Israel inspired: Our next national mission

It’s time to look beyond our borders and take upon ourselves a new global responsibility.

By JEREMY GIMPEL
June 13, 2013 14:36
IDF tank soldiers in the Golan Heights.

IDF tank soldiers 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees. Keep in mind, Israel is over 60 percent desert. In less than 50 years, Israel planted over 260 million trees, covering over 1,000 sq.km.

Since its inception, our little country has taken upon itself massive national initiatives and accomplished what would otherwise seem impossible.

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Modern Israel’s first decade of existence was monumental and historically unprecedented. In a multi-cultured society made up of penniless refugees and Holocaust survivors Israel established the IDF, all of the state’s national institutions, and unified a fragmented people, welcoming them back to their ancient homeland and reviving their ancient tongue. To date, Israel is the only country in the world to ever resurrect a dead language.

In the late ‘60s and ‘70s Israel began to repopulate Judea and Samaria, and in the ‘80s Israel absorbed an additional 20% of its population when over 1,000,000 Russian immigrants flooded the country. During the first years of my aliya in the early ‘90s, the country was fully engaged and collectively immersed in the newest national agenda – the peace process.

Today things seem different. These past elections were the first time I can recall that peace and security were not the focus of any serious campaign. Parties hit the streets promising cheaper housing and a lower cost of living. People were coming out in droves to vote primarily on internal issues and even now, as new MKs battle out the issues, no one is really talking about peace with the Palestinians. Where does that leave us now? What initiative should our nation rally behind today?

FOR ALL streams of the Jewish people, the Torah has shaped our national identity for over 3,000 years and continues to offer direction and insight on how, as a nation, we make progress and succeed. The Jewish people, left to our own vices, far too frequently becomes self-destructive. After the splitting of the sea, the Children of Israel complain.

After experiencing Sinai, the only recorded national revelation in human history, they sin with the golden calf. After floating through the desert guided by divine clouds, they beg to return to Egypt.

There is one pause in the pattern of infighting and protests during their time in the desert, starkly distinguished from 15 consecutive chapters – the building of the Tabernacle. Not only was there peace in the camp, but the people even gave too much to the cause. So enthusiastic were they in contributing to a national effort that they had to be asked to stop. The timeless lesson is clear – for Israel to be healthy, we must always be working together toward a higher cause, a greater mission.

It’s time to look beyond our borders and take upon ourselves a new global responsibility.

From the advent of the blue tin JNF boxes in the 1900s to countless gala dinners in the 2000s, Israel has always looked to Diaspora Jewry for support.

This dependence seemed hard-wired into the Israeli Jewish psyche. The Jewish return to Israel was against all odds and we needed every bit of support to ensure the success of our fledgling enterprise. Without the assistance of Baron Rothschild and his ilk, the early pioneers didn’t stand a chance. Israel was too fragile, too young and too weak to grow or even survive.

Today, we are living in different times. Israel is stronger than ever and our future has never been brighter.

Israel has emerged as the spiritual center for world Jewry – a reality that hasn’t existed since Solomon’s Temple.

Our start-up economy, backed with a multi-billion dollar natural gas industry, has afforded us a sense of economic stability and confidence. With Jewish populations shrinking in every other country around the world, we in Israel need to recalibrate our relationship with world Jewry.

Instead of looking to Diaspora Jewry for support, it’s time for Israel to take responsibility and support world Jewry.

After touring college campuses in America in the ‘70s, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach said, “If someone tells me they are Catholic, I know they’re Catholic. If someone says, I’m a Protestant, I know they are a Protestant. If someone tells me ‘I’m just a human being,’ I know they’re a Jew.”

Assimilation rates in America have never been higher. Similarly disheartening, a study was recently released asking Jewish college students if Israel ceased to exist how it would affect them. Over 50% of Jews on campus today said it wouldn’t personally disturb them.

If Israel doesn’t step in soon, we will lose the majority of world Jewry to apathy and assimilation. The Nation of Israel has a global mission that is far greater than lowering housing prices or even greening our own deserts. The State of Israel must redirect its efforts and change its self-image. Instead of a little country begging for handouts, we need to enter and embrace the next phase of Jewish history and assume our rightful position as the leaders of world Jewry. Israel has as much to give to world Jewry as it does to receive.

Assuming responsibility for world Jewry is not primarily an altruistic gesture but a strategic necessity and national moral imperative. As much as world Jewry needs Israel, Israel needs world Jewry.

In Israel, we must challenge entrenched paradigms historically and socially accepted as self-evident.

Instead of Jewish programming and tours to enhance the Israel experience, the Jewish Agency, backed by the government, should consider supporting Jewish schools across the world introducing more Hebrew studies, Tanach and modern Jewish history.

While Jewish schools across America are suffering, a majority of Jewish students in England learn in Jewish day schools. It’s not that English schools are better than American institutions – Jewish schools in England are subsidized and the tuition is a fraction of American tuition. No Birthright trip can take the place of a serious Jewish education.

Israeli educators should systematically spend time and energy abroad. The Israeli government should encourage outreach activities with both professional recognition and financial support.

Outreach should become common practice. Imagine if every teacher and rabbi in Israel, as part of their teaching degree, had to spend at least one year in a Diaspora community teaching Hebrew, Zionism and Jewish studies. Today only a fraction of Israeli educators spend time teaching outside Israel. If we institutionalize this practice, the impact would be enormous across the Jewish world.

For now, the real work is psychological.

Does Israel have the internal strength to transform its self-perception and become the leader it was always meant to be? I believe that the fate of world Jewry depends on it. ■

The author is the deputy director of the World Mizrachi Movement.


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