Israel’s success in containing the coronavirus — and Covid-19’s devastating toll on Jews and their institutions here and around the United States — have raised an intriguing question: Should Israel be prepared to support the diaspora, instead of the other way around?
The question was put to Israelis by the Ruderman Family Foundation. Their recent poll found that 85 percent of Israelis believe their country should offer emergency training and know-how to communities here, 63 percent said it should offer medical equipment and food aid — and 49 percent said Israel should give money to Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues.
Reporting on the survey, Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post wrote that the poll might represent a “paradigm shift” in Israel-diaspora relations: “Instead of being on the receiving end of donations, [Israel] would be on the giving side,” he writes. “And not only to communities in physical distress … but in communities in the Western developed world.”
Indeed, Israel’s Reut Group is creating a “Covid-19 Solutions” project as part of its Peoplehood Coalition, which will share Israeli solutions in health care and technology with Jewish communities in need. “It is Israeli society’s duty to offer support to the Jewish world in the spirit of avrut hadadit, mutual responsibility,” said Naama Klar, Reut’s deputy CEO.
The key word here is “mutual”; diaspora Jews still see it as their responsibility to support the Jewish state. The Jewish Federations of North America notes that U.S. Jewish philanthropies are very much engaged in helping Israel throughout the coronavirus crisis. UJA-Federation of New York, for example, has committed $1.2 million for Israel out of its $44 million in coronavirus giving, including $600,000 for Jewish Agency loan funds for small businesses and nonprofits. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is releasing $2.5 million to help organizations in Israel deal with the pandemic.
It has been years since diaspora giving was essential to Israel’s survival. Instead, support for Israel — for its disadvantaged, for a shared society, for religious life and culture — is an expression of the values of those doing the giving, and a statement of connection with the majority of the world’s 14.7 million Jews. In this exchange, Israelis benefit financially, and philanthropists gain satisfaction from helping their Jewish family, boosting the Jewish homeland and perhaps shaping Israeli society according to their own beliefs.
The relationship has evolved in other ways. Israel’s mission to encourage aliyah has taken a back seat to bolstering Jewish identity — and support — abroad. American philanthropy has become more targeted, as givers pinpoint the causes and projects they care most about. Both sides worry about how politics are testing the partnership, and they are investing money and intellectual capital in education and outreach.
These changes and reactions are healthy. They reflect shifting demographics and diverse ideologies on both sides. In the case of Covid-19, the new realities are a reaction to a global event no less calamitous than a war or terrorist attack. The mutual aid is a sign that while our communities are distinct and ever-changing, our ties are strong and flexible. The coronavirus is the latest test, and affirmation, of Jewish solidarity.