“We cannot take the future of the Jewish people for granted,” Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post
at Jerusalem’s Inbal hotel following a speech to leaders of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the former refusenik stated
that he believes the strengthening of Jewish identity and pride among Diaspora
Jews engendered by the “shock” of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of
Israel has worn off.
“The connection to Judaism through classical Jewish
education” has also declined, he said.
“That decline used to be
compensated for by Israel involvement.”
However, with polls indicating
that only half of American Jews under 30 would be disturbed by the destruction
of the State of Israel, American Jewry’s connection to Israel is
Sharansky, during his tenure as head of JAFI, has steered the
agency on a new course, focusing less on its former core mission of facilitating
mass aliya, and is pushing programs that strengthen Jewish identity in the
Discussing programs such as Birthright, which bring young Jews
to Israel for a free tour, Sharansky noted that an “Israel experience is
becoming absolutely crucial in strengthening Jewish identity.”
acknowledged that “on the one hand Jews are less emotionally involved with
Israel,” he noted that “if you look at the young Jewish leadership now versus 25
years ago, they are much more connected to Israel than before.”
such as Birthright and the recently announced Onward are “our main hope,”
These programs “are the only thing that can compensate
for the weakening pain of the Holocaust and the triumph of the creation of the
State of Israel,” he said.
Asked about his agency’s change in focus, he
said that it is not, as some claim, a “betrayal of aliya.”
“We are no
less passionate about aliya, but when it comes to the free world it is not a
question of rescue” like with Ethiopian or Soviet Jewry.
“In order to
encourage aliya you must make Diaspora Jews feel closer to Israel. If you want
to stop assimilation you must make people less indifferent to their Jewish
identity and more passionate about their belonging to the Jewish
Many of those at the most risk of assimilation abroad he said,
are the children of Israeli expatriates and Russian Jews who have moved to the
“The most dangerous situation is among those speaking
Russian and Hebrew,” he said. Sharansky claims that this is because the kinds of
communal institutions that help maintain Jewish identity among Diaspora Jews do
not appeal to Israelis and Russians.
“We have to strengthen the Jewish
identity of Israelis abroad,” he said.
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