The renewal of Jewish identity in Israel poses a unique challenge, very different from that facing North American Jewish life. The secular Zionist movement, which founded the country and determined much of its cultural and linguistic sensibilities, was often fueled by a deep ambivalence, alienation, and even antipathy toward Judaism and the Jewish life of the Diaspora. To preserve these feelings, they instilled within the cultural DNA of Israeli society a distinction between two types of Jews and Judaisms, one that they classified as hiloni, secular, and the other as dati, religious, with the former representing themselves and what they hoped and believed would be the new future of Judaism. These two categories, and these two categories alone, provided for Israelis the only lenses through which they could classify and comprehend their Jewish identity. Even when secular or traditional Israelis feel that something is wrong with the spectrum of Jewish options available, they lack the conceptual language to articulate the matter for themselves, let alone for others. "I am secular, and am not connected with that," they say, with that meaning religion.
This lack of ability to articulate new aspirations, let alone influence change, created a Jewish identity stagnation and crisis within Israeli society, a crisis that Israelis were incapable of solving on their own. It is here that North American Jewry, and in particular UJA-Federation of New York, especially under the leadership of John Ruskay, has had one of their finest hours. North American Jewry, although facing significant challenges relating to the Jewish identity and commitment of its own members, does not suffer from the categorical and conceptual misconceptions that plague Israelis. Religion and Judaism are not the sole inheritance of any single denomination, but rather are categories that are subject to multiple interpretations and divisions. American non-Orthodox Jews might face the challenge of ensuring Jewish continuity among their children and grandchildren, but they do not see themselves as outside the Jewish religion or tradition.