Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik and Israeli lawmaker, was named the 2020 Genesis Prize laureate. He will be one of two keynote speakers at ‘Z3: American Jews & Israel, Navigating Our Shared Destiny' at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis in May. Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Jewish Community Center is hosting a couple of major events this year — so major, in fact, you might want to mark your calendars now.

The first is a new, one-day conference on Sunday, May 17, designed to provide the St. Louis community with an in-depth, nuanced understanding of topical issues that affect Israel and the relationship between the Israeli and the American Jewish communities. Entitled “Z3: American Jews & Israel, Navigating Our Shared Destiny,” it features not one, but two keynote speakers: 2020 Genesis Prize Laureate Natan Sharansky and Avraham Infeld, president emeritus of Hillel and founder of Melitz, a non-profit educational service institution that promotes Jewish identity. 

In addition, eight breakout sessions throughout the day will tackle a wide range of issues including anti-Semitism as a divisive force in the Israel conversation, the changing nature of what it means to be a Jew today, Israel on college campuses and the opportunities and challenges it presents, and peaceful coexistence projects between Jews and Arabs in Israel. 

“We wanted to gather some of the greatest thought leaders, scholars and journalists in one place, on one day to speak on a diverse number of topics around the Israel-American relationship,” said Diane Maier, who is coordinating the conference. “Our hope is that people will come and listen and engage so that by the end of the day they will have a much better understanding and a deepening of knowledge of the pressing issues affecting Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship and American Jews’ personal relationship with Israel.”

Maier explained that Z3 first began five years ago in Palo Alto, Calif., which has the largest population of Israelis in the United States. This year it is expanding to two cities: St. Louis and Los Angeles.

The May 17 conference takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex. This event is a collaboration among the J, St. Louis Jewish Federation’s Center of Jewish Learning and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The cost is $45 for adults and $18 for students 21 and younger. The price includes a kosher lunch. Scholarships are available. You can register online at jccstl.com/z3

For more information, contact Maier at 314-442-3190 or dmaier@jccstl.org.

The other big J event is the return of the Sababa Jewish Arts and Cultural Festival, set for Sunday, Oct. 18 at Washington University. When it first debuted in 2018, the free festival featured roughly 30 artists booths representing media such as glass, jewelry, tapestries, weavings, watercolors and photography as well as a dozen or so food vendors and a diverse lineup of Jewish musical groups. Maier says attendees this time around should expect more of everything — more art, more food choices and more music, including a performance by Six13. The all-male a cappella group is best known for its ultra-creative parody videos, including ones for Hanukkah to the tune Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and a Star Wars-inspired mashup this past season timed to the release of the latest movie in the franchise.

Maier said that in the future, Z3 and the Sababa festival will alternate years, with the next Z3 planned for the fall of 2021.