Right after my 22nd birthday, I was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Oxford
University to serve as rabbi to the students. It was a strange place to send a
young rabbi and his wife. Oxford had around 800 Jewish students and a small
Jewish resident community. Was it worthwhile for Chabad to open a significant
operation in a city with such a paucity of Jews, especially when there were many
larger communities who were still not served by a full-time rabbi? But what the
Rebbe understood was the influence that students in elite universities would
later have. “He [Rabbi Boteach] is influencing a group of people who will in
turn influence orders of magnitude more,” the Rebbe told a supporter of mine.
The Rebbe’s prediction was born out as many of our students went on to positions
of influence, some of the most outstanding being Cory Booker, the mayor of
Newark and Democratic Party favorite in the upcoming New Jersey senatorial
election, and Eric Garcetti, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles.
of all the thousands of students I met in my 11 years as Oxford’s rabbi, the one
who stood out most in his devotion to Israel was young political science
superstar Ron Dermer. Since his days at Oxford Ron has gone on to serve as
Israel’s minister for economic affairs in the United States and as Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s most senior adviser. If media reports are
accurate, he will soon face challenges of a new magnitude as Israel’s ambassador
to the United States.
Israel’s reputation is suffering terribly around
the world and Ron is the best spokesman to combat the vicious assault against
the Jewish state that I have ever encountered. Whereas ambassadors of other
countries are focused primarily on influencing government policy in their host
nations, Israel’s ambassadors have to be different, focusing as well on
influencing public opinion in the media markets to which they are
Ron is gifted in his ability to make Israel’s case. From his days
at Oxford, where he served as president of our student organization, the L’Chaim
Society, he has been demolishing opponents in the marketplace of ideas with an
unparalleled command of the facts and electrifying presentation. He persuaded
some of the world’s brightest students on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including
Arab students from some of Middle East’s most prominent families, who were his
His skills have only increased since.
addressed a small gathering of Jewish leaders that I organized together with
Birthright-Israel’s cofounder Michael Steinhardt, mesmerizing them with his
erudition on the Middle East. The great battle for Israel today goes beyond the
bombs and bullets being slung against it by terrorist neighbors.
it is a war of words, and demands highly-skilled verbal warriors. Ron will
continue the tradition of Israel’s distinguished outgoing ambassador, Michael
Oren, who made a positive and scholarly impact throughout the United States, and
will build strongly on that legacy.
Israel’s success both as a
flourishing democracy in the Middle East and as a world hub of entrepreneurial
ingenuity is without parallel. Nonetheless, it continues to lose the public
relations battle at nearly every step. With anti-Semitism on the rise globally
and the BDS movement spreading at campuses the world over, there is a growing
need for educated, charismatic spokespeople capable of advocating for Israel and
But we in the Jewish community often lack the tools
necessary to engage, and ultimately win, this vital debate.
How has the
Jewish community responded to the challenge of hasbara, or making Israel’s case?
Primarily through creating organizations that focus on social media, networking,
and bringing highprofile personalities to Israel that portray the Jewish state
in a positive light. Israel advocacy groups organize well-publicized trips to
Israel to visit and meet Israel’s leaders.
There is no question that this
Barbra Streisand’s recent concerts in Israel made
international headlines as did Madonna’s decision to launch her global concert
tour last summer in Tel Aviv. My own organization, This World: The Jewish Values
Network, will have the honor of hosting Dr. Mehmet Oz – the global television
star who is the world’s most famous doctor and foremost advocate for public
health – later this month, God willing, in Israel, where his show also airs.
Oz, one of the most approachable and genuine men I know, will appear
on a public panel chaired by the editor of The Jerusalem Post
But there is no substitute for something even more important,
namely, the grooming of charismatic spokespeople promoting Israel, Jewish values
and the Jewish contribution to society.
I have long advocated the
creation of an international institute of Jewish values, a foundation dedicated
to producing and training exponents of Israel advocacy and Jewish values. To
influence young men and women is crucial to successfully boost Israel’s public
standing and spread the universal teachings of Jewish values to the
There are talented individuals in our communities and on our
campuses who firmly believe that is Israel is a thriving democracy and champion
of human rights, but lack the skills necessary to present this image to the
world. The establishment of an institute focused on excellence in training our
brightest minds and promising talents would be remarkable.
individual lights to illuminate the darkness created by the ignorance of values
would also immeasurably enrich the United States. The purpose of a National
Institute of Jewish Values would be to school thinkers, writers, broadcasters
and entrepreneurs in the art of advancing Israel and Jewish values.
Jewish community, through the power of global media, has the capability to live
up to its ancient mandate of being “a light unto the nations” by spreading its
universal values in a manner that brings inspiration to modern culture and
society. What is needed is a growing body of eloquent, articulate, informed and
dynamic spokespeople to communicate the Jewish people’s timeless message of
personal dignity and accountability, the infinite value of every human life,
strong families, education-based opportunity, rights of and respect for women,
and morally virtuous living.
We need to begin aspiring to attract leaders
from all walks of life and grant them the advanced skills necessary to become
world-class ambassadors for the State of Israel and universal Jewish
The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network, which is
working to launch The National Institute of Jewish Values to promote universal
Jewish teachings in the American media. He has recently published The Fed-Up Man
of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.
him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.