Jerusalem-born Adam Odesser is director of the Dr. Stuart Lessans Israel Action Center at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Odesser, 32, lives in Silver Spring and is a member of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville.
What do you do at the Israel Action Center?
I spend a lot of my time engaging with community members of all ages, teens and adults, on issues related to Israel and important to our community. We run Israel fellowships for teens and provide engagement and training opportunities for adults. We also work to engage our community with our local and federal elected officials and provide the space to have a genuine and honest conversation about issues of concern to the Jewish community, including Israel.
What was your upbringing like in Jerusalem?
I grew up in a modern Orthodox household, attending Hartman high school in Jerusalem. My parents instilled in me strong Jewish values, together with a strong background of religious practices. Although Hartman is an Orthodox high school, it emphasizes the importance of respecting diversity and instilling pluralism.
I was also lucky to spend a great amount of time, especially during the summer months, with family in the U.S. This time allowed me to recognize the differences in the way each of us choose to practice our Judaism, ultimately leading me on a path that looks to serve our Jewish community and bring people together, not always in agreement, but at least in dialogue.
The common assumption now is that younger people tend to be less emotionally invested in Israel than previous generations, with a larger number being hostile, rather than disinterested. What’s your take? What have you seen out there?
I tend to disagree with this assumption, although I entirely understand where it’s coming from. In the past, the main concern of Jews around the world was to make sure that Jewish communities were safe, and that Israel, the only Jewish state, is a safe state. Israel still needs the support of Jewish communities around the world, especially from the Jewish community of North America.
However, today Israel is a strong and vibrant country, leading the world in many areas, including high-tech, environmentalism and security. The younger generation is not surprised by Israel’s accomplishments, but rather expects it. It also expects it to hold on to fundamental Jewish values, including pursuing social justice, fixing the world (tikkun olam) and, yes, seeking peace and pursuing it.
It also expects it to be attentive to values held by the majority of Diaspora Jewry, such as religious pluralism.
Does the assumption of younger people being less invested in Israel come as a result of growing concerns of specific Israeli policies? Perhaps. But do these concerns inherently mean disconnection? I would argue that it is entirely the opposite. This comes from a place of love, respect, emotional connection and investment in the State of Israel. As an Israeli, I know all too well about being concerned, critical and arguing passionately about things I care about, not about what I don’t care about.
What is Israel to you?
Israel is a place I call home, it isn’t my only home, but it is my first home. I try to instill this love I have for Israel in my kids every day. I understand that not every person I encounter shares the same connection to Israel as I do. I know some might hold a different narrative than I do about the State of Israel. I do my best to share from my personal experiences to allow others a glimpse into why I find Israel as a country to look up to. I acknowledge that Israel isn’t perfect, it definitely has some work to do, but what country doesn’t?
What do you like to do in your off hours?
If by off hours we are talking about the time I’m not working, I’d say I’m mostly spending time with my family and my two kids, who are 4 and 2. So as you can probably imagine, my wife, Emily, and I don’t really get many off hours. But neither of us would change that for the world. ■