A crucial moment for the future of the Jewish people
Opinion: As anti-Semitism grows once again around the world, the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people is to heal the deepening rift between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel — a rift that is liable, over time, to result in the formation of two separate peoples
The Jewish Agency is currently marking the 90th anniversary of its establishment by a resolution of the Zionist Congress.
The Jewish Agency is the big tent of the Jewish people. It is the world’s largest Jewish organization, and includes Jews from all countries, movements, and streams.
In its earliest days, it worked toward establishing the State of Israel, and later handled the Aliyah and absorption of millions of Jews from all over the globe and the building of the State of Israel.
Since the establishment of The Jewish Agency and since the establishment of the State of Israel to the present day, each generation has faced enormous challenges from within and without, and The Jewish Agency was and remains the spearhead in meeting these challenges.
I would like to state unequivocally that at this period of history, in this generation, the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people is to heal the deepening rift between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel — a rift that is liable, over time, to result in the formation of two separate peoples who are separated by an ocean.
As a public figure, as the Chairman of The Jewish Agency, the son of a former president of the State of Israel, and the grandson of the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, I am suffering more sleepless nights than ever over the current threat to the unity of the Jewish people.
Diaspora Jewry also faces a challenge to its security: raging, unrestrained anti-Semitism. After the terrible events of Pittsburgh and San Diego, we are in one of the most difficult times of the modern era.
Jews are walking the streets of Europe in fear for their safety, and anti-Semitism is rising throughout the world. It would therefore be a fatal error to think that our security-related concerns in the Middle East are the only challenge to the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people – a people that numbers only 14.5 million individuals throughout the world.
I call upon the future government of Israel to make the rebuilding of relations with Diaspora Jewry – Israel’s strategic home front – as well as Diaspora Jewry’s security, top national priorities.
A large segment of the millions of Jews worldwide, in particular the 6,000,000 Jews of North America, feel that their historical homeland is increasingly estranged from them.
The Jews of the Diaspora, particularly the young generation, in whom we take such pride due to, for example, their leadership in hi-tech companies, are not the Jews of the previous generation.
They do not necessarily live in Jewish communities or attend Jewish schools. Much of what they know of their homeland is what they see in the mainstream media, on social media, on campus, and in their workplaces.
Therefore, the important task, in which The Jewish Agency invests so much effort, is to strengthen the centrality of Israel in the Jewish world, particularly among the young generation.
Imagine a young person living overseas, who notices how negatively he is viewed by some Israelis, or how Israel is being torn apart by disagreements over the character of Judaism and preferences for one form of prayer over another. A generation witnessing this will ask itself what they could possibly have in common with Israel.
It is therefore very important that the young generation in Israel become familiar with and involved in the community life of Diaspora Jewry. I am proud of the thousands of Shlichim (Israeli emissaries), including Gap Year Shlichim (“ShinShinim”), who leave to represent Israel abroad every year, and return as ambassadors of the Diaspora.
I am also proud of the tens of thousands of young people whom we bring to Israel each year to learn about their homeland and strengthen their Jewish identities in programs such as 'Masa Israel Journey', and of course our Partnership2Gether relationships between communities in Israel and communities abroad.
The State of Israel must make the fight against anti-Semitism an issue of highest priority. The Jewish Agency operates a “situation room” that is linked to all segments of the Jewish people, and receives disturbing situation reports every day.
We send thousands of Shlichim every year to work with Jewish communities and hundreds of Shlichim to work with Jewish students in campuses and to fight against the BDS movement. We protect Jewish institutions and work with foreign governments and security forces. This is a mission of great importance, but we need the full power of the Israeli government to support it.
After many years during which Jews worldwide have asked themselves what they could do for their homeland state, the time has come for us to ask what their homeland state can do for them — what our homeland state can do to strengthen the relationship between the Jews who dwell in Zion and those who live overseas, and to strengthen their Jewish identities, the centrality of Israel in their identities, and their security.
There is much to be done!
The State of Israel must realize that the same people who have worked so tirelessly to provide it with such enormous assistance — the people known as “world Jewry” — will fall away unless we work conscientiously to deepen our bonds, to be inclusive, to understand them, and to act.
The writer is the Chairman of the Jewish Agency and former Leader of the Zionist Party (Labor Party) in the Israeli Knesset.