Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
For the first time in its history, the Orthodox Union held its annual convention in Israel. The convention chairman, Stanley Weinstein, mentioned that when the idea to hold the convention in Jerusalem was first discussed, he was warned that if held in Israel, the convention would not even attract the 500 delegates who usually attended. At the convention opening in the beautiful ballroom of the Renaissance Jerusalem Hotel, Mr. Weinstein proudly revealed that more than 1,000 attendees were present that evening.
The delegates received two major messages from all of the Israeli speakers: “Israel needs you to live here!” and “If you go back to the States, keep up the excellent work of the Orthodox Union in educating American youth about Judaism and Israel.”
Moshe Katzav, the President of Israel, spoke in Hebrew to the delegates and explained how proud he was to speak at a convention where each day begins with the learning of “Daf Yomi”. He congratulated the OU on its many programs both in Israel and in the USA, which are geared toward educating the next generation of Jews.
“We live in very difficult times,” he said, “a time when wholesale assimilation and intermarriage by Jews in the Diaspora is the norm. The OU must broaden its focus to encompass all Jews, no matter what their religious affiliation, in an effort to stem the tide of assimilation.” His major point was that two thirds of all of the Jews in the Diaspora have no Jewish affiliation and have never visited Israel.
President Katzav also quoted the words of the Ramban that “living in Israel carries the same weight as all of the mitzvot in the Torah.” The president spoke about the growing plague of anti-Semitism, especially with 20 million Moslems in Europe. “The Far Left has joined the Far Right against the Jews and we must all work hard to stem the tide.”
Katzav spoke of the security situation in Israel and how for years, Israel has tried to move closer to the Palestinians, but the Arabs refuse to reciprocate. The Palestinians must stop chasing illusions and stop the terror. He concluded by calling upon all of the Jews of the world to encourage Israel and to help it succeed.
The American ambassador, Daniel Kurtzer, was introduced as “one of us.” He is a Yeshiva University graduate and a former dean of Yeshiva College. The ambassador welcomed the delegates to Jerusalem and praised the work of the OU. He spoke of the connection between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, who “stand shoulder to shoulder” against terror. He spoke of the challenges of demography and democracy in the region, and his belief that “disengagement” will increase the security of Israel. He was proud of how during his 3 1/2 years as ambassador, relations with the USA had improved. He concluded by declaring that the 800 employees in the US embassy work day and night both to secure America’s interests and to ensure Israel’s continued survival. He thanked the OU for helping keep his children good Americans and good Jews.
Both Chief Rabbis gave Divrei Torah and praised the OU for its Kashrut supervision and its educational work. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar spoke in Hebrew against Reform “conversions,” and Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger spoke in English on the importance of Jewish education.
The final speaker of the evening was the mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupoliansky, the man who also established the Yad Sara charity with its 6,000 volunteers and 96 branches in Israel. He welcomed the delegates and hoped that they would soon move to Jerusalem. “Come make Israel your physical home as well as your spiritual home.”
The OU weekend convention included a Thanksgiving dinner, visits with many Israeli dignitaries, tours off the beaten track to Gush Katif and Kever Rachel, and the installation of the new Orthodox Union president, Stephen J. Savitsky, by the outgoing president of the past eight years, Harvey Blitz. The convention held many interesting plenary sessions and accepted important resolutions concerning community education, communal property, Israel’s security, the war on terrorism, religion and state in the USA and several other topics. May the convention continue to be held each year in Jerusalem.
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