Young people wave Israeli flags during the Jerusalem Day march on June 5.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The World Zionist Organization is set to begin an initiative on Tuesday to draw young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel during the last week of May for them to take part in Jerusalem Day celebrations.
This year marks 50 years since the unification of east and west Jerusalem under Israeli control, serving as the impetus for this year’s L’haim Yerushalayim (Cheers Jerusalem) initiative, which the organization hopes will become an annual program with changing themes.
WZO vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the program strives to reach people between the ages of 18-30, especially those who are disconnected from their Jewish identity.
In cooperation with various government ministries, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jewish Agency, other Jewish and Zionist organizations as well as student bodies, WZO will launch a massive social media campaign hoping to spread the message far and wide. Israeli airline El Al is also cooperating, offering participants a 10% discount off their flights to the Holy Land.
Another aspect of the program Hagoel highlighted is that participants will be hosted by Israeli families.
Not only will this save them money on accommodation, but he believes that familiarization with the Israeli people is sorely lacking in most other programs that bring Diaspora Jews to Israel.
“With 99% of the organizations that bring people to [Israel] – they see Israel, great, but they only see Israelis out the window,” he said.
“Being hosted by Israeli families will allow the participants to get a real feeling of life in Israel; they will get to experience the great atmosphere, the food, aromas, celebrations and the joy,” Hagoel wrote in a message posted to the program’s website.
“Getting the chance to take part in events in honor of Yom Yerushalayim [Jerusalem Day] will add to the participants’ sense of belonging and will be an extra unique experience for them,” he added, calling on heads of organizations to pass on the information to communities around the world.
The banner of the flyer for the program reads, “Celebrating 50 years of unity.” Unity, Hagoel said, is the central theme of the initiative. “I’m talking about unification of the city and the Jewish people – Sephardim, Ashkenazim, secular, religious, [people] of all streams, from Israel and the Diaspora – unity is the central theme and it should be a uniting theme.”
Over the years, Jerusalem Day has become viewed as political, largely celebrated by the national-religious sector and tarnished by racism, drawing left-wing counter protests.
But recent efforts have been made for celebrations to appeal to a broader audience.
Hagoel said Cheers Jerusalem is nonpolitical and mainstream, noting that the word “unification” was deliberately selected instead of “liberation” when talking about Jerusalem. He added that participants can pick and choose which events they attend according to their preference.
Events will run between May 21-28, ranging from performances, meetings, advocacy conferences, cultural events and Jewish heritage tours.
Next year, the WZO hopes to run the program again in celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.