How can the faltering bonds between Israel and Diaspora Jewry be strengthened? The Prime Minister’s Office has been recently considering initiatives to accomplish just such a goal with a project entitled “enhancing the bond between Israel and world Jewry, and the affiliation of Jews aboard to the State of Israel.”
A conference was furthermore held this week on this new Jewish initiative, organized by Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel with the support of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Attending the conference was a broad-based panel of experts including, among others, Minister of Religious Affairs Yitzhak Cohen, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski, Professor Aliza Shenhar, Dr.Ruth Calderon, Minister of the Diaspora, Society and Fight Against Anti-Semitism Isaac Herzog and various representatives of the American Jewish Committee.
World Jewry in dire straits
The conference was replete with grim statistics highlighting the bleak state of world Jewry, and its waning connection to the State of Israel.
Half of Jews abroad are intermarrying, and a staggering 50% of Jewish American youngsters said they would not care much if Israel ceases to exist. In fact, only 20% of Diaspora Jews consider themselves as “having strong ties to the state of Israel”. The bottom line arrived at during the conference is thus that Israel is rapidly “losing” its bonds with Diaspora Jews.
Furthermore, the conference also concluded that the state of world Jewry is also in dire straits. A new survey conducted by the ADL in six European countries uncovered that 50% of their population feels that Jews are disloyal to their country. German Jews revealed that they are subjected nearly daily to anti-Semitic slurs.
Israel thus, maintained participants at the conference, must approach Jews abroad in a sense of unity, shared destiny and open communication, rather than just appealing for aid and support.
To that end conference delegates proposed the establishment of a committee, chaired by Yehezkel, Herzog and Bielski that will examine practical measures Israel can take to reach out to Jewish communities abroad.
Among some of the measures that have already been proposed are launching a PR campaign that will “market” Israel as an advanced, modern country that is eager to absorb new Jewish immigrants from across the globe, increased government funding for initiatives such as Birthright Israel and Taglit that allow youngsters to visit Israel and encounter young Israeli peers, as well as the establishment of Jewish cultural centers abroad that will showcase various Israeli artists and singers and provide Hebrew lessons for the local Jewish community.
Professor Shenhar also proposed establishing an International Jewish University in Israel that can attract Jewish students from across the globe.