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
Since its inception, our little country has taken upon itself
massive national initiatives and accomplished what would otherwise seem
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
should systematically spend time and energy abroad. The Israeli government
should encourage outreach activities with both professional recognition and
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
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.