President Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Reuven Rivlin took time from a crowded schedule to address more than 300 people in Jerusalem to mark the UJA-Federation of New York’s centennial in Israel.
The visitors from the Big Apple were on a weeklong mission to celebrate Israel’s Independence, inspect some of the projects they support and meet Israelis from all walks of life.
This was the largest mission the UJA has ever brought to Israel.
The mission also had a crowded schedule, so immediately after Rivlin spoke on Thursday, members headed for the buses to catch up with the next item on the agenda.
While Rivlin frequently hosts Jewish groups from abroad, this one was too large to come to him, so he went to them at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, where he told them that Jews everywhere are part of one family.
More specifically, Rivlin said, it is a family with shared responsibilities: to fight antisemitism, educate its children – giving them a sense of their Jewish identity – and build the State of Israel, “our national home.”
“We are not only bound together by common enemies, memories of the Shoah and 4,000 years of shared history,” he said, but also by the future.
Rivlin stressed that people of different backgrounds – or “the four tribes” as he generally refers to Orthodox, secular, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab – must join together to forge a shared Israeli identity.
While it is not unusual in New York for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews to come together on one platform, he said, in Israel it is very unusual.
“We remember the price for internal division,” said Rivlin, who with his wife, hosts study sessions at the President’s Residence in which Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews participate.
“Israel is not just a place, but also an idea,” he stated. Herzl perceived the nation as a safe haven and Ahad Ha’am saw it as the seat of the rebirth of Jewish culture, he explained, adding, “But the State of Israel is the focal point of the shared mission of the Jewish People.”
On Wednesday, the mission went to Tel Aviv to visit Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, for the opening of an exhibition that is a collaboration between the museum, UJA-Federation of New York, and the American Jewish Historical Society. The exhibit documents the Federation’s first 100 years of shaping Jewish life in America and around the world and features artifacts and photographs that highlight its involvement in helping to resettle large numbers of Jewish immigrants to the United State.
The exhibit, which will be on view for three weeks, also covers work the work of the UJA during the early 1900s, World War I, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. It also shows how the organization reached out to Ethiopian immigrants to Israel and to Soviet Jewry.
The fiscal crisis in New York, 9/11, and Hurricane Sandy, are also featured in the exhibition, which according to UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein “provides a stirring illustration of UJA’s impact.”
The mission participants were welcomed by Irina Nevzlin, head of the museum’s board of directors, who said the facility’s goal is to tell the story of the Jewish people from around the world, of which the federation’s centennial was now part.
Former Israel ambassador to the US, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, who is well known to many members of the group, was also present.