Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Establishment of a sense of normality in the State of Israel is a key goal of the Zionist dream, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday night at the Gala Opening of the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem.
“The essence of having a routine life – of children going to schools, parents going to work, youth and adults enjoying leisure activities – the existence of the heartbeat of normal, natural life, is also, and perhaps, an essential and inseparable part of Zionism in our times,” Edelstein told the gathered delegates and Congress participants.
“We are in tense times right now, in which despicable terrorists are raising their heads and slaughtering innocent people, including the elderly and young. We have known harder times, though, and what has strengthened us was two pillars: our common fate and destiny; and the strong feeling of togetherness that beats within us, always.
Some 700 delegates representing the Zionist political parties in Knesset, Jewish communities from around the world, the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform denominations and Jewish organizations, are participating in the Congress, which isheld in Israel once every five years, to discuss some of the key issues facing the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
Challenges such as the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign against Israel, the ongoing concern of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Israel-Diaspora relationship were discussed in plenary sessions, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Absorption Ze’ev Elkin also addressed the delegates.
There also was much talk of the ongoing relevance of the WZO, the most venerable of the so-called national institutions, and the new paths and missions the organization has taken in recent years.
Dr. David Breakstone, one of the two vice chairmen of the organization, said one of its central priorities is providing training and guidance for Jewish educators in the Diaspora.
The WZO is dealing with the well being of the Jewish people as a whole, which includes, fighting anti-Semitism; the campaign to delegitimize Israel; and BDS, which are things we are heavily invested in,” Breakstone told The Jerusalem Post.
“But, without Zionist education, there won’t be any Israel advocacy because the younger generations are becoming increasingly alienated from Israel. They are not going to become activists for Israel when they get to college campuses, for example, if they haven’t been infused with the idea of the need for a Jewish state to begin with.”
The WZO, he said, has brought approximately 200 educators (formal and informal) including teachers, rabbis, youth group leaders and others, to Israel so far in 2015, with another trip planned for the end of the year.
Educators in the Diaspora, Breakstone said, are struggling to deal with the complex issues facing the State of Israel, such as the Palestinian conflict, but also internal problems such as the social justice concerns facing the country, religion and state issues and the way the establishment relates to the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.
“We’re bringing them over in the hundreds to help them deal with these issues when they teach them on campus, in the classrooms, at camps, Jewish youth movements and the other educational forums in the Diaspora,” he said.
Responding to Edelstein’s comments, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, a WZO delegate and head of the US Reform Movement’s Zionist wing, argued that normalcy in the State of Israel required greater efforts by the country’s political leadership to end the conflict with the Palestinians.
“I agree very much with Speaker Edelstein, however, we can’t be blind to the reality that the current status quo with regard to the Palestinians is unsustainable,” said Weinberg. “For a true sense of normalcy and for us to live our lives ‘like the other nations,’ I would say we have to be pursuers of peace, even if the other side is not.”