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Jewish Community Center

Z3: American Jews & Israel

American Jews & Israel: Navigating Our Shared Destiny

Sunday, August 8, 2021
Staenberg Family Complex/Creve Coeur
Registration: $45
Students 21 & under: $18

*Registration includes boxed lunch, opening and closing keynotes and two break-out sessions of your choice. In order to ensure breakout session selections and lunch choices, each person must register separately.*

Featuring Natan Sharansky, Jewish human rights advocate, Israeli politician, and author.

The Z3 Project, an initiative of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, CA, is committed to creating an ongoing, dynamic forum for opinions and ideas about Diaspora Jewry and Israel. The St. Louis Z3 conference will bring together high-level International and National thought leaders, scholars, and journalists to educate and provide our community members an in-depth, nuanced understanding of pressing issues affecting Israel and the relationship between the Israel and the American Jewish community.

Registration includes boxed lunch, opening and closing keynotes and two break-out sessions of your choice. In order to ensure breakout session selections and lunch choices, each person must register separately.

Contact: Diane Maier, 314.442.3190
View Brochure

Opening Keynote - Avraham Infeld

Avraham Infeld, is the President Emeritus of Hillel – the Foundation for Jewish Campus life. He also serves today as a consultant on Tikkun Olam to the Reut Institute, and is a member of the Faculty of the Mandel Institute. In May 2012, Avraham was elected Chairman of the Board of the Hillels of Israel. In 1970, Avraham founded Melitz, a non-profit educational service institution that fosters Jewish identity. He also served as chairman of Arevim; founding chairman of the San Francisco Federation’s Amuta in Israel; and chairman of the Board of Israel Experience, Ltd.

Avraham was Director General of both Gesher Educational Affiliates, the Shalom Hartman Institute and served a three-year tour of duty in London as Director of the Jewish Agency’s Youth Department for English speaking Europe. Avraham was Birthright’s first International Director, and led the Planning Process which created one of the most successful and formative educational programs in the Jewish world. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Bible and Jewish History, and of Tel Aviv University’s Law School.  In 2005, he was awarded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s prestigious Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Muhlenberg College and from Hebrew Union College for his contribution to the field of education.

Avraham Infeld has dedicated his long and distinguished career to helping Jews find meaning and joy in their Jewish identities. Born in South Africa and raised in a strongly Zionist family, Avraham made aliyah to Israel and studied Jewish History and Bible at the Hebrew University, and Law at Tel Aviv University.

Breakout Session - Israel's Inexplicably Robust Democracy

Israel’s Inexplicably Robust Democracy: Its Strengths, Weaknesses and Surprising Origins
Haviv Retig Gur
Political Correspondent and Analyst for Times of Israel

Israel lacks many of the institutions usually seen as necessary elements for the establishment of a democracy: meaningful separation of powers, rights enshrined in constitutional law, a founding democratic ethos. How has this fragile political system weathered so many wars and crises, so much ethnic strife and civil unrest, and still managed to deliver prosperity and freedom for Israelis? And when has it failed to do all that?

Haviv Retig Gur

Haviv Gur is a veteran Israeli journalist who serves as the senior analyst at The Times of Israel. He has covered Israeli politics and the country’s foreign and regional policies, as well as its fraught relationship with the Jewish diaspora, since 2005. He has reported from over 20 countries, is fluent in Hebrew and English, and is a sought-after lecturer in Israel and abroad on Israeli society and history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more. He served as director of communications for the Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel’s largest NGO, and was an early advocate and lobbyist for SpaceIL, the nonprofit working to advance science and space education in Israel’s schools. He teaches history and politics at prestigious Israeli premilitary academies.

Breakout Session - Between Nationalism, Ultra-Nationalism, and Facism

Between Nationalism, Ultra-Nationalism, and Fascism
Dr. Tomer Persico
Research Fellow and Scholar in Residence of the Shalom Hartman Institute and Koret Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies at U.C. Berkeley

Concerns about Israel are often framed as issue specific: the treatment of Reform Jews at the Kotel, marginalization of religious and ethnic minorities, the conflict with the Palestinians. These challenges are rooted in Israel’s conception of itself as an ethnic nation stat and reflect a dynamic embedded in its founding documents. Understanding Israel’s notion of nationalism helps explain why these phenomena often bump up against the value of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish unity. This session will explore various definitions of nationalism and how Israel as a nation state reflects one of these notions in service of broadening American Jewish notions of the nationalism.

