that intended activities were not to change the other community, but to learn from each other. Another emphasis was on the need for a point person in each community for the various projects that would be adopted in order for ideas to cross fertilize.
In the area of what Rukin had earlier referred to as "Jewish renaissance," which he saw as a necessary prelude to continuity, proposed projects ranged from family education, adult education and its expansion within the university, to sophisticated study groups. These projects, all involving Jewish education, necessarily raised questions of where the programs should be taught and what programmatic ideas were to be incorporated. Another key question cited in this context was how to transmit religious pluralism. It was felt that both communities had the resources to help each other in the educational sphere.
In what amounted to a summing up, Donald Lasden, co-chair of the Boston Planning Committee, said that he wanted the proposed projects "to be a model for other communities in Israel and the Diaspora."

Back to Table of Contents