For as long as I can remember, Natan Sharansky has been a hero of mine. I view Sharansky is a true champion of human rights, a Zionist giant, and a man of rare and unwavering moral clarity and conviction. I would like to see Sharansky elected President later this year, because in my opinion, he is one of the few contenders with the international respect and recognition to do justice in replacing an icon like Shimon Peres.
Ten days ago, I had the great privilege of hearing Sharansky address the Sydney Jewish community, and of meeting him afterwards in a more intimate discussion with several young Jewish communal activists. His speech was entertaining and honest and reflected a deep appreciation for the Sydney Jewish community and its achievements. But strangely, although there were many high points, Sharansky failed to mention the A word, “aliyah”.
Australia has a strong and vibrant Jewish community which has existed since the beginning of white settlement, and we all hope that it goes from strength to strength. Relative to other communities it is warm and inclusive with high rates of Aliyah and strong support for Israel. Australian Jews have also made great contributions, both to Judaism globally, and to broader Australian society, and nobody would want anything but for this community to continue to prosper.
I know also, that the role of the Jewish Agency, has changed in recent years with a view towards building partnerships with communities globally rather than merely as a vehicle to encourage Aliyah. What’s more, Sharansky calling for Aliyah probably wouldn’t have achieved anything or changed anyone’s mind on the subject. Certainly, I wouldn’t have changed my own view on Aliyah, and I would hope that nobody would take a life changing decision so lightly. That said, it does seem just a little bit strange to me that this giant of the Zionist movement , a man who many hope will be President come July, did not even try to raise the subject, and seemed to shy away from encouraging his audience to even think it.