Dr. Tomer Persico

Dr. Tomer Persico is a research fellow and Scholar in Residence of the Shalom Hartman Institute based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Koret Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies at U.C. Berkeley.

Dr. Persico is a social activist advocating for freedom of religion in Israel. A leading thinker about secularization, Jewish Renewal and forms of contemporary spirituality, Persico writes the most popular blog in Hebrew on these subjects and has published articles in the Washington Post and Haaretz (English) as well as numerous other Israeli newspapers and periodicals.

He is a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and formerly taught in the department of Comparative Religion at Tel Aviv University.

Here is an interview with Dr. Persico in English about his work. He is also the author of The Jewish Meditative Tradition (Hebrew, Tel Aviv University Press, 2016), a critically acclaimed book about the cultural history of Jewish meditation.

Dr. Persico’s Wikipedia page
Dr. Persico’s blog
Articles by Tomer Persico on the Shalom Hartman Institute website

Breakout Session - Dancing Between Identities

Dancing Between Identities: On the Changing Nature of What it Means to Be a Jew
Tova Birnbaum
Director of Jewish Content, Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Hartman Faculty Member

Discourse on identity in Israeli society and Jewish communities in North America has taken on a new meaning in the last decade. Many groups are emerging and forming a new and intriguing cultural and political discourse. Questions of identity and belonging have in recent years undermined social and hegemonic perceptions and have created a new social and political agenda. Israeli society and the Jewish communities in NA like other societies and communities in the world, and perhaps even more so – has been undergoing a process of interesting change in recent decades, creating new conflicts, new identities, and reshaping old identities.

Tova Birnbaum

Tova Birnbaum is the Director of Jewish Content at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. She was born in B’nai B’rak in an Ultra-Orthodox home and was one of the founders of the BINA Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv. Tova had recently served as the Central Shlicha (emissary), Director of the North America Region of the World Zionist Organization. She is a teacher of Talmudic Rabbinic Literature, a Judaic studies lecturer and a Theater Midrash workshop facilitator. She is also a Secular Jewish lifecycle ceremonies officiant. Tova is an actress and a Jewish performance artist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a master’s degree in theater from Tel Aviv University. She lives in Palo Alto with her husband and daughter.

Breakout Session - Zionism as a Jewish Conversation

Zionism as a Jewish Conversation
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Director Emeritus of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA and faculty member at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

Conversations about Israel and Zionism are defined by our understanding of Judaism. The commitments, obligations, responsibilities and concerns that emerge from different notions of Judaism are reflected in different views of Israel. This session explores how two features of the Jewish story, the Covenant of Being, in which Jews are defined by who we are, and not by what we do, and the Covenant of Becoming, in which Jews are defined by what they do, play out in the way we talk about Israel. Often, conflicts about Israel and Zionism, amongst American Jews and between American and Israeli Jews can be understood as conflicts about Judaism that are reflected in different understandings of these two covenants.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is a faculty member at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He recently celebrated 40 years working with students and faculty as the Executive Director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, where he is now Director Emeritus.

Chaim was ordained at Yeshiva University where he completed a Masters in Rabbinic Literature. He has been a lecturer in the Departments of Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, and in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. Chaim was the founding director of the Hartman Fellowship for Hillel Professionals and a founding member of Americans for Peace Now.

In 2014 Chaim initiated a fact finding mission for non-Jewish student leaders to Israel and the Palestine Authority which is now offered on sixty campuses across the country. The International Hillel Center has granted Chaim the Hillel Professional Recognition Award “for blending the love of Jewish tradition with the modern intellectual approach of the university.”

Chaim was a rabbinic consultant to Barbra Streisand during the making of the film Yentl. He and his wife Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, a clinical psychologist, are the parents of two children.

Find articles by Chaim Seidler-Feller on the Shalom Hartman Institute website.

