Last week, I had the honor of participating in the 2014 Keren Hayesod Forum, which brought dozens of the next generation of Jewish leaders from around the world to Israel. The goal of the forum was to educate these young people on how to be a voice for Israel in our communities, and how to foster a deep and lasting connection to Israel’s land and her people.
Truthfully, I have been to dozens of events, programs and tours with the same objective, and all too often I end up feeling like the hasbara (public diplomacy) education taking place simply isn’t accomplishing what it is supposed to. I have heard all of the arguments presented to the young generation for supporting Israel, and although they are correct and worthwhile, they are also repetitive and overused.
My peers were raised on heart-wrenching stories from the Holocaust. We know the miracles surrounding the birth of modern Israel, and that Israel is an embattled nation and the only true democracy in the Middle East. We are well aware of the fact that Israel is falsely accused of being the aggressor in conflicts, of being an “apartheid” regime, and a host of other imagined sins. Yet we no longer want the world to look at Israel just as an embattled country that must always fight for survival, a country that her supporters must constantly stand up for in the face of adversity. We want the world to learn to see Israel as the strong and righteous country that she is.
In short, we’re searching for some new fuel – and that is exactly what we received from the Keren Hayesod 2014 Forum.
During a three-day trip that passed in the blink of an eye, we studied the past while focusing our eyes toward the future, and were exposed to the outstanding and groundbreaking technology coming out of the Holy Land. We traveled the country from north to south and met with numerous spiritual leaders, Knesset ministers, and individuals who defied statistics and beat the odds to achieve success. We even had a private audience with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear the advice that the prime minister gave to our group of leaders on how we can strengthen the State of Israel and her people. He presented us with three responsibilities which he proposed we take on ourselves: 1) Invest in Israel; 2) Spread the truth about Israel; 3) Create a bridge for more people to walk over and make aliya.
Israeli hi-tech guru Yossi Vardi accompanied us throughout the trip, and introduced us to Israeli companies producing the type of amazing, and in many cases lifesaving technological advancements that we grew up watching in science fiction films. We were welcomed by President Shimon Peres in his Jerusalem home, where he outlined his vision for the future, and instilled in us all two core concepts: A good leader does not rule, a good leader serves; interests divide people, visions unite people.
For the first time in modern history, I felt like we have reached a milestone. Israel’s messengers are now confident telling the world not only to donate to Israel, but to invest in Israel. We are no longer a country that is solely identified by poverty and the constant threat of terrorism, but by success and triumph as well. Just as the statistics regarding the drop of terror attacks in Israel speak for themselves, so too does the rising number of Israeli Nobel Prize recipients and patents on new technology. With the help of our friends around the world, Israel is on the path of ushering in a new reality, and it is even better than Ben-Gurion could have ever imagined!
As the senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews – one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Israel – I am often exposed to the grim statistics of poverty and need in the Holy Land and the desperate faces that go along with them. Yet indeed, just as the prophets promised, the times are changing. “There is hope for your future, said the Lord, and the children will return to their land” (Jeremiah 31:17).
During the three-day 2014 Keren Hayesod Forum, I have seen the hope that our forefathers spoke about 2,000 years ago, and, indeed, I can also see that our future looks bright.
The author is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.