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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 PAGE 5A By Gary Rosenblatt On the eve of 5775, more than 50 Jewish thought lead- ers and communal activists from around the country gathered at a retreat near Bal- timore last week for 48 hours to talk about whatever was on their mind. Not surprisingly, their frank discussions cov- ered a wide range of themes and interests. But bottom- line, the common thread was a deep concern about Jewish unity--more precisely, the lack of it--over the policies of the State of Israel, and the denominational divides that underscore the dearth of religious and communal leadership at home. As one keen observer of American Jewish life noted later in an interview, "It may be an exaggeration but I felt like we should have had a sign that read, 'It's still about ISrael, stupid.'" He pointed out that in the wake of a summer of violence in Gaza, the differingviews on how Jerusalem should deal with the Palestinians, from waging war with Hamas to making peace with the Pales- tinian Authority, is "painfully dividing American Jews," as reflected in the discussions. While the great majority of U.S. Jews supported Israel's right to defend itself, he said, those on the left found the high number of civilian casualties among Gazans "hard to stomach," and those By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA) - It was the first Persian Gulf state to establish ties with Israel, the first to welcome Israeli students and the only one to allow direct dialing to Israel. Israeli athletes shine on its courts. Now Qatar is on the outs with Israel because of its embrace of another regional pariah: Hamas. Calls are circulating in the U.S. Congress to isolate Qatar-- a state that has pol- ished its pro-Western image in recent years, welcoming in foreign universities, backing the global news channel AI Jazeera and prepping to host the 2022 World Cup--for its championing of Hamas. Since Hamas assumed control in Gaza iri 2007, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the territory and backed Hamas diplomatically, sheltering its Struggling to stay together on the right were even more convinced that territorial concessions would only lead to more attacks on the Jew- ish state. "And many people like me,'the observer said, "who are neither hard left nor hard right feel doubly con- flicted--heartsick and seeing no end in sight." It was not surprising, then, that debates over Israeli policy, and how diaspora Jews should make their voices heard, were a key element this year of The Conversation, The Jewish Week-sponsored two-day conference unique in that it offers no panels, plenaries or speakers. Instead, the invited participants, a mix of lay and professional Jews from awide range of religious, political and socioeconomic back- grounds and ages, choose their own topics on the spot. And it's all off the record. The result is a remarkably candid and intense affair (with time for schmoozing and levity). No doubt effected by in- creasingly chaotic world events--the emergence of ISIS, the brutal Hamas con- flict and the blatant anti-Se- mitic outbursts in Europe-- this year's Conversation had an added air of gravitas, if not despair. Participants dove into macro topics from the outset, tackling the issues of global anti-Semitism, the breakdown of civility, and finding a consensus on Israel. They seemed to bond quickly, sharing their views on every- thing from what moves them spiritually to what keeps them up at night worrying about the Jewish future. In all, there were three dozen voluntary discussion topics posted on the wall at the Pearlstone Conference Center in rural Maryland over the two days, some with asfew as two participants discussing them and others with as many as 20. At least five discussions were convened on Israel, from countering BDS (the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) and anti-Israel rhetoric on campus and teach- ing about Israel in high school students to understanding the differences betweenAmerican and Israeli Jews and engag- ing young Jewish liberals in ways that respect their values while emphasizing support for Jerusalem. Another big topic, in various forms, was the denominational divide in American Jewish life and the effort to bolster commit- ment and intensity among non-Orthodox Jews. There were two sessions on the implications of the growth of the charedi community, discussions on whether Jews can survive on Torah without God, and a call to"unpack the liturgy so that education and worship are more melded and Jewish literacy raised." I participated in a conver- sation on what should be the outcomes of Jewish education today, convened by a veteran leader in the field. He noted at the outset that "it is stun- ning how often educators can't answer" the question he posed. Our group of about 10 observed that people measure Jewish educational success or failure in different ways, including fluency in Hebrew, membership in a congrega- tion, and/or the choice of a Jewish marriage partner. Honing in on how we would reinvent Jewish education to- day, most agreed on scrapping afternoon Hebrew school and focusing On creating quality early childhood programs, promoting and bolstering day school education and increas- ing efforts to engage teens on a personal level. There was an acknowledgment that our Jewish educational system has not kept pace with the rapid changes in a society that values the universal; we felt synagogues and other Jewish institutions need to be more assertive and creative in outreach efforts. But where do you draw the line between widening the tent and mainta!ning tradi- tional values? That issue led to a lively, contentious and sometimes painful discus- sion on whether the liberal denominations (including the liberal Orthodox) could pray as they wish but train clergy together. The pragmatic thesis--saving money on teachers, buildings, etc.