Insight Israel Forum Launches

Israel. Complex, conflicting, sometimes polarizing, but always deeply linked to our Jewish identity.

Yet, less than half of Baltimore’s Jewish community feels that connection to our homeland – and many who do, find it challenging to discuss their perspective.

In response to these challenges, The Associated is taking a bold new step for dialogue and education about Israel. This November, the Associated launches the Insight Israel Forum, an innovative new initiative to educate Baltimore’s Jewish leaders about the complex issues of the Jewish State, while encouraging candid discussion, honest reflection and diverse viewpoints about Israel.

One of the first of its kind in the country, this initiative features small group education and dialogue sessions, as well as experiential learning, led by high-profile, respected scholars and world-class practitioners of Shalom Hartman Institute, Inside the Middle East, Resetting the Table and Jerusalem U.

These sessions, or PODS (Personal Opinion Dialogue Seminars), will delve deep into topics such as religious pluralism, Israel and its neighborhood, minority rights and World Jewry.

“The goal of Insight Israel Forum,” explains Jeffrey Blavatt, director of Insight Israel Forum, “is to make our community better educated and more aware of Israel – its history, diversity, complexity and its position in the world. By having real, and sometimes difficult, conversations over these topics and by listening to the wide spectrum of ideas, we hope individuals will walk away with a stronger understanding of our Jewish homeland, while creating respect for diverse opinions through civil discourse.”

“Success is having leaders in our community sharing candid, diverse opinions about Israel while learning about the rich history of our Homeland. We want our leaders to be better informed, engaged and connected to Israel,” says Lisa Abrams, who co-chairs the Insight Israel Forum with Will Minkin and Atara Frankel.

The PODS will include a combination of webinars, lectures, town hall dialogues, small group conversations and on-line interactive learning systems. The Hartman PODS, “Israel, America & World Jewry” which focuses on the relationship between Israeli Jews and Americans, as well as nationalism, Antisemitism and anti-Zionism, concludes with a seven-day community leadership program in Jerusalem.

To launch the new program, The Associated will host the Inaugural event on November 13 at the Suburban Country Club. Leading scholars, representing diverse opinions on Israel, will participate in a panel, addressing why Israel is important and how community leadership can enhance their understanding of Israel through respectful discourse.

Moderated by Gidi Grinstein, founder of the REUT Group, panelists include: Tehila Friedman, director of Jewish Peoplehood Department, Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director, T’ruah, Avi Melamed, president and founder, Inside the Middle East, Yair Rosenberg, senior writer, Tablet Magazine and Jonathan Tobin, editor-in-chief, Jewish New Syndicate.

The concept for Insight Israel Forum began with Marc Terrill in 2016 and the lay leadership of The Associated recognizing paradigms about Israel experienced major shifts. The contemporary environment requires fresh, innovative thinking.

Thereafter, Blavatt, who met with 158 Jewish leaders throughout the community – Associated, synagogue, educators and more – discovered that individuals were looking for facts to help them crystalize their opinions. Topics were developed based on areas of interest to the community.

Blavatt joined Marc Terrill and Debs Weinberg at the Z3 Conference in Palo Alto, California. The conference, part of the Z3 Project, is designed to model a new relationship between diaspora Jews and Israelis, based on share values, peoplehood and a common destiny.

Although currently The Associated offers a number of ways for community members to connect to Israel, from the Shinshinim (Israeli emissary) programs to the Diller Teen Initiative to the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, Insight Israel Forum will focus on community leaders actively engaged with more in-depth conversations that go deeper and engage diverse opinions.

“For 100 years, The Associated has always been a leader in our Baltimore community,” says Minkin. “Leadership requires identifying challenges and using our best efforts to address those challenges. Knowledge, dialogue and experiential learning will help our community constructively address the current polarization we are experiencing in dealing with the many complex issues regarding Israel.”

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