Keep on Dancing

On June 1, 2001, at the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, 21 young people, 16 of them teenagers, were murdered by a terrorist suicide bomber.  Most were standing in line to go to a discotheque.  One of them was a man named Ari Shahar, 32, who was just walking to his car.  Ari was a wonderful young man working in the public sector and a person I knew well.

At their memorial, which is commemorated every year by the families, the victims’ mothers always stress, “Don’t stop dancing.”  Those words have always echoed in my mind.

How, when you have lost a child, can you tell the world “Don’t stop dancing?”

Yet, as the years pass, those words become more powerful everyday; we must dance and we must celebrate, or the dark side of hate will win.

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen the dark side of hate.

A few weeks ago, a text message was sent to a young woman, Abby, a student at the University of Michigan.  The text message, in part, read: “As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic Boycott against Israel…this Boycott includes writing letters of recommendations for students planning to study there.”

This young woman wanted to go on a semester abroad college experience to Israel and advance and continue her education. Yet, a professor filled with hate and ignorance would not write a recommendation because she chose Israel.  Most young people would have kept quiet and moved on.  Abby did not.  Her text message went viral over social media and within days the University of Michigan was trying to find its voice, a weak voice at that, to respond. Most recently we have heard additional students from the University of Michigan have also been denied similar letters from other professors.

Then an article appeared in The New York Post reporting that Ofir Dayan, a student at Columbia University, was worried for her safety after the school failed to take action when an anti-Israel group threatened and harassed her. “I’m worried for my safety,” she told the Post.  Ofir spoke up!

Why are these young people put in this situation?  Why are they not allowed to cherish their youth, celebrate our freedom of education and advancement of higher education without fear?  Hate killed 21 people on June 21, 2001 and hate continues today in these cases and more.

Yet, hate loses if we stand up. That is what Jewish National Fund does every day through our Zionist Engagement.  We don’t shout and scream.  We tell a story. A great story of the love of life and relevant facts about a place called Israel.  We stand up to hate by celebrating, dancing, and telling the positive truth.

Jewish National Fund recruits for Birthright Israel via Shorashim where hundreds of thousands of young people have been able to experience Israel. Birthright, financed by wonderful philanthropists and the Government of Israel, allows young people an opportunity to touch, feel, and experience the place we call the home of the Jewish people, Israel.

Jewish National Fund operates the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) which offers semester abroad experiences for high school students, prepares them for college, and provides a positive expression for their Judaism and a strong connection to the land and people of Israel.

At our annual Jewish National Fund National Conference, year after year, over 200 college students, from over 80 colleges and universities, attend to experience Jewish National Fund’s “Birth to the Boardroom” investment.

So, as bad as the news is today, even as bad as it was on June 1, 2001, we have to keep dancing. We have to rise up and win because we have the better story. A true story. The story of the connection of 4,000 years of Jewish life in the land of Israel, and the connection to our ancestral soil, which is the soul of the Jewish people. Ours is a positive story of a people working together to make the world a better place.

On July 3, 2018 a group of 187 American high school students from various backgrounds attending AMHSI-JNF walked up to the top of Masada before sunrise. There they spent four hours studying and finished writing letters in a brand new Torah, in the exact spot where fragments of a Torah from 2,000 years ago were found.

When they were atop Masada, where the temperature was well over 100 degrees, and after five hours, including climbing to the top, a shofar began to blow. The Torah scroll that they had completed was held up and 187 young people stood up and began dancing.  They danced and danced and danced the Torah down the mountain, and on July 4th, they danced the Torah into the Alexander Muss High School in Israel campus in Hod HaSharon, just outside of Tel Aviv.

They dedicated the Torah there and then transitioned to a celebration of American independence.

Wow, 2,000 years of yearning for freedom to be a Jew in our land and then celebrating freedom of America and democracy. All within just 48 hours.

The BDS is anti-Democracy.  Anti-Israel is anti-Semetism. Anti-Semitism is Anti-American.  Those young people made true the call of the mothers of the terrible terrorist attack of 2001.  They were dancing.

That is the story of Jewish National Fund. Not of hate; it is the story of love and good, and a great, proud people. It is the story of celebration, and of dancing, that connects us to Israel, to America, and our shared values of democracy and life.

“Keep on dancing.”

About the Author
Russell F. Robinson is JNF’s chief executive officer. Under his leadership, JNF has developed successful far-reaching programs that play a significant role in the quality of life for all Israelis, such as community development, environmental work, sustainable development of the Negev, and solutions for Israel’s water crisis.
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