Nearly 50 years to the day after Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck convened the Jerusalem Foundation’s first meeting, the juggernaut – which has gone on to invest over $1.5 billion in the capital’s cultural and social institutions – gathered to celebrate its many achievements.
Established by Kolleck on September 22, 1966, the Foundation has reached unprecedented heights in its mission to enhance pluralism for all three of the capital’s monotheistic religions, and 800,000 residents, despite the charged geopolitical environment in which it operates.
Indeed, since its founding, the Foundation has completed over 4,000 projects, including a number of cultural, community and research-based institutions for Arabs and Jews in the east and west, via endowments and major gifts from donors across the globe.
Among its most notable contributions to the capital include the internationally-celebrated Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Jewish-Arab Education in Jerusalem; 21 community centers for Arabs and Jews throughout the city; numerous synagogues; the Khan Theater; Beit Alpert Music Center; and the Bernard M. Bloomfield Science Museum.
During Tuesday’s opening ceremony for the annual two-day conference, international luminaries from the Jewish community gathered at the David Citadel Hotel to express gratitude for the foundation’s many accomplishments, and discuss its many challenges.
Noting that he was present when rockets were fired at Israel during the Gulf War, despite having no involvement in the conflict, British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said he understood that “we still have a way to go until Jerusalem becomes what its name means: The city of peace.”
“In thousands of ways, the Jerusalem Foundation is healing those divides in ways that touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people [by] promoting economic growth, through education, through your work in culture and creativity... through your work on coexistence,” he said.
“I thank you, I bless you,” Sacks concluded. “You are doing God’s work.”
Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, who penned the best-selling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013), said there is no question in his mind that “Jerusalem is the City of God.
“Jerusalem is at the core of my identity, my soul, and my heart,” said Shavit. “I am not a religious person; I’m not absolutely sure there is a God – but I know there is a God in Jerusalem... I know that on these rocky hills, heaven meets earth.”
Citing the capital as a city for Christians, Muslims and Jews, Shavit praised the foundation’s ongoing efforts to engender a more pluralistic environment.
“Teddy’s Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Foundation, brought a national movement of the Jewish people, while giving the world one of the most astounding, greatest gifts,” he said, adding that terrorism and war will not deter the foundation’s mission of unity.
Jerusalem Foundation President Yohanna Arbib-Pergia said the capital remains a “symbol for the world.”
“My belief is that Jerusalem is the united capital of the State of Israel, and we should continue to work very hard to develop and strengthen the city for the goal of humanity,” she said.
“One of the messages from our 50th anniversary is a universal, global Jerusalem – a united Jerusalem.”
President Reuven Rivlin singled out the organization’s president emeritus, Ruth Cheshin, and thanked her for continuing her family’s long legacy as “Builders of Jerusalem.” Cheshin, like Rivlin, is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite.
“I’m not going to argue who is more of a Jerusalemite, because I’m sure I will win,” said Rivlin, “but my thanks go to Ruth for all you have done and for all the Jerusalem Foundation has done and continues to do for the city of Jerusalem and the people of Jerusalem.”
Cheshin joined Teddy Kollek in creating the Jerusalem Foundation and members of both their families were present at the President’s Residence on Tuesday as were many representatives of other founding families.
Since its founding, the foundation has completed over 4,000 projects, including a number of cultural, community and research-based institutions for Arabs and Jews in the east and west, via endowments and major gifts from donors across the globe.
Among its most notable contributions to the capital include the internationally celebrated Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Jewish- Arab Education in Israel; 21 community centers for Arabs and Jews; numerous synagogues; the Khan Theater; the Beit Alpert Music Center; and the Bernard M. Bloomfield Science Museum.
Cheshin said she was delighted to see so many of the familiar faces of founders, but was also pleased to see so many younger people, because this means that the family of the Jerusalem Foundation is growing.
When Kollek came with his vision for a thriving world class metropolis, she recalled, “Jerusalem was a small, neglected city.” At the time there was nothing like the Jerusalem Foundation in Israel, and it served as a model for other cities, she said, noting that even Bethlehem came and learned from Jerusalem.
Although the foundation works in cooperation with the municipality, it remains independent. To work properly, it must protect its independence, Cheshin asserted.
Conference co-chair Julia Koschitzky, a former president of the Canadian branch of the foundation, asked all those present to note 2066 in their calendars so that they could save the date for its centenary. “Jerusalem ever ceases to amaze us,” she said.
“There’s always something new and exciting.”