Breakout Session - Antisemitism as a Divisive Force in the Israel Conversation

Antisemitism as a Divisive Force in the Israel Conversation
Dr. Mijal Bitton
Fellow in Residence at Shalom Hartman Institute and Rosh Kehilla (communal leader) of the Downtown Minyan in New York City

The current internal Jewish debate regarding anti-Semitism is inextricably linked to Israel. Allies of the Left simultaneously call out anti-Semitism while making claims about Israel that are antisemitic. Allies of the right, have made antisemitic statements while simultaneously brandishing their Zionist credentials.  This partisan view of antisemitism divides Jews among domestic political lines and is reflected in the growing gap between American and Israeli Jews. The goal of this session is to understand the causes and underpinnings of a new reality in which anti-Semitism, for the first time in millennia, has become a dividing force, rather than a unifying force, for the Jewish people.

Dr. Mijal Bitton

Dr. Mijal Bitton is a Fellow in Residence and faculty member at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and the Rosh Kehilla (communal leader) and co-founder of the Downtown Minyan in New York City.

Through her fellowship and teaching at Hartman, Mijal explores new paradigms of Jewish identity for diverse Jewish populations and expanding normative conceptions such as “Jewishness,” “religion,” and “tradition.”

Mijal received a BA from Yeshiva University and earned her doctorate from New York University, where she conducted an ethnographic study of a Syrian Jewish community with a focus on developing the field of contemporary Sephardic studies in America. She is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.  

In 2018 Mijal was selected for inclusion in ’36 under 36′ in New York Jewish Week. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Sion and their son.

Breakout Session - Israel on Campus

Israel on Campus – Opportunities and Challenges
Richard Walter
Vice President of Curriculum and Outreach, Center for Israel Education, Emory University

College is an exciting time in any young person’s experience that offers numerous opportunities for personal growth and development.  The rise of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic instances occurring on campuses across North America is troubling and raises numerous questions and concerns.  While there is no singular effective response or approach in dealing with complex challenges, this session will explore what teens and parents can know and should do as they prepare for this experience.  Participants will understand importance of context and content when taking positions on issues dealing with anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and other perceived biases against the Jewish community at large which are impacting campus life and explore the numerous opportunities to engage with Israel and Jewish life on campus and beyond.

Richard Walter

Rich Walter, Vice President of Curriculum and Outreach, Center for Israel Education; Associate Director of Israel Education, Emory University Institute for the Study of Modern Israel

Richard Walter has extensive experience increasing community involvement in Jewish formal and informal learning for a wide variety of age groups. Prior to joining ISMI and CIE as Associate Director for Israel Education in August 2012, he served as Director for Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven and Director of Education and Community Development at the Bureau of Jewish Education in Rhode Island. From 1997 to 2001 he taught in the Solomon Schechter School in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at Brandeis University where he received his BA and MA degrees focusing on Jewish history, Middle Eastern history, and Judaic Studies.

Breakout Session - Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Israeli/Palestinian conflict: A historical View with Real Time Update
Dr. Elai Rettig
Israel Institute Teaching Fellow in Israeli and Environmental Studies, Washington University in St. Louis

In this session we will discuss the creation and evolution of the century-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the core issues that make it intractable, and possible future paths to its settlement. The historical overview will attempt to weave together the three prevailing narratives of the conflict – The Israeli, the Palestinian and the international community’s narrative – and discuss how each narrative informs different solutions that often clash with one another. We will ask difficult questions, such as why we think a two-state solution is the best outcome for both sides, and compare past peace deals to the current one proposed by the Trump administration.

Dr. Elai Rettig

Dr. Elai Rettig is the Israel Institute Teaching Fellow in Israeli and Environmental Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.  He has published his research in peer-reviewed journals, including International Studies Quarterly, International Journal of Press/Politics, and Israel Affairs, as well as in leading policy think-tanks in Europe and Israel, including the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv (INSS), the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES). He also contributes regularly to Israeli and international media outlets on issues pertaining to Israel’s energy policy, and has testified before the Israeli parliament on energy security matters.

Prior to joining the department, Rettig taught at New York University – Tel Aviv and at the University of Haifa in Israel and was a visiting scholar at the Elliot School of International Affairs in George Washington University. His courses include “Israel’s Foreign Policy”, “International Energy Politics”, “Energy Governance in Israel and the Middle East”, and “Democracies and Dictatorships in the Middle East.

