We must promote the Israelization of Jewish life abroad - opinion

Israel’s myriad cultural achievements are growing exponentially and are being exported organically without official state-sponsor.

 THE GERMAN language is taught at the Goethe Institute in Barcelona. These centers showcase their country’s cultural contribution to the world. (photo credit: ALBERT GEA/ REUTERS)
THE GERMAN language is taught at the Goethe Institute in Barcelona. These centers showcase their country’s cultural contribution to the world.
(photo credit: ALBERT GEA/ REUTERS)

Take a stroll through the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and within minutes you are bound to stumble upon any number of cultural centers funded by foreign governments: the Cervantes Institute of Tel Aviv (Spain); The Indian Cultural Center; the Goethe Institute (Germany) – just to name a few.

These centers promote and showcase their country’s cultural contribution to the world. Simultaneously, they foster an intimate understanding of a nation’s soul and a deeper look into the ethos of that society.
Conversely, you won’t find Israeli cultural institutes or councils spread across the globe. Instead, you are more likely to discover hundreds of “Jewish” heritage centers that tell the story of the Jewish people in relation to its evident achievements as a people among the nations.
Over the centuries, Jewish life entrenched itself within diaspora centers like Odessa, Prague, Paris, Damascus, Baghdad and New York. Jewish culture flourished even as the nascent State of Israel was developing.
Jewish culture and peoplehood were traditionally dictated to and sustained by the composition of life in the Diaspora, while the creation of the State of Israel was another phase in this cycle. This gave birth to a new “Jewish” dimension operating alongside the Diaspora; yet, the Diaspora itself was still the center of Jewish life.
American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora? (credit: REUTERS)American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora? (credit: REUTERS)

At the end of the day, Jewish life was the Diaspora.

Now, after 73 years, the State of Israel has become the epicenter and primary source for both Judaism and Jewish life. Art, music, cinema, gastronomy, spirituality, faith and Jewish thought – for what used to be defined as solely Israeli is now synonymous with Jewish. And what it means to be Jewish is directly related to Israel.
This cultural renaissance and enlightened rebirth of the Jew in his ancestral homeland is the pinnacle of “the Israeli century” – a cultural eruption that has created a tectonic shift in where the core of modern, Jewish life resides today.
 THE CREATION of the modern Jewish state, coupled with rising assimilation in the Diaspora and shrinking numbers of those who actively identify as Jewish, has led to a natural process of the Israelization of Jewish life.
The Zionist revolution realized in Jewish independence fomented a new cultural truth for the Jewish people whereby Israel is the Jewish people, and it is now the State of Israel that is solely responsible for the preservation and propagation of Jewish culture.
Jews and non-Jews alike view Israel through a lens in which the state’s profound cultural achievements have become the de facto embodiment of Jewish culture. Israel is finally synonymous with Jewish culture, taking the place of the Diaspora.
By no means does this belittle the vast importance and continuous contribution to Jewish life in the Diaspora and from Diaspora communities toward Israel. Rather, the recognition of this shift means that the symbiosis between the future of Jewish life and the Jewish people has reached its apex through the State of Israel.
Therefore, now more than ever, Israel must capitalize on this symbiotic fusion as a way to showcase Israeli – and consequently Jewish – culture internationally. A nation’s prominence is tested and enshrined through its ability to export and promote its cultural heritage, feats and visions for the future to all corners of the globe.
Israel’s myriad cultural achievements are growing exponentially and are being exported organically without official state-sponsor. Look no further than the numerous cinematic endeavors that continue to gain international recognition and praise. Every day, another Israeli author’s works are getting translated into an array of languages. The term “Israeli cuisine” is now part of culinary vernacular – something that was an oxymoron 20 years ago.
If 30 years ago it was Saul Bellow and Philip Roth that projected the image of the Jewish writer, today it is A.B Yehoshua, Eshkol Nevo and Meir Shalev.
 Shtisel, Tehran, Fauda; Idan Reichel, the Batsheva Dance Company, Michael Solomonov and Yotam Ottolenghi – all icons of Israeli culture in full-bloom, capturing attention worldwide. That is just a handful among hundreds of others.
And just as Israel established itself as a superpower in the fields of technology, science, medicine and innovation – the Zionist revolution within the context of “the Israeli century” has finally ensured that the sphere of Jewish life as a thriving and vibrant cultural phenomenon will be defined within Israel.
This is why I am taking the initiative to develop a new lobby in the Knesset that will showcase and enhance the prominence of Israeli culture worldwide. Just as one can find a branch of the British Council in Jerusalem, it is my dream that Israel councils will start to sprout up in major cities across the globe.
Imagine Israeli cultural centers across the world featuring our screenwriters, composers, chefs, authors, artists and sages promoting the Israelization of Jewish life. The soul of Israel and the Jewish people will finally be on display, side by side – as one.
From Beijing to San Francisco, Helsinki to Bogota, Nairobi to Dubai – the time has come for Israeli institutes and cultural centers to stand next to those of France, Japan and Russia.
It is an existential necessity.
The writer is an MK from the Yisrael Beytenu party, as well as chairman of the Subcommittee for Higher Education, and author of The Israeli Century.