Why Israel needs olim just as much as olim need Israel- Opinion

This week Nefesh B’Nefesh presented outstanding Anglo Olim with the annual Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize. The award acknowledged “inspirational English-speaking Olim.

IMMIGRANTS FROM North America arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on a flight arranged by Nefesh B’Nefesh.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
IMMIGRANTS FROM North America arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on a flight arranged by Nefesh B’Nefesh.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
This week, in a surreal hiatus from ecoterrorism, Hamas rockets raining on Jerusalem’s day of celebration, and what appears to be the brink of an all-out war, Nefesh B’Nefesh presented outstanding Anglo Olim with the annual Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize. In the physically and spiritually breathtaking, historic site of the Tower of David, the award acknowledged “inspirational English-speaking Olim who have significantly contributed to the State of Israel” in sciences, education, sports, global impact, culture and social entrepreneurship. Olim are immigrants to Israel.
And breathe we did. The location and occasion provided an opportunity for all those fortunate enough to attend to be transported, away from the overwhelming challenges of the last few days, months and years. It enabled a much needed “zoom out,” transcending the blaring sirens, incessant elections, divisive rhetoric, creating space to journey across time and geography, from “Yerushalayim shel mata – the Jerusalem down here,” to “Yerushalayim shel mala – the (heavenly) potential Jerusalem, the one to which we aspire.”
Returning to Jerusalem the day after, emerging from the Begin Center – moments after speaking about the imperative to identify, expose and combat antisemitism – alongside my father, Prof. Irwin Cotler‬, I found myself looking for cover to shield my parents to the shrill of a siren and seven incoming rockets launched by Hamas. It felt, though, as if I had not been there in years. Like an “out of body” experience, the emotional, meaningful, entertaining thought-provoking words of each and all of the award recipients, as well as those who dreamt and made the prize a reality, provided an opportunity to observe from above, offering perspective and shedding light on the ability and responsibility we each have to strive and fulfil that potential.
In Jerusalem, eternal city of inspiration and aspiration, the beating heart in which Jews across centuries and continents meet, on our collective journey connecting past, present and future, the magic of the moment was palpable. A championship-winning basketball coach, a former United Nations ambassador, a world-renowned science researcher and the president emeritus of the world’s largest Jewish campus organization all spoke emotionally of essentially one thing – the honor they each felt for having been recognized for their outstanding contributions to Israel’s modern society and history and to the Jewish people.
Each of the honorees’ clear impact on the Jewish state and people is remarkable, and their contribution in all fields of endeavor is astounding. But connecting it, them and us all – there is something else. There is a feeling. A feeling of connection, of purpose, of faith. In recognizing those who encapsulate that feeling, the spirit of modern-day Zionism, the prize offered a chance for deep reflection on what brings all Anglo olim to emigrate to the Jewish and democratic miracle that is the State of Israel.
AT 73 YEARS young, imperfect and in progress, it is that feeling that illuminates the journey for each and every olah and oleh, to find their voice and their way, to make this place the best possible version of itself, continuing to live with feet planted in Yerushalayim shel mata and heads far above the clouds, aspiring to find a way to raise it higher, bringing it a step closer to realizing its potential.
In the David Tower, a place so deeply connected to memory and reminder, with identity firmly planted in our collective past, we were elevated to the heavens, propelled and compelled to dream of our future. This inspiring moment in time led to reflections on the tremendous challenges we currently face – in Israel’s internal resiliency, in our relationship with our sisters and brothers around the globe, and in the international arena, including the raging war on Israel’s legitimacy and old-new renditions of antisemitism.
It strengthened my resolve and commitment to identify, like the awardees, the most impactful ways to continue serving the State of Israel and the Jewish people, driven by a sense of purpose and responsibility. It highlighted the imperative to reach out to fellow olim and olot, empowering each and every one to find their voice, recognizing the tremendous contribution they can – and must – make.
It deepened my commitment to reach out across oceans and engage with individuals and communities across the globe – to deepen our connection and ensure the continuity of our people. It fueled my dream of identifying ways to bring and share the experience of the profound sense of connection that was in the air (or wine), with every Jew across the globe.
As I emerged from the Tower of David and headed to my car, I felt a little taller, standing on the shoulders of the deserving prize recipients, each and all representing the resiliency of our people across generations and continents. On my way to Ashkelon to interview about the seemingly insurmountable challenges of the town, the area, the country, I stopped on the side of the road three times to the sound of blaring sirens and lay on the sidewalk, covering my head to protect from shrapnel. It was then that the tears of gratitude had the chance to emerge. Gratitude for being a link in our chain. Gratitude for the people of whom I am so fortunate to be an integral part. Gratitude for the people and ceremony I had just experienced, that filled me with the strength of all who came before and all who will follow.
In his wise and entertaining words on behalf of the awardees, Avraham Infeld, Nefesh B’Nefesh 2020 Bonei Zion lifetime achievement award recipient, summarized crucial insights in a few words: “We are not a religion. We have a religion. We are not a culture. We have a culture. We are not a country. We have a country. We are a people.”
We are a people. We need one another. This is our watch. This is our call to action.

The writer is a former member of the Knesset.