IDF soldiers learned this week about Diaspora Jewry and about the term “Jewish peoplehood” as part of this year’s Diaspora Week.
An educational booklet was created for IDF educational officers by the National Alliance Strengthening Israelis’ Connection to World Jewry, an initiative of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Gesher organization. The title of the booklet was, “A sense of belonging to the Jewish world.”
Roi Mekler, head of the alliance, met with hundreds of IDF officers, and spoke at the IDF Officers’ School about the importance of the connection with Jews outside of Israel.
“Throughout the years, the story has been about the connection of Diaspora Jewry to Israel,” Mekler said this week. “Yet now, for the first time, we spoke of the connection of the Israelis to its Diaspora – world Jewry. I conducted a workshop for over 200 officers who were responsible to implement the educational materials that we have created in conjunction with the IDF, in order to educate Israelis about Diaspora Jews. They then taught their soldiers what it means to be part of a larger Jewish community.”
The initiative came to life after Brig.-Gen. Ofir Levius, IDF chief education and youth officer, participated in a delegation of the Gesher organization funded by AM”I.
“Levius participated in our delegation to learn about American Jews in the US,” Mekler said. “We met with him and thought about how to better connect the military to Diaspora Jews, and he was enthusiastic about bringing Diaspora Week to the IDF.”
Levius wrote an op-ed about his visit to the US and sent it to tens of thousands of IDF soldiers.
“In the United States, a person has to choose to be a Jew,” he wrote. “You don’t wake up in the morning to the Hebrew language, or hear the songs of Israeli singer Hanan Ben Ari... You don’t wake up to the Jewish calendar and do not argue on politics. That characterizes only sovereign life in a Jewish and democratic state.”
Levius said that Diaspora Jews “need an unmediated, loving, embracing and authentic discourse and encounter. They are not free from criticism, and certainly the State of Israel doesn’t need to change as a result of their criticism. However, listening, connecting and sharing can create more opportunities than risks, certainly when it comes to family.”
Mekler said that they have prepared an array of how to dedicate the focus of many of these events on lone soldiers. “
Lone soldiers, Jews from around the world, will talk about the communities they came from, as immigrants and as lone soldiers,” he said. “They will connect their personal stories and lives to their service in the IDF.”
On Wednesday, all of the cadets at IDF’s Officer School met with MASA Israel participants, and learned about Jewish peoplehood.
“The Israel Defense Forces, in many parts of the world, are also seen as the army of the Jewish world,” said Gesher director-general Ilan Geal-Dor. “Just as world Jewry supports the IDF, the IDF needs to recognize and cherish world Jewry.”