-- soon gave way to ideological divides and struck a few raw nerves. In a poignant moment a woman rabbi explained her personal pain on feeling invis- ible in the eyes of some Jews, excluded from being counted in Orthodox services. One participant said he came away from the discus- sion realizing that "we can't reconcile our most fundamen- tal differences, so we have to acknowledge that and keep working on it." At the end of the day (actu- ally, two days), no concrete solutions were agreed upon on for any of the challeng- ing topics discussed. There were no silver bullets to deal with assimilation--or even agreement that it should be countered rather than embraced. And there was no clear approach to Israel that all could rally around. But that wasn't the goal of The Conversation. Far from it. Rather, in an increas- ingly divided and contentious American Jewish community, there was a recognition of the deep need for a safe space for serious Jews to meet, get to know, engage and yes, disagree, with each other in a civil and respectful way. And that's the vacuum The Conversation seeks to fill, as evidenced from the com- ments of the participants at Over and over, in varying ways, they spoke of the retreat as a gift, a unique and some- times humbling experience. They spoke of appreciating the diversity of the group, of personal growth, opening up, and of the value of being chal- lenged and gaining respect for different points of view. They realized that conver- . sation is not just about talk- ing. It's about listening--all too rare these days. One participant shared that, "My views were not altered here, they were in- formed." He added: "We don't need to achieve a false sense of unity." Rather, "the chal- lenge is to maintain a feeling of family" while still differing in many ways. That's as good a takeaway from The Conversation as any, on the cusp of a new year that finds the Jewish people struggling to maintain unity at a time when we are pull- ing apart, from within and without. May our efforts be rewarded and our prayers answered. Gary Rosenblatt has been the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week for 20 years and has written more than 1,000 "Between The Lines" columns since 1993. Now a collection of 80 of those columns, ranging from Mideast analysis to childhood remembrances as "the Jew- the closing circle at the end' ish rabbi's son" inAnnapolis, of the conference. Md., is available. Why does Qatar support Hamas? exiled leader Khaled Meshal. , A pro-lsrael source, speak- ing anonymously in order not to preempt lawmakers, said Qatar is under increas- ing scrutiny from Congress in the wake of this summer's Israel-Gaza conflict. And with reports proliferating that financing for Islamist insur- gents including the Islamic State, or ISIS, throughout the region originates in the oil-rich emirate, it is facing increasing isolation from its neighbors as well. Qatar's reasoning in iden- tifying so closely with Is- rael's mortal enemies is, paradoxically, grounded in the same strategies that led it to establish open ties with Israel in the 1990s, said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that specializes in Gulf states. "Qatar's basic approach to its own security is to maintain cordial relations with a very in a bloody coup. In 2012, its then-emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to visit Gaza under Hamas rule, pledging to raise $400 million toward reconstruction. Qatar's rationale--shared by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader--was that Islamist groups were prolif- erating and inevitably would play a role in the region, and therefore it was important for allies of Western nations to maintain ties. That thinking seemed to be vindicated by the Arab Spring in 2011 when Islamists were behalf in Washington. In 2005, Israel backed Qatar's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, helping to boost its diplomatic profile and influence. Qatar's attempts to mani- fest an outsize voice on regional issues is behind its backing for Al Jazeera. It seeks to maintain and polish its reputation as friendly to Western values. The tiny emirate pitches itself as a vacation destina- tion and funds a number of influential Washington think tanks, including the Brook- ings Institution, to where a senior official, Martin Indyk, just returned after a year trying to broker an Israeli- Palestinian peace deal. Tensions between Israel and Qatar emerged in 2007 when Qatar was one of the only countries to back Hamas after the group booted the more moderate Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip wide range of political actors and states," Boghardt said in an interview. "And this accounts for its relationship with Israel on the one hand and its relationship with the most extreme terrorist groups [such as ISIS] on the other hand. This is simply the behavior of a very small state sandwiched between two large and sometimes unfriendly neighbors, Saudi Arabia to the west and Iran to the east." Punching above its weight is what led Qatar to estab- lish trade ties with Israel in 1996, along with Oman, the first Gulf states to do so. Is- . raeli businessmen travel to the emirate and Israeli students are welcome at the emirate's Georgetown University cam- pus. Shahar Peer, the Israeli tennis pro, excelled in the Qatar Open in 2008. Israel returned the favor, with its government and the pro-Israel community here advocating on the emirate's What Obama's speech has to do with Israel and the Palestinians reaping most of the gains in the pro-democratization protests throughout the Arab world. Qatar backed the Mus- lim Brotherhood, the Egyp- tian progenitor of Hamas, in Egypt and Sunni insurgents seeking to topple the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. By this summer and the Gaza war, Israel was labeling Qatar a terrorist haven in part because it is harboring Meshal, a leader of Hamas. Qatar's fingerprints alone prompted Israel to reject a cease-fire proposal advanced Qotor on page 15A Dry Bones ? I REMEAAB00 THAT PRESlOBI" OBAMA... By Ami Eden NEW YORK (JTA)--Presi- dent Obama did not mention Israel or the Palestinians dur- ing his address to the nation. But his pledge to lead a U. S.- coordinated effort to destroy ISIS could end up doing more to get Israeli-Palestinian ne- gotiations back on track than anything Secretary of State Kerry and his team managed to produce with their shuttle diplomacy. Reaching a final deal is hard enough when the region is calm. But it becomes sig- nificantly moredifficult, if not impossible, when Islamic ex- tremism is on the march and U.S. influence is in retreat. Good luck convincing Is- raeli leaders that it is safe to abandon any part of the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley as ISIS destabilizes the region and moves closer to its borders, especially with a U.S. president perceived as being more interested in golf and Asia than confronting the gathering storms in the Middle East. History suggests that the most effective thing America can do to encourage Israeli risk-taking is to show that America is serious about reducing regional threats to the Jewish state. It is no accident that Isra- el's biggest steps vis-a-vis the Palestinians--acceptance of the PLO as a governing power in the West Bank and Gaza, major withdrawals, disman- tling of settlements--fol- lowed the two U.S. invasions of Iraq. Nor is it an accident that these Israeli moves toward a two-state solution have not worked out too well. They have been systematically undermined by terrorism and missile attacks carried out by Iranian-backed proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas. So if you're someone who thinks a two-state solution is a must, then you have one more reason to hope that the president's plan for defeating ISIS pans out. And while you're at it, you may want to come up with a plan for keeping Iran in check. ,,, GOT THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE. \\;