This Rosh Hashanah, Israel stands on the threshold of its 60th anniversary. Still we are fighting for survival, and, despite the passage of time, face the threats of war and terror. Yet Israel stands strong. And the collective support of the Jewish people makes us even stronger.
The power of an unbroken religious, historical and cultural bond that ties us together, no matter where we are, has turned into a dynamic partnership with the capacity to move the Jewish people forward into the future.
Over the past year, I have seen this bond grow stronger. In the face of war last summer, support came from individual donors, the Jewish Federations, Keren Hayesod and UIA Canada, with the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign collecting $360 million on Israel’s behalf in several weeks.
Programs implemented with that money continue to help tens of thousands of Israelis in the North rebuild their lives and their communities.
In Sderot and the Gaza perimeter communities, 7,000 children were taken out of the range of continuing Kassam rocket attacks and enjoyed the summer in a wide variety of theme-oriented camps where they also received trauma counseling – thanks again to the emergency support. One cannot overstate how appreciative the residents of both the North and the Sderot area are to world Jewry for its help.
The impact of the work during the war also served to strengthen the sense of partnership between Israeli philanthropists and world Jewry. I am proud that the Jewish Agency is leading the effort for an ever-broadening involvement of major Israeli philanthropists. Among them are Eitan Wertheimer, one of Israel’s premier industrialists who for decades has been building the Galilee; Nochi Dankner, whose IDB group is the largest holding company in Israel; Benny Landa, whose printing systems company, Indigo, is now part of Hewlett-Packard; and Avi Naor, founder of Amdocs.
These Israeli business leaders and many others want to partner with Jewish philanthropists and communities abroad to invest in initiatives for new immigrants, at-risk children, talented young people from underprivileged regions, and young communities in the Negev and the Galilee.
In addition to the Israel-Diaspora partnership that has grown following the war, this was also a good year with regard to the Jewish Agency’s two other areas of work – education and aliyah.
This year, Jewish Agency-supported programs brought 60,000 young people to Israel on long- and short-term programs. More than 7,000 came on the MASA program – a partnership of the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel – for long-term learning, volunteering and internship programming opportunities.
I saw these young volunteers in action, building and “being built.” They worked in community centers and senior-citizen homes, with challenged children and youngsters at risk. They volunteered in hospitals, schools, shelters and soup kitchens.
Tens of thousands of young Jews came to Israel on short-term programs through Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Israel Experience Company.
There is no doubt that these programs are a turning point in each participant’s life, a springboard to a future commitment to Judaism and Israel. Our Jewish future depends on educating our young people, bringing Israel into their lives, and offering them opportunities to learn about and embrace their Jewish heritage.
And, finally, there’s aliyah. We will bring to Israel approximately 20,000 olim this year from all over the world. We continue to see steady growth from most of the Western countries. These immigrants, comprised mainly of young people and families, are fulfilling the 3,000-year-old dream of Jews to return to their homeland. The courage and determination of these new immigrants, whether from Ethiopia, the United States or France, strengthens and inspires those of us living in Israel and reminds all of us that as Jews, wherever we live, Israel is home.
This Rosh Hashanah, I turn to Jews around the world with a call for action – to care about the Jewish people, the State of Israel and our collective Jewish future, and to do what you can to turn this care into meaningful deeds.
May we all have a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.