A crowd of around 40 people gathered in the Adat Shalom sanctuary on May 18, to listen to Elad Strohmayer, a diplomat for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The evening was relaxed, beginning with Strohmayer giving a brief but informative rundown of some of the more prominent issues concerning the broad topic of peace in the Middle East, followed by a question-and-answer session. The official title of his presentation was “Middle East Peace Process – Is There a Chance?” The first issue Strohmayer covered was explaining some of the challenges and acknowledging that all of the parties involved have made missteps.
“We’re still trying and striving to achieve agreement with our neighbors, and we understand that they’re here to stay, but they need to understand that we’re here to stay as well,” Strohmayer said. “The moment there is this understanding, then we can achieve that and reach that agreement. But the problem that also is occurring right now is that all the blame is on Israel in the discourse, and it’s not fair. It takes two to tango.”
Events such as this one give Strohmayer the opportunity to reach out to people and to properly explain Israel’s message to Jews and non-Jews as well as avid supporters and non-supporters of Israel. In response to a question about anti-Semitism, Strohmayer explained why interacting with people who are anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic, can be beneficial.
“People are ignorant and they don’t know better and they don’t know much, so they just follow what’s happening around them,” he said. “That’s something that we can deal with. We can educate, we can interact, and actually that’s what the Jewish community’s doing, that’s what the CRC is doing, this is what ADL is doing, and actually that’s what we are doing when we reach out and try to show the different faces of Israel.”
Strohmayer stressed the difference between anti-Semitism because of ignorance and anti-Semitism because of a deep-seated hatred and that counteracting the two requires remarkably different approaches.
“It’s very important to convey both what we think and the messages of Israel,” said Strohmayer on why outreach events are important.
“It’s important for us to express our opinion but also hear other opinions and have a dialogue. I think it’s very important to the relationship between Israel and Jewish communities worldwide to have a dialogue. That’s a key element for us.”
The question-and-answer sessions aren’t just for the benefit of the community. They can help guide the outreach the consulate’s office does. If Strohmayer hears a certain topic reoccurring in the questions, he’ll take that back to his office, and they will explore what steps might need to be taken.
Strohmayer is often traveling around the six states his office covers: Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and (southern) New Jersey. This trip is an average visit to the region, lasting about a week and includes meet and greets with local politicians and community members. He also made a stop at the last day of the International Children’s Festival, where an Israeli group performed.
The evening’s event was co-sponsored by Adat Shalom and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Gregg Roman, the director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council says he would like to see a member of the Israeli consulate eventually interact with each of the more than 75 organizations that are part of the Jewish Delegate Assembly of Greater Pittsburgh.
“It’s important to have different exposure within the Jewish community and have an opportunity with a dialogue directly from the Jewish government not through a Jewish community intermediary,” said Roman.
The general consensus following the event was that the evening had been insightful and educational.
“I was pleased with the speaker’s frankness,” said Adat Shalom’s Rabbi Yaier Lehrer. “He didn’t use a lot of the evasive language that sometimes diplomats use. He was pretty direct with how he answered questions, and I think he was informative as a result.”