Natan Sharansky’s 9-year tenure as the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) comes to an end in June.
From time to time he undertook speaking tours of college campuses in North America, mostly in the United States. His various experiences there were seldom positive.
“The American campuses are occupied territories,” he told the New Jersey Jewish News in 2011. “The debate is why Israel should exist as a state. And as result, I have spoken to many young Jews who say, ‘For us as Jews it is better to live in a world where Israel doesn’t exist. Then we don’t have to be responsible for all of these awful things we hear.’”
It was a distressing revelation for Sharansky. His sorrowful conclusion was: “Our enemies have succeeded to disconnect a young generation of Jews from Israel.”
Four year later in 2015, after taking part in a program in Toronto, he was asked by a community professional, which Jewish communities around the world, in his opinion, stood in the highest jeopardy. “Venezuela, Ukraine and the United States,” Sharansky thoughtfully answered. The answer shocked the individual who had posed the question.
Sharansky clarified that despite its physical security, the Jewish community in the United States faces the jeopardy of the erosion and ultimate loss of Jewish identity on a massive scale.
In his capacity as chair of JAFI, Sharansky has implemented a number of programs aimed at building more cultural, educational and social bridges between college-age Jews of North America and the State of Israel. The results, however, have been mixed, primarily because the JAFI does not have the resources to dedicate to the many campuses where BDS and other anti-Israel activities are rife.
Of course, the best method of arresting and then reversing the erosion in Jewish identity is through Jewish education. Intense Jewish education helps foster the sense of belonging to the Jewish people, which in most circumstances is the precondition for wanting, let alone knowing, how to defend Israel on campuses and anywhere else. The evidence is incontrovertible. Getting more students into Jewish schools to help them nurture and continually develop a strong Jewish identity is the best assurance for preventing the “disconnect” between young North American Jews and Israel.
In light of the fact that we celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut next week, GAJE brings to readers’ attention “Independence – a resource for Yom Haatzma’ut”, a superb educational tool created by the Limmud Chavruta Project, an international collaboration of Limmud volunteers from a diverse range of Jewish, cultural and geographical backgrounds.
The resource brings Limmud’s celebrated inclusive learning approach to the important, exciting subject of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
A live link to the resource can be found in an article posted on the eJewish Philanthropy site at: https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/independence-a-resource-for-yom-haatzmaut-offers-unique-take-on-israels-declaration-of-independence/