November 1, 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Reflections on the Task Force 10th Anniversary Retreat


Michal Steinman, Executive Director, recently shared highlights from the retreat’s two days of keynotes and breakout discussions in a letter to Task Force members.  The letter goes on to consider how conversations the retreat generated can be continued and broadened to the wider North American Jewish community. See the full text below.

Dear Task Force Members,

It has been a little more than one month since we came together to mark the Task Force’s 10th anniversary at a two-day retreat in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute. Right before the holidays, more than 80 community leaders, professionals and philanthropists from a cross-section of North American Jewry joined for thoughtful discussion about the status of and possibilities for Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

It is extraordinary, in our busy lives, to dedicate such time to focused, in depth learning. Yet with these issues in particular, making time for nuance and complexity can generate leaps in perspective and understanding.

In the days after the retreat, many of you shared feedback both to me personally and in response to our questionnaire. Time and again, the presentations and discussion sessions were described as exceptional, and the discourse far-reaching, with words such as “powerful”, “humanizing”, “uplifting” and “energizing” used to describe the experience. One respondent captured the overall sentiment, writing:

“The retreat reinforced hope that smart people—Jews and Arabs in Israel, and Jews in the US—are seriously discussing the issues and coming up with good ideas.”

Several people also wrote about seeing issues in a new light, or being inspired by opportunities they and others had to challenge their own assumptions, reaching new levels of awareness and honesty.

“It made me realize how little I understood about the perceptions of Arab citizens”

The tone and depth of the two days was set early, with the opening keynote by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute. His talk framed the Jewish imperative to advance Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, religiously, culturally, and historically, and in many ways asked each person attending to be open, honest and forthright over the two days of discussion.

On Monday, the keynote address was delivered by Dr. Mohammed Wattad. A distinguished legal scholar and Arab citizen of Israel, Dr. Wattad spoke about the rights and obligations of Jewish and Arab citizens in a shared Jewish and democratic state, describing mutual commitments of equal citizenship and loyalty as the basis of a just and democratic society.


After each keynote, there were discussion sessions on pertinent shared society issues—public education, the public sphere, and the Jewish and democratic state—co-facilitated by a Jewish and Arab pair of experts from the field. These sessions provided an opportunity to wrestle with questions and challenges with a candidness and depth rarely available to us among groups or in our daily lives. One participant described “the powerful impact of pairing the two speakers and the impact that had on each of them.” In fact, a number of you wrote that you wished there had been more time for this level of dialogue.

Many participants asked how we can build on this experience, how some of the insights revealed in these discussions can be shared with a wider public, and more generally, how the Task Force can engage more of our members and the broader Jewish community?


It is my deep hope that now that we are back in our respective offices and organizations, the issues we delved into together will continue to inform how we each think about Israel and incorporate Israeli society in our work. The goal of the retreat was to raise questions that will become part of our ongoing thinking, to strengthen awareness—not only about Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, but also about the significance of these issues among our peers in the North American Jewish community.

To expand on the discussions begun at the retreat, the Task Force is planning to publish a series of columns based on the program to provoke the same kind of thinking and questioning through the Jewish media. At the same time, we want to continue engaging our members in bringing these issues to your communities and those of your peers.

Ten years into raising awareness, the Task Force has developed unparalleled competencies in delivering in-depth content and working with Jewish organizations to make Arab citizens and Jewish-Arab relations in Israel an essential part of community education. Recently, we have been combining these strengths to help major North American Jewish educational organization like the Jewish Agency and Birthright embed these issues into their curricula—with the potential of reaching thousands more North American Jews annually.

We encourage and invite you to reach out to the Task Force for discussion and support, whether to expand on conversations that inspired you at the retreat, inquire about a new field of interest, request guidance for grant-making, community education, missions to Israel, or other ways of bringing these issues to your constituencies. Such requests not only further education on these issues, they also inform the Task Force about real needs and areas of interest within our circles.

An intimate retreat like ours in September lent itself to deeper discussion than normally possible in shorter, more informative presentations. As we try to capture some of its essence in columns over the next several months, we hope you too will look for opportunities to share some of your insights with your peers. Together, perhaps we can push the discourse on these issues a little further, and a little deeper.

Thank you again to everyone who attended the retreat, and to everyone who sent feedback. We missed those of you who could not make it.

I look forward to hearing from you,


Michal Steinman
Executive Director
Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues

How Can We Help?

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How Can We Help?

Do you need support integrating these resources and issues into your philanthropic, communal, or Israel education work? Reach out for consultations, connections to experts, program support, training, or to plan your next event or mission. If you’ve used our resources, tell us about your experience!

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