Flare-ups in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as the violence in recent weeks on the Gaza border can force the religious community to speak up and enter the challenging realm of politics, said Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus of The Temple.
“While religious leaders try to stand in support of Israel, they also want to leave space for those who have legitimate concerns about what they see on the news,” she said.
But she added that Judaism reminds us to be lovers of Israel and to remember that just as people have elasticity for their love of America and a willingness to criticize, people also should speak and act out of love for the state of Israel.
“We need to be ambassadors, particularly at a time when there seem to be very few that are grabbing the headlines,” Rabbi Lapidus said.
She and JANVEST Capital Partners co-founder Brian Rosenzweig spoke about Israel’s business, religious and political evolution the past 70 years during the 74th annual meeting of American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter on Thursday, May 17, at 103 West in Buckhead.
For good or bad, Rosenzweig said, business and politics stay separate in Israel.
The business world is aware of what is happening, but companies generally don’t let Israel’s political troubles distract them, he said. That approach has perhaps contributed to Israel’s growth as the Start-Up Nation, along with chutzpah and risk tolerance.
“There is certainly no shortage of chutzpah, and if you tell an entrepreneur no, they just find another way to do it,” Rosenzweig said. “Given the geopolitical challenges and some of the political issues that Israel faces on its borders, Israeli entrepreneurs don’t look at 10 or 20 years down the road; they look at two years. And I think this approach gives them the ability to take high-risk ventures.”
In the first 40 years of the Jewish state, Rosenzweig said, Israel’s economy was largely based on textiles, agriculture, diamond polishing and minerals, but change began after the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Business and religion go hand in hand in Israel, Rabbi Lapidus said. “There is tremendous money involved in some of these religious acts in things like kashrut. … So there is always that question of where tax shekels are being spent, and the answer is maybe not in ways that would feel welcoming to non-Haredi Jews.”
Haredi Jews have dominated Israel’s religious life from the start, she said. “The founding of the state really goes back to David Ben-Gurion making agreements with the ultra-Orthodox to keep power over religion with the chief rabbinate.”
Rosenzweig described the relationship between business and religion in Israel as a messy marriage. For a long time, most Haredim were not involved in the workforce, but he said that is changing. “If you go into Jerusalem, there are a dozen or more incubators that are designed specifically for the ultra-Orthodox to learn how to code and write software.”
Rabbi Lapidus, who is involved with the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, said Haredi women increasingly are applying for grants to enhance their entrance into the technology industry.
In addition to the integration of the Haredi population into Israel’s economy, Rosenzweig said the Arab population’s involvement in technology and business is increasing, thanks in part to the implementation of Government Resolution 922, which allocated almost $4.5 billion to building technology parks and accelerator programs and making other economic enhancements in Arab communities.
Israel’s integration of minorities includes religion, Rabbi Lapidus said. For example, Palestinian Muslims who choose to remain as permanent residents of Israel rather than citizens still have the freedom of religion to pray at their mosques.
Rabbi Lapidus believes that Israel can be a place for all Jews and that peace is possible. “My hope is that we live in an age that we have voices and influences to create and help Israel be the place that can welcome us, we are proud to visit and be a part of.”
Rosenzweig added, “I think that business goes where politics cannot and can act as a great basis for coexistence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, wherever they may be.”
In the business portion of the annual meeting, AJC Atlanta President Melanie Nelkin said the chapter has raised $1.2 million in its annual campaign.
AJC Regional Director Dov Wilker said the national organization has sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with over 1,100 signatures from religious leaders across the United States to request that Pompeo appoint an envoy to fight anti-Semitism. The letter has the signatures of 64 members of Congress, Wilker said, but AJC’s goal is at least 100.
To commemorate AJC Atlanta’s 75th anniversary in 2019, Nelkin said, the Selig Distinguished Service Award (given May 8 to Jim and Lauren Grien) will be retired, based on Steve and Cathy Selig’s wishes. In its place, AJC Atlanta will start handing out the AJC Legacy Award.