I was honored to speak at the Israeli Knesset last week along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to celebrate Jewish-American contributions to the State of Israel. The day’s activities highlighted the value of working together, increasing mutual understanding and supporting Jewish peoplehood — from both sides of the Atlantic — on the basis of shared values.
Today, the world is more complex than it has ever been. Israel is on the front lines of the global war against terror, and Jews around the world are caught in the crossfire. Physical and verbal attacks against Jews are at their highest levels in two decades — from Israel’s borders to the streets of Paris to the halls of American state legislatures and college campuses.
If we are to overcome the immense challenges before us, Israel and North American Jewry must join forces. As one Jewish people. Just as we always have.
From Israel’s pre-state days until today and beyond, North American Jewry has provided financial, political and emotional support, helping Jews from across the globe find ways to build new lives and make the Jewish state their home.
We have funded the resettlement of Jews from Yemen, Iraq, Ethiopia, Argentina, the Soviet Union and now Western Europe. We have planted trees, bought bonds and strengthened the emotional ties that keep our people together. We have helped build and sustain high schools and community centers, hospitals and universities.
In the 1970s, when the United Nations declared that “Zionism Is Racism,” we proclaimed that we are all Zionists, regardless of our ideology or religious stream.
In the 1980s, communities across Israel needed help to reach their full potential and Project Renewal (Shikum Shchunot) was launched and helped more than a million Israelis benefit from better neighborhoods.
When Ethiopian Jews voted with their feet to come to Israel, we assisted in bringing this historic community home, and we continue working to help them participate fully in Israeli life. For decades, North America Jewry joined Jews worldwide rallying to help hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews make aliyah.
Two summers ago, as Israel fought one of the longest conflicts in its history, our Stop the Sirens campaign helped to mitigate the war’s most devastating effects on Israelis — especially children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations. When Israelis in the South were rebuilding, we provided loans to businesses and helped fortify local networks — just as we did in Israel’s North a few years earlier when that region was under rocket fire.
Despite political tensions and disagreements that sometimes arise, we continue to strengthen American Jewry’s connections with Israel in every generation. Each year, Federations work with the Israeli government to ensure that thousands of young North American Jews spend time in Israel on organized trips, including Taglit-Birthright and Masa.
In every step of Israel’s journey, we have been there, lending a crucial hand that helping Israel become the successful state it is today. The remarkable accomplishments of a unified Jewish people have made Israel a vibrant and creative place.
I joined my father, an immigrant to the United States from Latvia, in 1964 when he made his first trip to Eretz Yisrael. I will never forget that moment we got off the plane: My father knelt down to touch the ground and recited the Shehecheyanu. What once was only an idea — something he dreamed about, as did all of our fathers and mothers for thousands of years — was now real.
If my father could see Israel today, he would be proud of its accomplishments and of the role that North American Jewry and the Federation movement have played in advocating for a strong and reliable American partner in the realm of security and defense.
No matter where we live, no matter what language we speak, and no matter what synagogue, if any, we choose to belong to, we share a deep connection. Our connection to Torah. Our connection to the values that connect all Jews in the world. Our contribution.
Richard V. Sandler, from Los Angeles, is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America.