Breakout Session - Peaceful Coexistence Projects between Jews and Arabs in Israel

Peaceful Coexistence Projects between Jews and Arabs in Israel
Dr. Merav Ben-Nun
Founding Principal of Hand in Hand bilingual integrated Jewish-Arab school in Haifa, Israel

Over the last decade, the relationship between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel has gone in two contradicting trajectories. On the one hand, there has been more government funding and growing cooperation in civil society organizations and the business sector. On the other hand, a more hostile political atmosphere, including legislation and incitement are directed against the minority Arab population. In this talk, we will examine the work of shared Jewish-Arab organizations working to strengthen relationships between Jews and Arabs, the challenges and successes stories, and their contribution to Israel’s democracy.

Dr. Merav Ben-Nun

Dr. Merav Ben-Nun received her PhD in International Education from New York University, and her BA in Political Science and Sociology, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Upon returning to Israel at the completion of her studies, Merav was the founding principal of the Hand in Hand bilingual integrated Jewish-Arab school in Haifa, Israel, and built a shared adult community of Haifa residents, Jews and Arabs. She was also lecturer and teachers’ educator at Oranim Academic College. Combining academic pursuits with hands-on educational and community building work, Merav continued to head the Community Building Department of Hand in Hand, leading a team of community organizers and initiating and building new bilingual schools in mixed cities in Israel. Merav is also a social and political activist, and was involved in a number of initiatives focused on strengthening Israeli democracy, social justice and building shared Jewish-Arab political cooperation. Merav moved to New York City with her family last September, and is working as a bilingual educator, has taught at Harlem Hebrew, a public charter school in Harlem, Beit Rabban Day School, as well as being involved in leading community initiatives in Harlem.

Closing Presentation - Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was born in 1948 in Donetsk, Ukraine. He was a spokesman for the human rights movement, a prisoner of conscience and leader in the struggle for the right of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel.  After nine years of imprisonment, due to intense international campaign led by his wife Avital, Mr. Sharansky was released on February 11, 1986, emigrated to Israel.  Upon his arrival to Israel he became active in the integration of Soviet Jews and formed the Zionist Forum, an umbrella organization of former Soviet activist groups dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about absorption issues.

In 1996, he established the Yisrael B’Aliyah party in order to accelerate the integration of new immigrants into Israeli society. He served in four successive Israeli governments as Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

In 2009, Natan Sharansky was appointed Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.  In 2018 he received the highest Israeli award – the Israel Prize for promoting Aliyah and the ingathering of the exiles. Mr. Sharansky is the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the only living non-American citizen who is the recipient of these two highest American awards. Recently, The Genesis Prize Foundation announced Natan Sharansky as its 2020 Genesis Prize laureate.

He is also the author of three books: Fear No Evil, The Case for Democracy and Defending Identity. He remains a champion of the right of all people to live in freedom and believes that the advancement of human rights is critical to peace and security around the world.

Interviewed on Stage by Peter Maer

Granite City native Peter Maer is a graduate of Southern Illinois University where he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  He covered the White House for 17 years for CBS News as part of his nearly 40 years in broadcast journalism.  His assignments included major world summits and other key events, including every political convention, campaign and election since 1980. Maer has won numerous awards in journalism, including an Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and another for feature reporting. He is a five-time recipient of the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure. His most recent honors include: Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame, Interfaith Alliance Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award and St. Louis Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award.


Presenting Sponsor

The Lubin Green Foundation, A Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis




The St. Louis Jewish Light (Media Sponsor)
Jean and Stan Margul
Adinah and Heschel Raskas


Leslie and Michael Litwack
St. Louis Friends of Israel


Richard and Joyce Becker
Congregation Shaare Emeth
Traci Goldstein
J Street – St. Louis
Lynnsie Balk Kantor
Galia Movitz

JoAnn Raskas
Rabbi Carnie Rose Discretionary Fund
Beth and Donn Rubin
Jane and Ken Rubin
Monte and Julie Sandler
Sandy and Gloria Spitzer

Organizing Partners