Israel Dialogue Initiative


BJ’S ISRAEL DIALOGUE INITIATIVE (IDI) – In 2015 the community spoke, we listened and we heard. We then took the next steps to continue to build a culture of dialogue – through substantive programming and conversation.

We established programs for the 2015/16 year, including films, expert panel discussions, teachings and plays, through a multiplicity of viewpoints. The programs for the balance of the 2015/2016 year include:


Be a part of this extraordinary opportunity to learn from experts, delve into the difficult, and most importantly, be a part of the conversation.  We must continue to discuss. 


  • The following are past IDI events:

    IDI Session- What Role should American Jewry Play in Relation to the State of Israel?
    Wednesday, April 13 | 7:00-9:00PM | 88th Street Sanctuary
    Lately American Jews find themselves facing a dilemma- in many cases their political views, religious practice and value system are not aligned with the Israeli government’s policies and the Israeli public opinion. Many feel as if they have to choose between their commitment to support the State of Israel, and their commitment to their values both as Americans and as Jews. Under these circumstances, should American Jews opt to support the Israeli Government whatever the policy is, or should they be advocating and supporting groups that reflect their views in order to align Israel’s policies with their own?  How appropriate it is for American Jews to lobby Washington to support policies which we believe are in the interest of Israel, but may not be the views of the democratically elected government of Israel? How do we navigate supporting policies advanced by the Israeli Government when it conflicts with policies of a American administration?

    We will address these questions and more in a panel discussion facilitated by John Ruskay, and featuring:

    • Dr. Shuly Schwartz, the Irving Lehrman Research Associate Professor of American Jewish History and the Walter and Sarah Schlesinger Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
    • Jonathan Tobin, Senior On-Line Editor of Commentary
    • Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion

    Click here to listen to the discussion.

    IDI Session – Maintaining Israel’s Security
    Tuesday, March 22 | 7:00-9:00PM | 88th Street Sanctuary
    The State of Israel is constantly facing external and internal security threats, some of them existential. We are honored to host Michael Herzog, retired Brigadier General in the Israel Defense Forces and currently the Israel-based Milton Fine International Fellow of The Washington Institute. As a result of his extraordinary hands-on knowledge and experience, this will be a fascinating presentation that will map out the current security threats to Israel and its neighbors, and will provide a more profound understanding of the complexities facing today’s Middle East.

    Click here to listen to Michael Herzog’s presentation.

    February: Religion and the State of Israel
    Sunday, February 7 | 4:00-5:40PM | 89th Street Community House
    The issue of the proper role of religion in Israel has been an ongoing issue.  Both pre and post state, some Zionists sought a state which preferred the model of Jews as citizens and which regarded Orthodox Judaism as the form of practice most valued. What are the implications of such a reality on the Jewish democracy, on Israel-Diaspora relations and on Religious-Secular tensions? Join Rabbi Roly Matalon for a conversation about these challenging issues, featuring guests:

    January: Sorting Through Multiple Narratives
    Monday, January 25 | 7:00-9:00PM | 89th Street Community House
    In previous IDI sessions we have focused on the various ideologies and circumstances that led to the establishment of the Jewish state and shape its character. This panel discussion, facilitated by Jane Eisner, Chief Editor of the Forward will fast-forward us to contemporary Israel, where we will meet three individuals deeply committed to three different narratives: the Labor Zionist, Religious Zionist, and Palestinian narratives. We will explore the role these narratives play in shaping their personal stories and views, their impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the vision they offer for the future of Israel and its neighbors. Panelists include:

    • Ken Bob, National President of Ameinu.
    • Rabbi Yossi Blau, National President of the Religious Zionists of America.
    • Nizzar Farsakh, former General Director of the General Delegation of the PLO to the U.S.

    December: The Shalom Hartman Institute’s Manhattan Collaborative
    Tuesday, December 15 | 7:00PM | 88th Street Sanctuary
    BJ hosts the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Manhattan Collaborative – A multi-denominational conversation about Jewish values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, led by Dr. Tal Becker.

    November: Pre-State Visionaries:  Learnings and Implications from Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky, Magnes
    Monday, November 23 | 7:00PM | 89th Street Community House
    In this session,  we will read excerpts and be introduced to three of the major Jewish leaders who held strong views during the pre-state period (in the Yishuv) about what the future Jewish homeland could  and should be.  They and their supporters argued vigorously and in the course of being introduced to their thinking about central issues, we will reflect on the implications of their views—and the debates that ensued—for our time.
    The session will be led by John Ruskay, a BJ member since the 1990s.  Ruskay, who holds a PhD from Columbia University in Political Science with a concentration in Middle East politics, has held positions of senior leadership in the Jewish community including Education Director of the 92cd Street y (1979-1985); Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs at JTS (1985-l993), and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York (1999-2014).  John has received numerous honors including honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary (2011), Hebrew Union College (2013), and Yeshiva University (2014).

    October: “Colliding Dreams: A History of the Zionist Idea” Exclusive Film Pre-Screening
    Sunday, October 11 | 5:30PM | 89th Street Community House
    Join us for the official kick-off of the Israel Dialogue Initiative’s programming season with an exclusive pre-screening of the extraordinary film, “Colliding Dreams: A History of the Zionist Idea.”  Learn about the history of Zionism, its leaders, its influence on the Jewish and Palestinian peoples and the inevitable differences between its ideals and its reality.

    Other Activities included:

  • Who is leading the Israel Dialogue Initiative?
    BJ members Shira Nadich Levin and Suzanne Schechter are the co-chairs of the Israel Dialogue Initiative. Suzanne is a member of BJ’s Board of Trustees, has co-chaired the Membership Committee and Dues Task Force and volunteered at the BJ/SPSA Homeless Shelter. Shira served as President of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School and co-chairs the Minyan Committee and is a dedicated volunteer for and participant of other BJ programs and events. The co-chairs work closely with Moshe Samuels, BJ’s Director of Israel Engagement and the IDI taskforce to ensure the findings of the IDI are incorporated into our full scope of Israel programming.

    Rabbi Melissa Weintraub is a social entrepreneur, educator, and thought leader who trains leaders and builds programs at the inter­sec­tions of Israel, Jewish thought and conflict reso­lu­tion. Among other projects, Melissa is currently spear­heading the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ new national Civility Initiative and was the founding director of Encounter, an orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to strength­ening the capacity of the Jewish people to be agents of change in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She was ordained as a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary and grad­u­ated summa cum laude from Harvard University.

    What Israel Dialogue Initiative events will be offered to the BJ Community?
    The IDI events are described in the “Details” tab and will be offered along with other robust Israel programming.