In speech to Jewish leaders from abroad, Netanyahu calls for ‘policy of partnership’

NY Federation head: Jewish identity is the key

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November 7, 2013 21:40
4 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.

netanyahu and sharansky 370. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

Israel needs a “policy of partnership” with Diaspora Jewry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced during a speech to Jewish leaders from abroad on Thursday.

Speaking at the conclusion of a two-day strategic planning summit on Diaspora affairs held by his office and the Jewish Agency, Netanyahu reaffirmed Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry director- general Dvir Kahana’s statement of the previous day that Israel-Diaspora relations are undergoing a “paradigm shift.”

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The government is looking to “create a strategic plan for the upcoming 25 years that will include a common vision and more importantly an implementation of new projects for the Jewish people,” Kahana told Jewish leaders on Wednesday. Israel is committed to allocating “significant resources” to make this possible, he added.

Israel will provide up to one third of the funding for this initiative, which is being planned in close cooperation and after extensive consultations with American Jewish leaders, according to a planning document the Prime Minister’s Office provided to The Jerusalem Post.

“It’s particularly important to embrace this initiative and work together,” and to “create a firm base of identity” in order to combat rising assimilation and alienation from Jewish life in the Diaspora, Netanyahu said.

In 1997, Birthright, a program that brings young Jews to tour in Israel, and receives significant government funding, “pivoted the idea” that Israel was moving from a recipient to a donor, and heralded a cultural change in which Israel could give and contribute to the Diaspora in a direct way, he said.

Expanding on such programs in collaboration with the Diaspora will serve to make the Diaspora-Israel relationship even more balanced, he said.

“We are charged with the task of securing the Jewish future, which to me means securing the Jewish state for the Jewish people, all the Jewish people,” Netanyahu added. “We are a link in a chain of generations of Jews. We are going for a partnership to strengthen Jewish identity by bringing young Jews to Israel. Kol yisra’el arevim zeh lazeh – all Jews are responsible for one another. We have to secure a common future for the Jewish people.”

Citing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s proposal to reach a compromise over prayer rights at the Western Wall, made after extensive consultations with American Jewish leaders, the prime minister said that such efforts illustrate that Israel seeks to “solve problems not for you but with you.”

Despite facing severe problems, the world Jewish community still has the tools the fix itself, Sharansky told delegates.

Among the issues Sharansky raised were an aging leadership and institutions that are “becoming less appropriate,” as well as “not enough or almost no learning” about Israel, Jewish history and Judaism in Jewish schools.

“The good thing is, that when we start thinking how we can solve [our problems]... we find out that all the tools are there. All the most successful programs are built and all we need [to do] is [figure out] how to use them better.”

John Ruskay, outgoing executive vice president and CEO of the UJAFederation of New York, told the Post that the government’s overtures represent “a huge opportunity for the Jewish people, both in Israel and beyond to work together on the major challenge that faces us.

“As Natan Sharansky has been saying for a long time, Jewish identity is now the driver of everything we care about,” Ruskay said. “If one’s not identified, why care about securing the Jewish state, feeding the hungry in Brooklyn or in Ashdod or in making certain that the next generation can go on Birthright or to a summer camp.

So us coming together on that agenda under the prime minister’s leadership is critical and important and my hope is we can max this opportunity.”

Collaboration with Israel, he added, can be key in “strengthening the fabric and the network of Jewish education for a new environment.

We all live in open societies and the question is how can we strengthen the whole network of education, formal and informal.”

Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, agreed with Sharansky and Ruskay that an expansion of existing programs is key to preserving Jewish identity. Saxe told the Post he would like to see programs such as Birthright made available to more people.

“Part of it is taking the initiatives that we have and really developing them and bringing them up to scale,” he said. “Basically what we are saying is we have technologies that we know work, we have to get them up to scale, we have to reach out to the people who haven’t yet been engaged. You need to take the platform that Taglit [Birthright] represents and make it available to more people, maybe younger people, older people, couples.”

“Sharansky said: “What was unique in this process is that this time it was done together with the government. This seminar could not take place if it did not have the leadership of the prime minister.

The government is not only acting on behalf of the Jewish people, but in partnership with the Jewish people.”


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