Ukraine war shows that Israel must strengthen greater Jewish world - opinion

The war in Ukraine has furthered clarified what Israel’s role is and ought to be in relation to the Jewish world.

 TZIONA KOENIG-YAIR. Israel has a responsibility to maintain a vibrant relationship with world Jewry. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
TZIONA KOENIG-YAIR. Israel has a responsibility to maintain a vibrant relationship with world Jewry.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

The Ukrainian War has brought out the best of us as a Jewish people in Israel and around the world. It also highlights Israel’s greater destiny as the Jewish nation-state to continue to show up and strengthen world Jewry in the days following the conflict.

Let’s take a moment to put down some basic numbers. There are approximately 15 million Jews in the world today. Nearly half of them (close to seven million) live in Israel while the other half are scattered around the world. The largest community outside of Israel is based in North America, which numbers about 6.4 million Jews. More than one million Jews live in Europe (about 200,000 of them in the former Soviet Union) and another significant concentration of approximately 300,000 Jews live in South America.

These numbers illustrate that the majority of the Jewish people live not in Israel, but in big and small communities across the globe.

The devastating war in Ukraine has highlighted the combined necessity and strength of these communities. We have collectively risen to the occasion presented by the war to assist the constantly growing number of refugees, whether from Israel, Poland or New York. We, as the state of Israel, see ourselves as a central partner in providing assistance, sending humanitarian aid, and preparing for the absorption of Ukrainian immigrants and refugees. While the war has brought about the best of the global Jewish community in many ways, Israel’s response does not fully encompass its’ much broader destiny as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The war has furthered clarified what Israel’s role is and ought to be in relation to the Jewish world. Though no easy task, Israel has a responsibility to maintain a vibrant relationship with world Jewry, as well as contribute to the greater Jewish people’s strength and viability. A recent survey conducted by the Diaspora Ministry, which will be presented during Israel’s Diaspora W

Jerusalem's Old City lit during Diaspora Ministry solidarity event for Jewish communities hit by COVID-19 (credit: JEREMY SHARON)Jerusalem's Old City lit during Diaspora Ministry solidarity event for Jewish communities hit by COVID-19 (credit: JEREMY SHARON)
eek, reveals that the importance of the Jewish world has increased in the eyes of Israeli society in recent years.

The survey found that 56%-58% Israelis recognize Israel’s responsibility and commitment regarding the continued existence of Jews living outside of Israel. 57% of respondents believe that Israel should take into account the interests of world Jewry when making decisions on foreign and security policy issues that may impact the Jews in the diaspora. 56% broadly believe that Israel has a great commitment towards Jews living outside of Israel. At the same time, only 37% feel a sense of personal responsibility towards Jews who choose not to immigrate to Israel. Unfortunately, this sentiment has remained stagnant in recent years.

While these numbers reveal a level of consensus within Israeli society regarding the importance of world Jewry and the need for a close relationship, will that be enough to maintain such a relationship in the long run?

Israelis acknowledge the vast contribution and added value of world Jewry. Israelis also recognize the importance of preserving universal Jewish values, such as human rights, pluralism, marriage and more, yet there remains a gap in the Israeli public’s knowledge and familiarity with Jewish communities around the world. The concern is that over time Israelis’ lack of knowledge and appreciation, matched with the physical distance, will inevitably have a long-term effect on Israelis’ sense of responsibility towards world Jewry.

We in Israel, the sons and daughters of the greater Jewish people, are members of a collective made up of communities around the world. Together, we bear a responsibility to ensure a strong connection between us.

As a constantly evolving people, the relationship between Israel and world Jewry is not stagnant and it is worth acknowledging positive shifts which have occurred in recent years. The original paradigm born out Israel’s establishment in which Israel relied on the assistance of world Jewry and in-turn, was the central project and source of inspiration for the Jewish people, is no longer relevant.

Today, Israel is a strong, stable and established state. Strengthening Jewish peoplehood should be a central project of Israel, one shared with the global Jewish community.

The writer is the director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.