The Israel-Diaspora relationship has always been complex and fraught with landmines, and during crises has experienced many extremes, from complete solidarity or creeping alienation. A difference in geography, perspective and history accounts for a large part of that.

Over the past several weeks, the coronavirus crisis has hit the Jewish communities around the world hard, disproportionately killing more Jews than the general population in places like New York and London. In a recent conference call with Jewish community leaders hosted by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Israeli leaders basically asked their counterparts for suggestions on how Israel can best assist them.

During global crises, the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces are often at the forefront with regard to offering assistance to beleaguered populations. While Israel can rarely send the largest of delegations, it offers sophisticated and innovative answers to challenges during crises. In the current crisis, Israel could do much, for instance sharing with community leaders best practices about getting ahead of the virus and “flattening the curve.”

According to its own website, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry is entrusted with fostering the connection between world Jewry and the State of Israel, through joint activities and ongoing dialogue; the Israeli government sees itself as being responsible for all Jews worldwide, whether they live in Israel or the Diaspora. Unfortunately, while the words are lofty, the portfolio is still largely seen as a consolation prize for aspiring ministers, with a budget of barely NIS 12 million ($3.4 million) out of a national budget of NIS 400 billion ($113.4 billion).

In light of the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, Israel should set up a permanent joint Israel-Diaspora task force to deal with this and future crises, from pandemics, to anti-Semitic attacks, to social or even spiritual crises. The task force would operate along the lines of the European Jewish Congress’ Security and Crisis Centre.

The Israeli rabbinate could be utilized in conjunction with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry to help Jews around the world meet some of their spiritual needs. It could enlist Jewish communities in Israel to hold Zoom prayers and pair and partner with Jewish communities in the Diaspora that are unable to form a minyan. Such a program could be expanded to meet other needs during non-crisis times, perhaps helping those too ill or infirm to attend synagogue or conducting joint learning projects. This could potentially bring Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora closer together, demonstrating the dictum that kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh (“all Jews are responsible for one another”).

Earlier in the year, I helped form an organization called the Anglo Vision. We are a rapidly expanding group of English-speaking Israelis who seek to coalesce our community around a vision of unifying positions that can affect change, development and progress, and above all, contribute to our beloved homeland.

Since we started the Anglo Vision, I have been contacted by hundreds of immigrants to Israel with many great ideas, especially during this crisis. We came from the Diaspora, we still have roots, family and friends in the countries of our birth and so we have an unequaled understanding of its needs. We are a resource that should be tapped by Israeli decision-makers to understand how to fulfill the vision of being an inseparable people.

The next Israeli government should improve the standing of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry with increased budgets, resources and capabilities. The Jewish people need this, Israel needs this, and we who came from the Diaspora and now live in Israel can serve as the most secure and robust bridge.

Rabbi David Fine is founder of the Anglo Vision and founder and dean of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, an organization dedicated to building Israeli society one community at a time by successfully bringing Diaspora models of community building to Israel. To contact us 

Support Jewish Journalism
with 2020 Vision

One of the most intriguing stories of the sudden Coronavirus crisis is the role of the internet. With individuals forced into home quarantine, most are turning further online for information, education and social interaction.

JNS's influence and readership are growing exponentially, and our positioning sets us apart. Most Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas. JNS is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

During this crisis, JNS continues working overtime. We are being relied upon to tell the story of this crisis as it affects Israel and the global Jewish community, and explain the extraordinary political developments taking place in parallel.

Our ability to thrive in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters. Monthly donations in particular go a long way in helping us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make during these challenging times. We thank you for your ongoing support and wish you blessings for good health and peace of mind.